From Celebrating Minority Voices to Leading Tough Conversations: Inside FN’s Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion

Throughout 2020, Footwear News is marking 75 years of covering the shoe industry. Each day this week, we’ll be looking back at some of the big stories we’ve been following in recent years.

From designer Kerby Jean-Raymond, who built his Pyer Moss brand on unapologetic black messaging, to the distinguished annual “Women in Power” issue and event series, inclusion has been a leading topic of coverage at FN for the last five years.

Diversity’s advancement to the top of the industry’s agenda (and FN’s) has resulted from a perfect storm of events and shifting tides.

Two years after the magazine launched its Women in Power project, celebrating female leaders, the #MeToo movement swept across the country in 2017 and emboldened scores of women to speak out about inequality and mistreatment in the workplace. It ushered in a wave of change across multiple corporate sectors as well as at individual firms: About a dozen Nike Inc. executives exited the brand in spring 2018 as the Swoosh shouldered accusations of inequitable treatment of women and a “boys’ club” culture.

Tory Burch and Tabitha Simmons
Designers Tory Burch and Tabitha Simmons speak at FN’s Women Who Rock event in New York.
CREDIT: Andrew Morales

That same year, Under Armour also went under the #MeToo spotlight when a Wall Street Journal exposé alleged its management expensed strip club visits and male leaders selected women to attend company events based on their attractiveness.

In a February 2019 FN cover story, Under Armour’s founder and then-CEO Kevin Plank addressed the brand’s diversity missteps.

“I always want to understand how people feel, [but] I reject that,” Plank said of the accusations UA failed to treat women and other minorities fairly. “I don’t know how to be more clear: I pride myself [on] challenging my children to think first and foremost about being global citizens. … Diversity of thought is something I welcome more than anything I can imagine. It’s what I want this company to be; it’s the constituency we sell to.”

The Race Card

As an increasingly vocal and socially conscious consumer started taking the industry to task, topics such as cultural appropriation and a lack of representation at footwear brands exploded.

In February 2017, a Footwearnews.com op-ed asked “Are Athletic Brands Doing Enough for African-Americans?” A little more than a year later, FN’s own “40 under 40” list inadvertently called attention to the limited amount of racial diversity across the industry. On social media and in private messages, individuals expressed their disappointment with the list — citing, in particular, its failure to recognize the major contributions by people of color.

FN answered the call of frustrated and underrepresented groups by launching new diversity and inclusion initiatives, including amplifying the emphasis on its “Black History Month Spotlight” series, which recognizes minority trailblazers in footwear.

Bimma Williams, Claima Stories, Black History Month 2020
Bimma Williams
CREDIT: Courtesy

Kesha McLeod
Kesha McLeod
CREDIT: Phillip Daniel Ducasse

In November 2018, FN broke the exclusive story, “Adidas Minority Employees Challenge Top Management at the Brand About Diversity.” The article, which featured firsthand reporting and interviews with several former and current Adidas employees — who claimed white leaders at the German athletic brand’s Portland, Ore.-headquarters failed to promote and treat people of color fairly — created a transformative moment for the industry.

In addition to telling the stories of the disenfranchised, FN has celebrated black voices like Jean-Raymond and two-time cover star and Brother Vellies creative director Aurora James, who have enjoyed marked success as fashion change agents.

aurora james
Aurora James
CREDIT: Annie Tritt for FN

“If I’m [considered] a first in my [industry] and I’m not addressing the issues that made it so hard for me to get here in the first place, I’m essentially closing the door behind me,” Jean-Raymond said when he graced FN’s cover last December after earning the Person of the Year award. “My goal: to see a whole generation of artists and designers who speak and look and feel this way come in in droves.”

Now, as COVID-19 amplifies existing health and socioeconomic disparities across the globe, FN has doubled down on its commitment to covering D&I and the ways it shows up in the workplace.

In a digital feature in April, thought leaders tackled the new challenges the pandemic has created for footwear companies, particularly as it relates to managing and supporting underrepresented workers.

“Asian communities are experiencing increased racism. Latino and African-American communities are experiencing higher rates of hospitalization and fatalities,” said Kyle Rudy, SVP of New York-based executive placement firm Kirk Palmer Associates. “COVID-19 has been both unifying and fragmenting, and companies need to lean into these unique experiences to understand how their employee groups have been impacted and how they can best support them.”


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