Influential Black Leaders from Design, Streetwear and High Fashion on Engaging in Uncomfortable Discussions & Enacting Change

Influential black leaders in footwear and fashion are making their voices heard during a time of pain and, hopefully, great change.

The unrest over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, has mounted not only in the United States but internationally. And this outrage has thought leaders amplifying the conversations around racial inequality.

Below, leaders in the worlds of design, streetwear and high fashion discuss their personal experiences with racism, engaging in uncomfortable discussions and how they’re working to enact tangible change.

Lifestyle expert

HOW I’M FEELING: “Everyone was getting too comfortable with old-world ideas, [those] that were made to keep people of color uneducated, suppressed and in a loop of struggle. However, no matter what was done to us, as a people we still pushed forward creating our own universe. We for the wrongdoing to the public.”

WHAT I’M DOING: “I have been spending my time guiding people on strategic ways to protest and speak truth. I’m giving my good vibes and moral guidance to friends who need the veil lifted from their unaffected reality. This change can only shift when non-black people step up and help fix this horrible one-sided perspective of history by hiring for their true talent and not to fill in a void for diversity purposes.”

Founder, SIA Collective

HOW I’M FEELING: “Right now, I am flooded with mixed emotions. As a black man in America, I feel like I am a target for racism. I have been the victim of racism, by the police and also during my military career. I am saddened [because] I have a 2-year-old son who will one day go from this adorable little boy who loves Hot Wheels cars and monster trucks into a young man who will be seen as a monster because of his skin color. As a loving father, this frightens me. It’s sad that I have to calculate in my head, like a complicated math equation — what age should I teach my son how to keep his hands on the steering wheel when stopped by the police, how to choose a crew neck sweatshirt over a hoodie for your late-night store runs? I have to teach my son how to be less black because his blackness is a threat to America’s whiteness! [But] I am also happy right now because I am seeing the most beautiful BLM protests going on all around the world, with people of all colors demanding change. I’m not sure if it’s the pandemic or the execution of George Floyd, but these protests feel different, they look different, they are different and I think we will finally get some legislative change on police reform. I am also seeing change on social media from these major corporations like Nike and Adidas, stating that black lives matter and how they are for the movement, which I am a little skeptical about. I think a lot of these companies are turning BLM from ‘Black Lives Matter’ to Black Lives Marketing. For example, how many African Americans are at the top of these companies? Or on their board of representatives? Are black employees paid less than their white employees that do the same job? Are women at these companies paid the same as the men? Or are these corporations just using this moment to pretend that they are for us, when they are not doing anything to uplift us?”

WHAT I’M DOING: “During this pandemic and social distancing, I was not able to hold my FBCC teens class, so I decided that I would start selecting random young people to invest in and help them start their own clothing business. I have a local black-owned print shop in my neighborhood that I pay to bring their ideas to life. I also have my graphic artist help them with their logo or revamp their existing logo. I then pay for the production of the goods and ship it o to the winners. Since I am paying the cost 100%, every sale they make is all profit for them to re-up and keep their brand going. One of the main reasons I do this is because I know that some of us just need a little help — financially, we are hurting. The black community has a 17% unemployment rate right now, which is the highest among all nationalities. I also know that banks don’t really give young black people business loans; they will give you a $100,000 school loan, but won’t give you a $10,000 business loan, and that’s because your oppressor is not trying to fi nance your freedom. So if Nike, Reebok, Adidas or Under Armour really believe that black lives matter, then invest in these young black people. Give them the startup loans the banks won’t, give them the full-ride scholarships to schools, not to play sports but to learn the business of fashion, architecture or any fi eld that would help them continue in a career at your company. We came to this country as slaves. All we are asking for is a little help to remove these chains.”

Owner, Harlem Haberdashery

HOW I’M FEELING: “Right now, I feel uneasy. I feel like many people aren’t connecting to the issue and thinking this is an issue specifically for black people, when injustice should be the concern of all people, regardless of race. I try to make people who counter with ‘all lives matter’ once they hear ‘black lives matter’ take color out of the issue and pretend George Floyd or any other person of color done wrong is white, and ask, ‘How would you feel? Imagine if he was white, would that upset you? Or if it was your child or loved one?’ Color is strangely the blinding issue for many who can’t understand racism. Police brutality is human injustice regardless of color.”

WHAT I’M DOING: “Professionally and personally, I try to educate my people on the importance of self-ownership and starting grassroots organizations committed to community. Unity is really important. It’s nice to see all these brands speak up to the cause of black lives mattering, but if the structure of organization doesn’t reflect your message, then you are part of the problem. Inclusion and diversity is very important, but most brands don’t reflect their message. [However], it’s nice to see the effort. I feel we can get to a place of peace, but it’s a conscious effort that every single person needs to make for that to happen.”

Co-founder, The Foundation

HOW I’M FEELING: “As a black man who is aware and has been dealing with racism, discrimination, police brutality and social injustice all of my life, I have a lot of mixed feelings right now. Part of me is naturally angry and saddened by these issues, but I am never one to be consumed with emotion. I am encouraged that people appear to be waking up to what is actually going on out in the world, but I am also concerned that it will only last for a moment and people will retreat back to their corners.”

WHAT I’M DOING: “I feel like I am back in school. I am educating myself even more now on these issues than I did in the past. I am having many tough conversations professionally and personally with different companies and people of diverse backgrounds. These conversations are sometimes uncomfortable for all parties, but they are necessary and the only way there can be real change.”

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