Black Leaders on What the Shoe Industry Can Do Right Now

With unrest mounting across the United States as well as internationally over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, the conversation around racial inequality in America has been reignited and continues to build in strength.

While a number of major shoe companies — including Nike, Adidas, VF Corp. and Tapestry — have offered statements of support and some have  pledged financial contributions to the Black Lives Matter movement. Individuals on social media have also challenged the corporations in regard to their own internal operations.

Among creators and cultural cultivators, the demands for better and more impactful representation in the industry are growing.

The shoe industry’s lack of diversity and inclusion has long been a topic of discussion.

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Thought leader James Whitner, who owns several sneaker boutiques, including Social Status and A Ma Maniere, explained to FN in October 2019 that the issue needs to be addressed by decision-makers of leading companies with the intent to enact change.

“Speaking out isn’t about creating opportunities. It’s about bringing awareness to issues and making sure that everyone who cares has all of the information,” Whitner told FN. “The natural feeling is to think about all of the repercussions that could happen if you speak out, but in reality, I believe it’s more dangerous to stay silent.”

Below, black leaders from the various corners of the business share thoughts on how companies can create lasting change.

Frank Cooke
Designer and collaborator

“In order to have meaningful change the brands have to put action to the words that they put in their public statements. African Americans and minorities have to be in higher positions of power in order to make changes and be involved in the on-boarding process. Often times black and minority employees lack mentorship that help them navigate through the corporate matrix and be set up for success. The younger consumers will need to be educated on impactful subjects outside of the hype sneaker releases so that they can take away gems that they can apply to life. Going forward, product and projects will have to be meaningful and benefit the same neighborhoods that host the people that spend their last hard earned dollar.”

D’Wayne Edwards
Founder, Pensole Footwear Design Academy

“The word meaningful means ‘having a serious, important or useful purpose or result.’ The word change means ‘the act or instance of making or becoming different.’ The true definition of those words has not been honored for the three decades I have been in this industry, and that will no longer be acceptable. This is one man’s opinion, but if you want to honor meaningful change, it starts with footwear companies making this a priority — like making money is. It continues with removing the words ‘trying,’ ‘it takes time’ or ‘we are working on it.’ Then make those who can truly enforce meaningful change accountable by tying measurable results to their personal income. To me, that is when ‘the act of becoming different’ becomes ‘serious, important with purposeful results.’ Anything less than that is just words.”

Treis Hill
Managing partner, Alife

“The curtain has finally been lifted, society and companies can no longer turn away. To the leaders of footwear companies, your donations are a start, but your actions [and] how you steer your companies going forward matters more. Suggestions include to be inclusive, hire more minorities in executive roles, help voter registration in all major markets, to enable reform and real change [and] find ways to give back and improve urban neighborhoods financially. Additionally, set up workshops, forums inviting local leaders, NAACP, ACLU, Black Lives Matter and offer your experience, your billboards [and] magazine space to help. Refuse to sell in states that aren’t for change. Be all in on race. You should have been years ago, but don’t half step now.”

Ricky Shoebio
Sneaker influencer/Content creator

“In order to fuel meaningful change in the industry, the power and impact has to be used properly. For some, potentially its reflecting on the the structure that’s limited so many people within said industries to certain positions and titles. For others, it can be taking the accountability to acknowledge issues within specific cultures other than it being an all people issue. While yes, some are now being vocal about the recent issues going on, continue to be vocal on other issues that don’t get as large attention, because they are just as significant. And finally, look to unapologetically draw the line in the sand upon where you stand as it pertains to injustices to the black community who has always been and will always be crucial to the success of said industries. This is how we fuel change.”

James Whitner
Owner and founder, The Whitaker Group

“Everyone needs to hold themselves personally accountable and everyone around them daily. Society makes a choice every day because they understand racism exists, but they aren’t willing to do the work daily to change. Most of white America is comfortable living in their privilege.”

Sandrine Charles
Communications consultant, Sandrine Charles Consulting

“Change begins internally at companies and the agencies they hire. It is imperative for companies to not only hire black people but to include these people in leadership opportunities where the true inclusion and change can stem from.”

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