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.
She started her luxury shoe label while in college, and Kendall Reynolds has no plans of slowing down.
The young designer began developing her brand, Kendall Miles, during her senior year in 2015 with the intent of creating statement pieces. Since the launch, celebrities including Regina Hall, Justine Skye, Andra Day, Caroline Vreeland and Rihanna have been spotted in her shoes.
The made-in-Italy product is filled with detailed sandals, boots, stiletto heels and unique flats that demand attention. Reynolds is focused on providing youthful, quality shoes filled with interesting materials and embellishments; they’re available via direct-to-consumer at Kendallmilesdesigns.com.
Here, Reynolds talks about the need for more financial resources and what the African-American community can do to better help support one another.
What is the biggest challenge African-Americans face in the fashion industry?
“The main problem is lack of funding. It’s very difficult for young black founders, and black founders in general, to raise the capital that they need in order to get their businesses off the ground. Especially in luxury. It’s crippling. Also, the lack of exposure to networks you need to infiltrate to really carry through the next phase of growth. I’m learning, and in fashion, it’s a small group. It’s really hard to break in. In terms of access to celebrities [and] media, it’s hard to find people to help you. Even on the back end, [it’s difficult] finding lawyers or social media strategists to work with you when you have a small budget. You have to get scrappy, but to do that, you still have to have an in somewhere.”
What is the best advice you would give to other African-Americans looking to break into the shoe industry?
“Stay the course. It takes time. It’s hard. It’s worth it.”
What steps should footwear firms take to make their teams more diverse?
“This topic is so confusing to me because I can’t imagine that there’s a lack of black applicants. [We’re] talking about cool, creative jobs with good salaries where college graduates could support themselves and grow within those companies — you know black people are applying. It just makes sense. Those are attractive jobs. We want these jobs. Change needs to stem from the people who are hiring and for them to stop being biased and to work harder to hire diverse talent that’s qualified for the position.”
Are there certain obstacles you’ve faced?
“It’s hard to do. Period. Breaking in is hard. What makes it even harder — beyond the access to resources — comes down to the inability for sectors in the black community to also support the vision. In the community, there’s still this underlying thought process that the white man’s ice is colder than the black man’s ice. It makes it difficult for my own community to see what I’m doing. [They may think], ‘Christian Louboutin or Manolo Blahnik already exists, so why would I support her?’ That’s a driving factor in keeping us behind. It’s not always others suppressing us; it happens in our own race, as well.”
Are you seeing progress?
“Definitely, the conversation is being had. It’s an exciting time to be a black designer — especially one with a quality product because a lot of people are celebrating us. It’s not about making things easy. Everyone is facing challenges — white, black and other. It’s supposed to be a challenging process. But what needs to go away is the lack of understanding that’s theres room for everyone. Black designers are not going to take away from the white designer spotlight. There’s room for every brand to be embraced and supported.”
Looking back on your career, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
“Turning my favorite hobby into a business and fueling its growth through passion. [It is] passion for footwear design, passion for creativity, business and individualism, and passion for inclusivity and diversity in fashion.”
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