FN’s virtual “Leading the Revolution” CEO summit today brought together a trio of power players from VF Corp. and Pensole Design Academy for a conversation covering their joint efforts in diversity, equity and inclusion.
Yesterday’s conversation — led by FN assistant digital editor Robyn Merrett — featured insights from Pensole founder D’Wayne Edwards, Timberland global president Susie Mulder and Lauren Guthrie, VF Corp. VP of global inclusion, diversity, equity and action. Included in the discussion was an update on DiverCity x Design, their joint apprenticeship program focused on empowering Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities, that has been years in the making.
“VF and Pensole were talking in 2019, having conversations about how we could work together. It was a Vans and Timberland conversation about some of the challenges they’ve encountered about recruiting kids to come to their corporate offices that are not in racially diverse communities,” Edwards said during the summit. “And once George Floyd got murdered in 2020, the conversation [became], How do we connect multiple brands at VF to really tell a singular story? Because this situation is bigger than one company.”
The effort — which includes The North Face, Vans and Timberland — has been described as both an investment in the future of the footwear industry and a way to ensure diversity in thought and experience.
“Every time I speak with a Timberland designer who’s been involved in the program, there’s just effusive excitement and energy and passion. I honestly think our team is getting as much, if not more, out of the experience than these these kids,” Mulder said. “It’s sparking new ideas for them, it’s giving them a renewed passion for their craft, they’re building these one-on-one relationships, they’re seeing the world through the lens of these kids. It’s really been mutually beneficial.”
Additionally, the trio discussed their equity-focused missions and the changes that have occurred within the industry as a result of recent heightened social justice discussions.
Below are edited excerpts from the panel with Edwards, Guthrie and Mulder.
Big Changes Sparked by the Social Justice Movement
Lauren Guthrie: “The corporate social justice movement has really been catalyzed in the past year, and was driven to focus on equity and the examination of systems and the systemic impact of racism. For us, and the industry at large, this is a really significant shift in how corporations have approached the conversation about DEI in the past, and in many cases demonstrates the commitment over impact and responsibility more broadly. Ultimately, I think this is a conversation about corporate values that’s being had in a really tangible and consistent way. At VF, we are a purpose-led organization and our actions have really been inspired by our desire to show up as authentic allies and advocates for the associates who power our organization and for our consumers, who are the reason for our existence. We built the council structure internally to address and guide VF’s efforts to promote racial equity broadly, and recently have published a set of commitments that will drive our actions against three primary opportunity gaps where we see disproportionate impact on Black and brown communities in the U.S. Those are access to education, economic equity and environmental justice.”
How the Black Lives Matter Movement Has Intensified the Pensole Mission
D’Wayne Edwards: “I think the parallels between society and our industry are connected because ultimately through the movement, we really were just trying to tell America and the world that our Black Lives do matter and that we are important. I think from the industry perspective, it was the same where we just want the industry to understand we do matter as consumers and as people. I would say the industry has responded in an amazing way, especially VF. The cooperation that [Pensole and VF] created together amplifies what needs to happen in order for real change to occur, not just about a movement for right now, but for a sustainable future. These conversations that we’re having today are not conversations that we’ll have tomorrow. It will just become the way the businesses and the way companies act, how companies treat consumers, and then the connection between consumer and company will elevate the industry as a whole. These these conversations and concerns around ‘movements’ will not be a movement. It will just be the way that we do business.”
How Timberland’s Sustainability Initiatives Align With Its Racial Equity Efforts
Susie Mulder: “Environmental issues don’t just affect our planet; they affect the people that are on our planet. And members of the BIPOC community are often living in cities, and therefore are disproportionately impacted. We feel very strongly that you can’t separate people from the planet and from the environment, and as a result, Timberland is really committed to a greener and more equitable future. There’s a lot of people who talk about these issues, but we believe in action, so Timberland gives its associates 40 hours a year paid time to serve in their communities, and certainly we take as much opportunity as we can to focus these efforts against initiatives that are going to benefit the BIPOC communities — for example, restoring parks or renovating schools. We are always trying to the dual purpose of both fostering improvements in our environment and also fostering improvements for members of our community across the globe. We’re also addressing issues like the lack of green space in U.S. cities, which as you well know is a major concern. We have committed that by 2023, we are going to create and restore over 500,000 square feet of green space. It is these initiatives where we’re taking our purpose-driven missions from an environmental place and connecting them with members of our community and members of the BIPOC community and making sure that we continue to create a green and an equitable future.”
Summit sponsors include presenting sponsor PayPal and event sponsors Aetrex, Caleres, FDRA, K-Swiss, Riskified, SkyPad, Sperry, Two Ten and Zappos.