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.
Jerome LaMaar describes himself professionally as a lifestyle expert and a futurist. But you may not want to limit him to those labels.
Since getting his start in the business at 15 and landing his first major gig at Kimora Lee Simmon’s Baby Phat label three years later, the South Bronx, N.Y. native has added countless major achievements to his résumé, including designing a bold womenswear collection (5:31 Jerome), becoming a trusted consultant for behemoths in footwear and fashion (such as Adidas and Nike) and launching an avant-garde retail space (9J) in his hometown — among a plethora of other accomplishments.
Here, LaMaar shares how he became fascinated with shoes, how African-Americans can find success in fashion and the biggest barriers to inclusion in the business.
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What made you want to pursue a career in the shoe industry? And how did you break in?
“My mom is the reason why I love shoes so much. She used to wear Jordans to work with stylish suits and would carry her heels. I remember thinking to myself, I want to collect shoes like my mom. I later landed an internship as a teenager at Complex magazine overseeing the fashion closet. I would later start to sketch and design sneakers that I wish existed. I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Looking back on your career to this point, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
“Honestly, I’ve had a really dope career, from designing for brands to creating for celebs to even opening a luxury boutique in the Bronx, becoming a children’s book character, to landing The New York Times’ Sunday Styles cover. I have to say that I am proud of every single thing and all of the dope things to come, too. I’m still inspired to produce newness.”
As a minority, what has been the biggest obstacle you faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
“I think the biggest obstacle is simple: proving people wrong that people of color can’t be successful and self-made through hard work, talent and patience. I do many things well because I work hard at everything I do. Stop conforming me to your limitations. I have had a consistent track record of greatness long before social media was even a thing, so never be fooled by my youth. I’m a beast. [And] I overcome things because I stay focused on enhancing my abilities to build my own masterpiece, which is my life.”
What is the biggest challenge African-Americans face in the shoe industry?
“I think the idea that we are still facing so many challenges in various industries is annoying. People of color literally created several elements of sneaker culture and [are] the biggest consumers. The issue is, they need to provide people of color with more creative positions at higher levels.”
What is the best advice you would offer other African-Americans looking to break into the shoe industry?
“Do your homework. You need to be extraordinary and authentic. Never let anyone tell you can’t do something in an age where influencers make millions for posting. I was told if the position doesn’t exist, make it and don’t wait for anyone. You prepare, build and grow, and watch everything align.”
What specific steps should footwear companies take to make their teams more diverse? And what are some barriers to success?
“The first thing is sourcing from outside of the small circles they float in. You will never grow if you stick to you the same kind of people. The way that things move forward in the world is by inclusive conversations from diverse cultural backgrounds other than your own. There is so many brilliant talented people of color who can do things in ways they may never discover if they don’t open the table up for newness in perspective. That’s all I’ll say for now, as this is significant information my high-profile clients pay for.”
Want more? Check out FN’s 2018 Black History Month Spotlight
Black History Month Spotlight: K-Swiss Global Brands Marketing Director Patrick Buchanan
Black History Month Spotlight: Fly Boys Couture Club Founder Devlin ‘Dee-Nyce’ Braswell
Black History Month Spotlight: Brandblack Founder David Raysse Is Breaking Through the Athletic-Industry Clutter