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3 Footwear Brands Among Saks’ Second Emerging Designer Accelerator Program

Saks has launched the second year of its emerging designer accelerator program, The New Wave, this time with three footwear brands included.

The line-up this year features eight new brands including Claude Kameni, Ludovic de Saint Sernin, Undra Celeste, Who Decides War, and Zeynep Arcay, as well as shoe brands Keeyahri, Nalebe, and Sunni Sunni.

Sunni Dixon, designer and founder of Sunni Sunni, looks forward to the future as he starts accelerator program. “My relationship with Saks has been amazing since it began in 2021,” Dixon told FN. “Now that I have been selected for the 2nd year of New Wave I truly feel the confidence and investment they have in my brand, Sunni Sunni. I’m looking forward to seeing how this program will influence my business decisions in the future.”

Sunni Sunni Reese snake embossed boot
Sunni Sunni’s Reese snake embossed boot.
CREDIT: Saks

Nalebe designer and founder Amina Means told FN, “This means a lot to us because it’s geared towards increasing brand visibility and awareness. Saks will also be investing hugely into our business to grow our line of assortments in their stores.There’s also a marketing campaign to showcase our products on the Saks Window displays.” She added, “This is a stamp of approval from a luxury retailer that shows we are doing all the right things to grow.”

According to Saks, the purpose of the program remains to develop and support high-potential independent brands in accelerating their growth at the retailer, and ultimately across the greater fashion industry. This year, participating designers were sourced from all categories including men’s and gender-neutral brands, which are new to the program, Saks said. Participants were identified by the Saks leadership team as brands that have significant growth potential but require additional support to scale their businesses.

Nalebe Eureka Aurum embellished mules
Nalebe’s Eureka Aurum embellished mules.
CREDIT: Saks

Another goal of the program is to emphasize BIPOC voices, with Saks ensuring that each year at least half of the participating brands are BIPOC-owned. This year, six of the eight participating designers are BIPOC. The first iteration of The New Wave launched in June 2021 as part of Saks’ DEI roadmap outlining goals to advance its diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, including a commitment to increase total sales of Black-owned, -designed, or -led brands by nearly $100 million by 2023.

Similar to last year, the program will offer an onboarding boot camp, cross-functional advisory sessions with leaders from across the Saks business, roundtable sessions with industry experts and designers and access to workshops to support brands with small business know-how. Each designer will also be eligible to receive a $10,000 grant to support their business operations and growth, as well as dedicated marketing support from Saks.

What’s more, Mastercard will serve as the presenting sponsor of The New Wave for the second year in a row, and will provide designers with its “Digital Doors Toolkits,” which include resources to help small businesses digitally transform, as well as one-on-one mentorship. This partnership builds on Mastercard’s sustained commitment to build a more inclusive digital economy and to help close the racial wealth and opportunity gap for Black communities, Saks said.

And United Airlines is joining the program this year. Participating designers will have the opportunity to create the new Saks-branded day blanket that will appear on board United flights in Polaris and business class. Leadership from Saks and United will serve as judges and select the winner of the competition.

Saks is committed to amplifying emerging brands and it is incredibly important to us that we use our platform to elevate independent designer businesses and BIPOC voices,” said Anna Irving, SVP and GMM of women’s designer ready-to-wear at Saks. “This program is a crucial part of our goal to increase representation in our merchandise assortment and to provide emerging designers with the resources to succeed at Saks and beyond. At the same time, the program supports our mission to offer unique and inspiring fashion to our customers.”

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