James Whitner’s daughter has long recognized what her father does with The Whitaker Group is impressive to industry insiders and consumers alike. However, it didn’t register to the 14-year-old just how respected he was until seeing the names of the other FNAA winners — with one in particular.
“He mentioned that Cardi B won something and that’s when it clicked in my head like, ‘Oh, this is an award award,'” she said when presenting FN’s Retailer of the Year honor to her dad during the 2020 FN Achievement Awards tonight.
This year, Whitner, founder of The Whitaker Group, used his retail banners — which include A Ma Maniere, Social Status, APB and Prosper — to focus on the country’s most pressing issues, particularly social justice.
For instance, The Whitaker Group closed its banners on Aug. 28 to protest racial injustice following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. Three months later, as attention moved to voter initiatives, the stores closed again on Election Day to drive people to the polls.
However, there was one moment in particular that Whitner’s daughter was most impressed by.
In late October, Social Status in Charlotte, N.C., welcomed a high-profile visitor who shared a message of love, community and positive energy while on the campaign trail: then-Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris (now VP-elect).
“A few days before, like a day or two before, he was like, ‘Do you want to meet Kamala Harris?’ I was like, ‘Yes.’ It was probably one of the best experiences ever,” Whitner’s daughter said. “She said don’t ever ask to take command, just do it, just be your own leader, don’t ask and just lead the pack.”
Although modest and humble, Whitner recognized that The Whitaker Group had a positive impact this year on both the communities his businesses serve and the greater retail landscape.
“2020 has been an incredible year being in the space of retail, being able to stand up for the people who we believe in and our community,” Whitner said while accepting his award. “Evolving retail and keeping our community at the center of it is something we’ve been focused on for years, so it’s a huge accomplishment for us to be recognized for the work we so passionately love to do.”
For 34 years, the annual FN Achievement Awards — often called the “Shoe Oscars” — have celebrated the style stars, best brand stories, ardent philanthropists, emerging talents and industry veterans. The first virtual FNAAs are presented in partnership with The Style Room Powered by Zappos, and sponsors FDRA, Deckers Brands, Soles4Souls and Foot Locker.