Jasmine Pendergrass was the first person to be interviewed for the job.
A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and fashion publicist at C&M Media, the self-proclaimed sneaker enthusiast was looking to make her way into the footwear industry, applying for the role of communications and marketing coordinator — now director of events and marketing — at the Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America.
Despite the sheer number of candidates, FDRA president and CEO Matt Priest said, “We kept going back to her organization, her desire to learn, her passion for the industry and her smile.”
A little over two years later, Pendergrass has established herself as a name to know in the industry, serving as the primary point of contact between executives and the trade association. She also spearheads its marketing and event planning division, with her most recent initiative involving a yet-to-be-announced celebration taking place during Black History Month.
“Diversity drives innovation. If you have the same type of people around the table with the same background and walk of life, you’re not going to come up with products that serve a multiethnic, multigenerational consumer base,” Priest shared. “Jasmine’s a part of helping us think through those things, [and] it’s been fun to see her grow. She’s been instrumental to our success.”
Here, Pendergrass talks about getting her foot in the door — and staying in.
What made you want to pursue a career in the shoe industry? How did you break in?
“By the sixth grade, two things were for certain: I loved sneakers, and I wanted to work in fashion. After exploring different opportunities within fashion, I finally found my way to communications and events. Before my current position, I worked at a fashion PR firm that housed high-end apparel and footwear; I would say that was my first official entry in. I got that position through a cold email.”
Looking back on your career to this point, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
“So far, my biggest accomplishment has been my involvement in our diversity initiatives at FDRA. I love that I get to work on our very first initiatives and events promoting diversity. Any person who is considered a minority should have a sense of responsibility to push diversity. All of the women I look up to — from my grandmother to Shiona Turini to Kahlana Barfield Brown and many more — have pushed the agenda to create more inclusion in their industries. I plan to follow in their footsteps and do my part.”
What is the biggest challenge African-Americans face in the shoe industry?
“Lack of exposure to the abundance of diverse opportunities, and African-Americans’ not understanding the weight of their personal or cultural value to the industry.”
What is the best advice you would offer other African-Americans looking to break into the shoe industry?
“Make connections online and in person. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people, but make sure your delivery is correct. Do your research, use social media to highlight your interests or talent and always remain a student.”
As a minority, what has been the biggest obstacle you faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
“Simply finding a way in the industry with no solid contacts was my biggest obstacle. After all the interning I did, it was still super-hard to get in. I have a long way to go, but tenacity is how I started to make a way for myself. I think that’s how you overcome anything.”
What specific steps should footwear companies take to make their teams more diverse? And what are some barriers to success?
“I think the first step is to evaluate your current team and then make sure your audience’s DNA is represented in every step of the process. Include us in everything from brainstorming to the actual execution of ideas, campaigns, partnerships, design [and more]. Brands making sure their teams are a true reflection of their consumer base should always be a priority — period.”
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