To Address Diversity & Inclusion in 2021, Shoe Companies Leaned Into Philanthropic Initiatives

2020 was a critical year for companies to define their relationships to racial equality. In the wake of the killing of George Floyd and subsequent national protests, major companies announced new measures and commitments to improve racial equality. In many cases, diversity and inclusion efforts quickly became a central aspect of business models moving forward.

Over a year later, organizations are still broadening and fine-tuning their DEI commitments and philanthropic efforts. And many are providing updates for the commitments they made in 2020.

Taking the Next Steps

On the donation front, Nike, Adidas, Foot Locker, Fila, Kith, Puma, Toms and many more fashion brands pledged donations in 2020 to organizations that fight racial injustice. Many of these companies said they would invest millions of dollars to support the Black community over multiple years.

For example, Nike, Converse and the Jordan Brand committed to investing $140 million over 10 years to support organizations that promote racial equality, empowerment and education for Black Americans. The Jordan Brand specifically committed $100 million over the next 10 years to organizations with a similar purpose.

Some of these commitments have already come to fruition. In September 2021, Jordan Brand announced that it would give $1 million in grants to 18 change-focused grassroots organizations. In March, Nike outlined a five-year plan centered on diversity, inclusion and social justice and said it plans to spend $1 billion on diverse suppliers and invest $125 million to support organizations that address racial inequality.

Other companies have also offered updates on their commitments. Neiman Marcus Group said it would donate $1 million over a three-year period to U.S. nonprofits that support Black communities. Adidas said in 2020 it would invest $120 million to programs that support Black communities over the next four years.

After declaring that it would invest $200 million into the Black community over the next five years, Foot Locker Inc. this year announced a $5 million investment in MaC Venture Capital, a Black-led VC firm dedicated to advancing businesses with diverse leaders. It also partnered with 34 new Black brands and creators for collaborations in 2021 and committed $750,000 to Pensole Footwear Design Academy to help train the next generation of diverse shoe designers.

Meanwhile, Pensole founder D’Wayne Edwards has made moves of his own in the area of education by opening the country’s first HBCU to focus on design. Edwards was recently named the controlling stockholder of The Lewis College of Business, a Detroit-based historically Black college and university founded by the late Violet T. Lewis. Edwards will reopen the school, which has been closed since 2013, to focus on design.

Beyond monetary contributions, major retailers also are helping to make sure that diverse and Black-owned brands are represented on shelves. Many companies have signed on to Aurora James’ 15 Percent Pledge, a nonprofit organization that asks stores to commit to using 15% of their shelf-space for Black-owned businesses. The initiative launched in the summer of 2020 and garnered many notable supporters. New signees this year include Gap Inc., Kith, Nordstrom and Hudson’s Bay Co.

Additionally, in 2021, a wave of violence against members of the Asian community drew the attention of the fashion world, in large part due to Phillip Lim and other designers and editors, who drove awareness to the cause. Thanks to their efforts, in May, Amazon, Walmart, Nike and other major companies pledged $125 million to create the Asian American Foundation, an incubator and funder for AAPI people.

A Point of Pride

As companies continue to focus on promoting inclusivity, the needs of the LGBTQ+ community have also risen to the forefront this past year. But the time has come for brands to do more than simply put out rainbow-colored product.

“There are enough awesome rainbow shoes in the market,” Clarks chief marketing officer Tara McRae told FN in July. This summer, the shoe label participated in a mentorship series for LBGTQ+ creatives, in partnership with U.K.-based agency The Elephant Room. “What I wanted to do was use the power of the Clarks brand to give back to the community in a meaningful way.”

Dozens more brands stepped up this year by making significant financial contributions to nonprofits and organizations that benefit lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer adults and youth.

Ugg, a division of Deckers Brands, promised to donate $25 from each sale of its Pride-inspired Disco Slide, up to a maximum donation of $125,000, to GLAAD, and its sister brand Teva pledged $35,000 to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation in June.

Meanwhile, Vans announced a $200,000 donation to LGBTQ+ causes split between GLSEN, Casa 1, Where Love is Illegal and Tokyo Rainbow Pride. Dr. Martens, in association with its Pride 1461 oxford, pledged $100,000 to The Trevor Project — one of the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organizations for LGBTQ youth. And K-Swiss donated $90,000 of product to NOH8, which promotes equality and fights discrimination.

Improving Access

Another common theme of the past year is promoting inclusivity in the outdoors.

After four contentious years with former President Donald Trump, who controversially reduced the size of national monuments including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, the outdoor industry appears to have an ally in President Joe Biden. Last month, Biden restored environmental protections to both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, as well as Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, reversing the moves of Trump.

With fewer obstacles in their way, leading brands and retailers in the outdoor market have been able to focus solely on the initiatives that matter to them the most — and chief among them is ensuring everyone has access to the outdoors.

The North Face, for instance, launched the Explore Fund in September, a $7 million pledge to increase outdoor exploration in underserved communities. At the start of the year, Merrell revealed it had entered a multiyear partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters focused on making the outdoors more accessible to youth. And Keen, through its Keen Effect Kids Grant program, gave nine $10,000 grants to groups that connect kids to nature during Earth Month.

Retail giants also stepped up in a major way. Most recently, REI Co-op announced the REI Cooperative Action Fund last month, which allows for its members, employees and the public to offer support to a nationwide network of nonprofit organizations promoting justice, equity and belonging in the outdoors. To start, the retailer confirmed the fund would invest $1 million into 19 nonprofit partners aligned with this mission.

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