FN is celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month. Observed from September 15 to October 15, the occasion recognizes the histories, cultures and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. FN invites you to follow along as we shine a light on Hispanic-American shoe designers and entrepreneurs making big waves in the fashion industry.
Jusepet and Leo Rodriguez were born with an entrepreneurial spirit.
“Our parents gave us an example early by starting multiple businesses when we were kids,” Jusepet, who is known as “Juice” to the footwear industry, told FN. “Having your own business was the goal and that was never negotiable in our household.”
After years in the footwear industry, which included stints at Adidas for both, the brothers launched Colorway in November 2019, a marketing agency focused on creating storytelling and building a diverse community to support the advancement of people of color in the footwear and fashion industries.
Since the debut, the brothers — who serve as managing partners for Colorway — have taken on clients including Billionaires Boys Club, Greenhouse, Sweet Chick and Soho House. As for the projects the two have worked on, they include the flower shop concept buildout for Sneaker Room’s Nike Kyrie 5 collaboration at ComplexCon 2019 and aligning with Mel Peralta of Foot Locker’s Greenhouse to launch the New Balance x PaperBoy collaboration.
With the company’s one-year anniversary approaching, Jusepet and Leo spoke with FN about the microaggressions they face as Latinx entrepreneurs and how their agency is working to transform the industry.
What led you to create Colorway?
Leo Rodriguez: “Juice and I have always had aspirations to become entrepreneurs. Between us is more than a decade of experience in the footwear and apparel industry. Working together was a natural next step for us both, Colorway is simply a culmination of our expertise and insights. Also, we’ve always noticed and felt the lack of diversity within creative marketing agencies and we are truly trying to change that. As Dominican kids from the Bronx who made it out, one of our goals is to serve our community and bring each other up.”
What separates Colorway from other agencies?
Jusepet Rodriguez: “Colorway was created with the intention of transforming our industry as we know it. We are hyper focused on building a real connection between our brands, retailers and consumers alike. I know a lot of agencies adopt a similar approach, but our point of view is grounded in truth and a genuine love for the culture because of our lived experiences. We like to think of this as a love story: It’s romance, rage, lust, happiness and all the emotions we feel as humans packaged as one.”
What are your goals with the agency?
JR: “Our goals are to focus on four key pillars. [We want to] create an industry standard that revolutionizes how we interact with products and services. We have a responsibility to tell real stories with amazing products and services and we’re dead set on cutting out the fluff. [Also we] focus on building and bringing in talent from our communities and help represent underrepresented minority groups. [We aim to] build a new narrative for minority-owned agencies and talent. [Lastly], develop an open source format nationally and globally to provide opportunities for young entrepreneurs and talent. Agencies like Word Agency from L.A. that we’ve recently been partnering with for west coast ops inspire us everyday to create endless opportunities for our people — people like Zoila Darton truly embody what we all talk about.”
What challenges and opportunities do you face?
JR: “The biggest challenge we face is the daily stereotypes and microaggressions. We’ve learned how to tune this out or address it in a non-hostile manner for the sake of being professional. It is a huge issue because no one should feel less than because of their ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexuality, culture or creed. Unfortunately, this happens a lot to talented people who can bring forth serious, groundbreaking changes to the industry. As a result of these systemic problems, they never get the opportunity to execute how they should. Stereotypes and microaggressions are huge daily hurdles put in place to minimize and water down your message, overall output and professionalism. The biggest opportunities are articles like this one, where we can shed light on these challenges and help address the issue and, of course, [make[ new connections to people and brands that are genuinely excited to create the future we all want to see. Our hope is to help change the mindset and to let our Latinx brothers and sisters know that they are not alone.”
How are Latinx men and women represented within the footwear industry from a workforce standpoint?
JR: “The footwear industry has taken some great strides towards fixing the issue of diversity but we have barely begun to scratch the surface. There needs to be a greater focus on not only acquiring Latinx talent but also cultivating said talent. The second part that needs to be addressed is how leadership and the recruiters communicate to help [create] a more diverse workforce. Because we always hear the statements and goals that leadership puts forth to address diversity but the recruiters actually hold the keys as they help hire and place talent.”
Is the industry doing enough to cultivate Latinx talent?
JR: “The footwear industry is not cultivating Latinx talent because they haven’t fully explored the buying power and potential we possess as a leading demographic. We as a community do appreciate being recognized with specific products from time to time, capsules with our national flags, colorways and stories. But this doesn’t necessarily constitute a strategy for Latinx as a demographic. It’s a friendly nod that says, ‘Hey, we see you, we know you are there’ but just imagine the possibilities if we were to holistically embrace the Latin market. Mike Carmago has been leading incredible partnerships and different marketing strategies at Puma that have been really hitting the Latinx market at a global capacity that feels true to the things we love.”
What needs to be done to ensure there is stronger representation of Latinx talent in the workforce?
LR: “For Latinx people, there always seemed to be a glass ceiling. We can see ourselves escalating but kind of never reach the place of leadership. I’ve been in the industry for a long time now and can count on one hand the amount of Latinx we’ve seen in a leadership role at a footwear company. The perception is that, no matter how talented we are, we’ll never get to a position of leadership and that has to change. We’ve seen very talented people leave the industry because of this. It’s discouraging to know the chances of escalating to a leadership role are slim to none. Latinx employee retention is another issue our industry faces everyday.”
What are the benefits of having multiple family members whose expertise are spread across all facets of the footwear industry?
JR: “We understand our frustrations and we support each other from a mental health side that really means a lot because it’s been a rough year for us all. Our middle brother, Ricardo Rodriguez, currently holds a marketing director position at a prestigious sneaker retailer and other members in our family are focused on constantly changing and creating in this industry, so they supply constant motivation and inspiration.”