At a critical moment in the battle for racial equality, FN highlights influential Black leaders who led bold protests, engineered game-changing initiatives and fought tirelessly for social justice reform in 2020. (The below names are in alphabetical order. To see a concurrent list of fashion coalitions that pushed for equality in 2020, click here.)
SNEAKER STRATEGIST & DESIGNER
You would be hard pressed to find someone with a voice as strong as Jazerai Allen-Lord. Throughout the year, the outspoken sneaker enthusiast — who co-founded the True to Size brand strategy agency that emphasizes amplifying marginalized voices — used her social media platforms to share the stories of Black men and women within the industry. Additionally, she penned articles and columns for more mainstream outlets addressing the pressing issues of today from both an industry and a consumer perspective. One of her most recent works is “Planting the S.E.E.D. for the Next Generation” — specifically the educational program’s efforts geared toward Black women who are interested in design — which can be read on the Adidas Confirmed app.
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She might be best known for curating the dazzling fashions seen on Beyoncé and her work on “Black Is King.” But Akers is using her powerful position in fashion to help Black-owned brands in fashion and beauty gain more visibility. In a short time, her “Black Owned Everything” Instagram account has amassed 189,000 followers.
DIRECTOR OF APPAREL OPERATIONS, NEW BALANCE
With more than a decade at New Balance under her belt, Blunt has recently taken her influence at the brand far beyond apparel operations: This year, she led a team of designers and creatives to launch New Balance’s first-ever Black History Month capsule collection. In addition to lending her voice to FN’s Diversity & Inclusion webinar, “Race Revolution: Apologies & Action,” this summer, Blunt plays a critical role in New Balance’s D&I leadership task force, helping the brand shape its strategy around inclusion and equality at all levels.
ASSISTANT APPAREL DESIGNER, ADIDAS
Bond’s courageous decision to put a name and face to diversity and inclusion challenges at Adidas amplified the reality and extent of Black employees’ frustration with the brand, and likely was a critical element in fostering transformation. Bond, in June, wrote an open letter challenging Adidas’ leadership to execute tangible changes in the treatment and upliftment of Black staffers: “I can no longer stand for Adidas’ consistent complacency in taking active steps against a racist work environment. This is not business as usual,” she wrote. For several weeks, Bond led daily protests in front of the company’s Portland, Ore., HQ and, even after the company released heightened D&I objectives in June, she persisted in her efforts for ongoing accountability, protesting into August.
WASHINGTON MYSTICS STAR; CONVERSE ATHLETE
In 2019, Natasha Cloud won a WNBA title with the Washington Mystics. In 2020, she didn’t step foot on the court. The baller — who inked a deal with Converse at the beginning of June — revealed toward the end of the month that she would forgo the 2020 WNBA season to focus on social justice reform.
PRESIDENT, COUNCIL OF FASHION DESIGNERS OF AMERICA (CFDA)
After receiving some blowback for not doing enough around equality in fashion, CFDA made
a big move when it named CaSandra Diggs as president. She is the first woman and first person of color named to the role since the organization was founded in 1962. With the U.S. fashion industry at a critical crossroads, Diggs will help define the future at a time when reinvention and diversity is key.
FOUNDER, PENSOLE FOOTWEAR DESIGN ACADEMY
Edwards’ far-reaching efforts to build and develop a pipeline for minorities in the footwear business have been instrumental in reshaping the lives of thousands of Black youth who may have otherwise lacked avenues for career advancement. He launched Pensole in 2010 and has steered the design academy to fruitful partnerships with New Balance, Puma, Under Armour and Vibram. The 30-year industry veteran — one of only six designers to ever design an Air Jordan sneaker — in 2019 collaborated with the Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America to launch the first-ever African American Footwear Forum, aimed at amplifying the voices and unity of Black professionals in footwear. He is a foremost voice in industry conversations centered on the inclusion and advancement of Black people in footwear and has worked with Nike, Timberland, Vans, The North Face, Allbirds, Adidas and Foot Locker to help facilitate their investments in the Black community.
DESIGNER & CREATIVE CONSULTANT
The creative challenged Nike Inc. in June over its financial commitments to the Black community, calling it “a very expensive band-aid,” and demanded more transparency of its inner workings. Emory went a step further by withholding his collab with Nike-backed Converse until the company’s shortcomings were addressed. Four months later, Emory — through his Denim Tears imprint — delivered the Chuck 70 collaboration, a silhouette dressed in the African American flag, with an accompanying commitment from Converse to encourage the Black community to vote.
VP OF STRATEGY, CORPORATE DEVELOPMENT & STRATEGIC INVESTMENTS, FOOT LOCKER
Eight-year Foot Locker exec Vladimir Estiverne wears many hats in his role with the retail giant. However, this year, the company tasked him, along with several other key leaders throughout it’s divisions globally, with a project it revealed in June: looking after its five-year, $200 million investment to support the Black community through economic development and education initiatives. Also, Estiverne serves on Foot Locker’s Blacks United in Leadership and Development employee resource group and is a steering committee member of the “social justice communication lab,” The Opportunity Agenda.
Throughout this tumultuous year, Treis Hill has used his social media platforms to champion the efforts of others who are fighting racial injustice. Most recently, he celebrated Tremaine Emory and his African American flag-bearing Converse Chuck 70 collab. However, Hill and Alife have also delivered several social justice efforts of their own. At the start of the year, Alife released hoodies in its signature gray bearing the names of pivotal figures in African American history to much fanfare. However, as violence against Black men and women dominated headlines, its celebratory efforts quickly turned into a fight against racial injustice. That same hoodie would arrive in May, this time with the name of a Black man who was killed this year: Ahmaud Arbery. Since then, Alife has ramped up its social justice efforts, including the launch of “Stuy Talks” in July, a series of conversations on social injustice, police violence and racism in conjunction with Brooklyn Scholar Athletes and Brooklyn Combine.
FOUNDER & CREATIVE DIRECTOR, BROTHER VELLIES; FOUNDER, 15% PERCENT PLEDGE
While many fashion players spoke out against racism and inequality, Aurora James took definitive action when she launched The 15% Pledge. The entrepreneur and designer, who has consistently worked to support female and minority talents, called on retailers to pledge 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses. (Black people represent about 15% of the population in the U.S.) In addition to bringing much-needed attention to the lack of Black representation at retail, the move has fueled immediate and meaningful change at a time when it’s needed most. Macy’s, Sephora, Rent the Runway and West Elm are among the major names who have already committed, and a determined James is keeping the pressure on.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS FORWARD; NIKE ATHLETE
Early 2020 was marred by the tragic death
of Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant; however, LeBron James wrapped the 2019-20 NBA season on a high note, earning yet another championship for the storied franchise. At the same time, he made just as many headlines for activism efforts as game action. His most recent initiative is “More Than a Vote,” an organization geared toward fighting racist voter suppression. His efforts led to a partnership with the Los Angeles Dodgers to turn Dodger Stadium into a polling station for the upcoming presidential election and the recruitment of 10,000 poll workers in “vulnerable Black communities.”
RAP STAR; ENTREPRENEUR
The rap megastar with ties to Puma, who has become more of an activist in recent years, ramped up his efforts in 2020. For instance, the artist (born Shawn Carter) was instrumental in getting the NFL in February to donate $100 million to criminal justice reform. Also, his Reform Alliance organization worked to get California Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign AB 1950 into law, which will limit probation sentences in the state to no more than one year for misdemeanors and two years for felonies.
OWNER, CHARLOTTE HORNETS; NASCAR TEAM OWNER
The spotlight has been on NBA icon Michael Jordan throughout much of the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to his acclaimed “The Last Dance” docuseries, several high-profile sneaker releases and a new signature shoe, the Air Jordan 35. However, the retired athlete’s most notable moment came in early June when he, along with his Jordan Brand imprint, revealed a $100 million donation over the next 10 years to racial equality organizations. In July, the company revealed the first nonprofits that would receive donations: NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People and Families Movement and Black Voters Matter.
FOUNDER & CREATIVE DIRECTOR, PYER MOSS; VP OF CREATIVE DIRECTION, REEBOK
When the pandemic hit New York hard, Jean- Raymond immediately stepped up — turning his headquarters into a PPE collection site and setting up a $100,000 fund to help minority- and women-owned businesses stay afloat. A few months later, he teamed with French luxury powerhouse Kering to launch the “Your Friends in New York” platform to support rising talent and empower the next generation of entrepreneurs. All of that work is garnering major attention across the industry. After taking home FN’s Person of the Year award in 2019, Jean-Raymond — who was promoted to VP of creative direction at Reebok in September — racked up more big honors this year, as CFDA’s menswear designer of the year and Harlem’s Fashion Row designer of the year.
The former NFL quarterback hasn’t taken a snap under center for years, and yet Kaepernick is more discussed now than ever. The athlete- turned-activist continued his fight against racial injustice in 2020, most notably through a partnership between his Kaepernick Publishing and the Medium publication Level that will yield 30 essays and conversations over four weeks. The quarterback will focus on pressing issues, including the divisive topic of abolishing the police and prisons.
NORTH AMERICA VP OF MARKETING, FOOT LOCKER
The executive’s work to help Black men and women advance in the footwear industry knows no bounds. Last year, Richard McLeod helped launch Foot Locker’s No 1 Way Design Program, in conjunction with Pensole Footwear Design Academy, to put the spotlight on design hopefuls from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. This year, his efforts were internal, landing a spot on the Foot Locker Diversity & Inclusion Council. McLeod’s efforts within D&I are far from new and have always been a focus. “I want to be known for driving change, as someone who wasn’t afraid to take risks, learn and try something new,” the exec said in an OpEd published by FN in October 2019. “I have a love for the people I work with and want to ensure under my leadership [that] I am known for growing and developing each and every one of them.”
WTA TENNIS STAR; NIKE ATHLETE
The young star is determined to be a champion on and off the court. The US Open winner used her platform to make a huge statement during the 2020 tournament by wearing seven different face masks with the name of Black victims of police brutality and racial injustice. A week earlier, Osaka sat out the semifinals of another tournament to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake, who was shot by police in Kenosha, Wis.
CHIEF DIVERSITY OFFICER, MACY’S INC.
Prior to the racial uprising of 2020, Macy’s Inc. was carving out its place as an industry leader in diversity and inclusion strategy. Outler is the woman at the center of the department store’s aggressive plan, which challenges itself and the broader retail sector to move the needle on equality. Her “five-part approach” includes a requirement for 50% representation of gender/ gender identity, ethnicity, age, size and disabled persons in Macy’s advertising by 2020; 30% ethnic diversity at the senior director level and above by 2025; and diverse supplier spend of at least 5% by 2021. Last week, in a huge move, Macy’s became the biggest retailer to sign Aurora James’ 15% Pledge.
ACTOR, SINGER & ACTIVIST
When Billy Porter talks, people listen. The ardent activist worked tirelessly to get out the vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Bold and outspoken, Porter educated his millions of followers about the significant challenges that members of the Black and LGBTQ+ communities face in today’s America, from police brutality to voter suppression.
VP OF GLOBAL FOOTWEAR, CONVERSE
Converse is one of the only major sneaker brands with a Black CEO at the helm. However, G. Scott Uzzell isn’t the lone powerful Black leader on staff. Brandis Russell, its VP of global footwear who has been the voice of several of Converse’s biggest product initiatives, is one of its strongest voices — so much so that the impact she has had on the company culture led her to be named to the Nike Inc. D&I Acceleration Task Force in June.
PRESIDENT & CEO, CONVERSE
Converse CEO G. Scott Uzzell is one of the few Black executives leading a high-profile footwear company — and hasn’t shied away from using his position to create change. “I received a phone call from a senior person at Nike a couple days after the passing of George Floyd, and the phone call was that ‘You’re black and you’re a CEO and today they should intersect. And Scott, you’ll make us all better by doing that because of your unique experiences, because there’s not many of you,’” Uzzell recalled. After some thought, he realized not all of his responsibilities will be found on an earnings statement. “There’s this trail that I’ve walked throughout my career, that many of my peers have not walked, and I can bring unique thought,” Uzzell said.
NASCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER
Inking a deal with Columbia Sportswear Co. and being named the driver for Michael Jordan’s newly formed NASCAR team were huge moments in 2020 for Bubba Wallace — but they pale in comparison to what defined his year. In June, a door pull rope tied in the shape of a noose was found in his garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, which led to an FBI investigation that revealed he was not the target of a hate crime. However, Wallace became a central figure in the modern civil rights movement, using his social media platforms to promote togetherness.
OWNER, THE WHITAKER GROUP (SOCIAL STATUS, A MA MANIERE, A.P.B. & PROSPER)
The owner of several retail banners used his platforms to offer services aside from products throughout the year. Most notably, Whitner and Social Status delivered the “Free Game” educational series via the community-focused BeSOCIAL programming online. However, the most profound moment came in October, when then-Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris visited the Charlotte, N.C., location of Social Status to engage Whitner in a conversation in front of press about voting and the importance of positive energy.
CO-FOUNDER & HOST, CLAIMA STORIES
Williams has taken the modern-day mantra “reach back and pull forward” to heart over the course of his career. In 2019, the Baton Rouge, La., native — who has spent time working in marketing and product creation at sportswear giants including Adidas — launched professional development podcast “Claima Stories.” The name stands for “claim a seat at the table” and invites leaders from footwear and adjacent industries to share their accomplishments and offer advice on how minorities can break in or advance in their careers. Williams early this year landed his dream job in Nike’s entertainment marketing department, but stepped away in August, amid national unrest over racial injustice, to dedicate all of his efforts to helping Black and Brown people discover a path to professional success.
PPRESIDENT, JORDAN BRAND
Williams leads the vision, strategy and growth of the billion-dollar Jordan Brand globally. Since taking the helm early last year, he has championed the brand’s community efforts, announcing in July a joint commitment with Michael Jordan for $100 million over 10 years to fight systemic racism. Initial donations were made to the Legal Defense Fund, FICPFM and Black Voters Matter, but the brand has also introduced educational content that highlights key issues facing the Black community. In May, Craig wrote a powerful editorial about the Jordan Wings program, noting the brand’s ongoing commitment to level the playing field for kids who need it, with scholarships that remove barriers to higher education.
GLOBAL VP & GM OF BASKETBALL, ADIDAS
As Adidas faced a pivotal moment in its diversity and inclusion journey this year, Wise was one of the leadership voices active in the movement toward meaningful change. His insights helped inform and build out the brand’s United Against Racism (UAR) pledge, which in June became arguably the most powerful statement of Adidas’ commitment to progress. Now, as co-chair and executive sponsor of the brand’s U.S. United Against Racism Accountability Council, he works closely with Adidas’ North American president, Zion Armstrong, to stem race issues. To ensure the company’s efforts reach external communities, Wise helped launch Honoring Black Excellence, an initiative to engage with the Black community via brand-sponsored activations. He is also a member of Adidas’ Global Committee to Accelerate Inclusion and Equality.