2021 marks FN’s fourth year of presenting its Black History Month Spotlight series, which shines a light on some of the remarkable executives, entrepreneurs and designers in the shoe industry. As part of our ongoing commitment to champion diversity across all areas of the footwear business, we will continue to amplify the voices and stories of Black movers and shakers who are worthy to be recognized all year round.
Shawn Pean might not be a name you’re familiar with, but the luxury fashion veteran has 20 years of experience holding positions at storied department stores such as Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue as well as luxury brands like Valentino and Balmain.
Known for his assertive and ambitious attitude, Pean has helped launch heritage department stores and fashion labels into the 21st century leaning on his knack for predicting the next big trend. For instance, during his time as a buyer for the men’s department at Saks Fifth Avenue, Pean encouraged the department store to carry designer sneakers, a category that hadn’t yet become its own multi-million-dollar force.
“At the time, the men’s footwear section at Saks was all black and brown shoes, so I had this radical idea of going after the designer sneaker business,” said Pean, who started as a men’s buyer for the department store in 2005.
Pean told FN that when he was initially laughed out of the room by executives when he proposed the idea. “I was told that no one’s going to pay for designer sneakers [that cost] over three hundred bucks,” he said. But Pean persisted and his winning track record propelled him up the ranks to overseeing the department store’s footwear, outerwear and accessories division for men — all while Saks benefitted from the designer sneaker market craze.
The Brooklyn-native is now the executive vice president of Retail and Fashion Solutions, a project headed by Tom Ott, another department store veteran who left Saks Fifth Avenue in 2019 after a 24-year career. Together, their small team is helping brands like Mallet London, a footwear label founded by British reality television star, Tommy Mallet, land shelf space in the U.S. Retail and Fashion Solutions brings deep industry knowledge to clients and includes services such as brand development, retail consulting and merchandise brokering.
“I’m helping develop a few brands, including Mallet, working and consulting to help them understand the landscape of the market and really helping them launch at specialty and department stores in the U.S.,” Pean said.
Mentorship has always been a priority to Pean, who also lends his time to organizations invested in helping emerging Black brands, designers and professionals succeed in the fashion industry. He is a longtime member and mentor for BRAG, the Black Retail Action Group, a nonprofit that he joined as a young professional back in 2003.
This year he also joined RAISEfashion, an organization that connects Black-owned brands and individuals to fashion industry professionals that offer pro bono creative, strategic and tactical support. Pean also sits on the advisory board for the Black In Fashion Council, which was created by the recently-appointed editor-in-chief of “The Cut” Lindsay Peoples Wagner and communications consultant Sandrine Charles in June. The organization seeks to help the advancement of Black designers, brands and professionals in the fashion and beauty industry.
“I’ve always mentored, even when I was an assistant, senior assistant, [and an] associate buyer,” said Pean, who added that when he started out in the retail industry he faced the challenge of not having a mentor of his own.
Pean began his career at JCPenney, working as an intern, eventually landing the coveted assistant buyer position in Dallas, Texas. “It was like a reality show in which like they had 30 kids and they were only offering 12 spots for the buying program. People were like sabotaging people’s projects to get a spot,” said the business consultant.
He credits his determined spirit for helping him succeed in the cutthroat industry, which wasn’t always inclusive — and still has a ways to go. Now that he’s garnered two decades of experience, Pean is committed to sharing his knowledge with young professionals and helping to shape their careers.
“It’s always been something that I’m passionate about and something that I will always continue to do,” said Pean on mentoring. “And I’ve always had very diverse teams. That’s also something I’m very passionate about, I get people operating based on what they can do, not what they look like.”
What’s next for the luxury fashion veteran? Pean is in the works of launching a menswear collection that will be U.S. made. Though still under wraps, he hopes to launch later in the year.