In honor of Black History Month 2019, FN is celebrating African-American movers and shakers in footwear and fashion by recognizing their accomplishments and inviting them to share insight into how the industry can make bigger diversity strides.
For his latest collaboration, DJ Clark Kent had only Black History Month in his mind.
The record producer and sneaker aficionado — who previously told FN that he had 3,500 pairs of kicks stored in the basement of his New Jersey home — teamed up with K-Swiss to design footwear that reinterprets the American heritage brand’s Classic 88 silhouette, inspired by the pan-African flag.
On the sides of the shoe’s white leather base appear five lines of alternating black, green and red. The collaborators explain the colorway: The black stripe brings attention to black people who exist as a nation, not a nation-state; the green represents the abundant natural wealth of the continent; and the red symbolizes the blood that unites all people of black African ancestry.
The limited-edition sneaker, which launches on Feb. 20 in both men’s and women’s sizes, is said to be a celebration of black power and black pride — which Kent himself believes should be observed year-round.
“Black history is every day,” he explained.
Here, the hip-hop DJ — who counts Nike, Adidas and Fila among his collaborative partners — shares his wisdom and talks diversity in the industry.
What made you want to pursue a career in the fashion and footwear industry? How did you break in?
“Honestly, I never pursued a career in the industry. It just happened. I have always been a serious ‘Get Fresh’ guy. I’ve always started from the shoes — and went up. Nike took interest in me because of my vast knowledge of sneakers. What was a light conversation turned into a full consultation contract, then to creating collaborative projects with the brand. After, [there were] more brands … I haven’t looked back yet.”
Looking back on your career, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
“In my fashion/footwear career, I am most proud of the first collaboration, the ‘112’ Pack.”
As a minority, what has been the biggest obstacle you faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
“When I got started in the fashion/footwear industry, I had already been successful in the music business. I understood my worth. I believe that removed the ability to not be treated with respect. There was nothing to overcome.”
What is the biggest challenge African-Americans face in the fashion and footwear industry?
“Understanding how important they are to the success of brands. Especially since we add the flavor. We make everything fresh. And we spend the most money.”
What is the best advice you would offer other African-Americans looking to break into the fashion and footwear industry?
“Get a degree. Study the game. Create real relationships. Remember you are the flavor.”
What specific steps should fashion and footwear firms take to make their teams more diverse?
“Brands need to look within the neighborhoods that are spending on their products to find creative talent. Also, with all the mistakes being made by the brands — Gucci, Prada, H&M [and more] — there should be a person, or persons, hired to police what they are bringing to market.”
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