One of the most compelling panels at the 2022 National Black Footwear Forum in Detroit was “Hometown She-ros,” featuring four women who have not only made their mark in the industry, but they have also helped others find their way.
The conversation on Saturday was hosted by D’Wayne Edwards, president and founder of Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design. Before the women hit the school’s stage, Edwards said these four represent “one of the most amazing stories of mentorship” and said the group “is a great example of what happens when people reach back.”
“Hometown She-ros” featured Adidas S.E.E.D. director of design education and growth Cheresse Thornhill-Goldson; Allbirds VP of product design Ashley Comeaux; Mister OK’s Essentials founder and CEO Precious Hannah; and Adidas Basketball assistant footwear designer Eliya Jackson.
During the talk, Edwards asked each panel member to share the advice they would give their freshman high school self. Here’s what they had to say.
“I would have told myself to dream way bigger than I had been dreaming at the time. I want to shout out Jessica Smith and Liz Conley for founding S.E.E.D., which is a school for experiential education and design. We’re focused on creating pathways into the footwear industry for Black women and women of color. I would have told myself to dream much bigger than I had been dreaming because what we’re doing now and the work we’re doing with S.E.E.D. actually was a pathway for Eliya to get into the industry. All the obstacles that we face gaining access and education, the work we’re doing right now created a pathway for her and now she’s sitting here with us.”
“I would say to my younger self, ‘All those moments of doubt, push through those.’ Those impostor moments, it’s not syndrome. They’re just moments. They come and go. You acknowledge them and you send them out. Push through the hard, doubtful moments. I recently had the pleasure of bringing in two interns from the Allbirds-Pensole partnership from last year, one of which looks like us. It was a special moment for me to be in a position to do that. And she’s fire. Sheina Charles, people. Look out. I had a moment with her before she ended her internship to sit her down and offer her all the tips and words of wisdom as she goes into the industry. [I said] go into a room and sit at the table — you [Edwards] told me that. Intern or no intern, sit at the table, advocate for yourself. Know that you’re going into that room and probably 10 times out of 10 you’re the only person in there who has a perspective that you have. Own that and work with that and find power in that.”
“Fail fast, because time is precious. Also, if the door closes, there’s a window. You can get in there some way. It’s a back door, a window, a roof that you could go through, sliding glass doors. Don’t don’t short yourself.”
“I would tell myself whatever you think the traditional or the normal route is to success, erase that from your head. What you can see on stage here are individuals who have made it at different points in our career. I got into the industry around 20 years old, and it’s important to find the next person to sit here next year who is 17 years old. The age just gets younger and younger because we’re building a community of Black women, of women of color, at such a fast pace. I didn’t think I was gonna be here today so many years ago. I didn’t even think I was gonna be in industry. You’ve just got to trust the process.”