With Autism Acceptance Month here, Foot Locker Inc. has revealed a plan to show its commitment to the cause — and has tapped Diadora, Puma and others to help.
“The CDC recently released statistics [in December 2021] showing that 1 in 44 kids [who are 8 years old] are on the autism spectrum. Even if autism doesn’t affect you personally or someone in your immediate family, chances are you know someone on the spectrum. We want to help promote autism acceptance — not just for this month, but day in and day out,” Foot Locker Inc. North America VP of commercial concepts and head of employee resource group John Hochadel told FN.
The Diadora look, which was designed by former professional wrestler turned designer Sarath Ton, is a reimagined take on the Diadora N9002. Foot Locker said this project was a personal one for Ton, whose brother-in-law lives with autism. The look, dubbed the “Be Seen” N9002, is built with an alternative closure option to help those who may not have the motor skills to tie shoelaces. Also, the look features “Awareness” on the left shoe and “Acceptance” on the right, as well as the neurodiversity symbol consuming the uppers and puzzle pieces taking over the lining.
Additionally, there will be a custom “Be Seen” T-shirt designed by Ton and produced by nonprofit Spectrum Designs to complement the footwear, and Foot Locker Inc. enlisted Ben Rosloff, a filmmaker and storyteller who is living with autism, to film a documentary highlighting the design process and inspiration behind the “Be Seen” collection.
The “Be Seen” Diadora N9002 arrives April 13 via Foot Locker and Champs Sports with a $120 price tag.
As for Puma, the two partnered with actor and autism community advocate Ron Funches for a sneaker inspired by his son, who is on the autism spectrum. Foot Locker Inc. said Funches remixed the Puma RS-X with tonal uppers created with multiple textures, which the retailer explained are tools to offer tactile sensory input and motor movements that help with self-regulation. And the bright outsoles, according to Foot Locker Inc., are a nod to Funches’ son’s favorite colors.
Foot Locker Inc. said the Puma sneakers will arrive at a later date.
“Diadora and Puma have been great partners in this journey. Both were involved in our initial projects last year and have embraced the opportunity to come back this year for round two,” Hochadel said. “We worked with Sarath Ton and Ron Funches to help us bring these designs to life. They have family members on the spectrum and drew inspiration from that connection. Sarath wanted to lean into our ‘Be Seen’ thematic and feature a bold color execution with glow-in-the-dark elements. Ron wanted to feature his son’s favorite color, matching his noise-canceling headphones perfectly.”
What’s more, the effort includes financial contributions.
Foot Locker Inc. and Diadora are donating $25,000 to the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, and the retailer and PUma are donating $25,000 to Next For Autism, an organization that creates and supports educational, clinical and vocational programs with the intent to affect fundamental shifts in approaches to autism services.
Beyond footwear, the retailer tapped Dane Capo, an artist who was diagnosed with epilepsy at 10 months old and autism at 5, and Rebecca Oslaky, who is also an autistic artist, to create “Be Seen” T-shirts that are produced by Spectrum Designs. The shirts will be sold exclusively at Foot Locker Inc. banners.
Foot Locker Inc. also said a $25,000 donation to Autism Speaks is planned in conjunction with the releases.
“We’ve worked with Spectrum Designs on projects unrelated to autism and they’ve always done a fantastic job. A majority of their workforce are individuals living with autism, and that certainly fits well into our thematic of ‘Be Seen,'” Hochadel said.
Aside from its work with brands and organizations, Foot Locker Inc. has several internal initiatives it is working on. For instance, it will host educational sessions for employees and create opportunities for young adults on the spectrum to work with them. And Foot Locker Inc. stated it will work with Gamut Management to hire individuals on the spectrum as content creators, photographers, models and more to support the releases.
These efforts, Foot Locker Inc. said, support the mission of its Laced Differently global employee resource group, which aims to create visibility, raise awareness and empower persons with disabilities.
“We wanted to make sure that internally this project was managed by people with connections back to the broader autism community while partnering with others across our organization to bring awareness to autism and promote acceptance across our company,” Hochadel said.
Looking ahead, Hochadel said he hopes autism acceptance and awareness becomes a focal point of Foot Locker Inc.
“Ideally, this is just the beginning. There’s a place in our industry for autism acceptance. From making more adaptive products, providing opportunities to work directly with people living with autism, and working with a variety of charitable organizations, there’s a long runway here for everyone,” Hochadel said.