21 Powerful Quotes About Diversity, Overcoming Stereotypes & Breaking Into Fashion

In honor of Black History Month, for the past few weeks, FN has celebrated nearly two dozen African-American movers and shakers in footwear and fashion by recognizing their accomplishments and inviting them to share insight into how the industry can make bigger diversity strides.

The result of the series was an abundance of powerful advice and actionable feedback for industry leaders as well as minorities who are looking for a pathway into the business.

Here, we look back at 21 powerful quotes about diversity, overcoming stereotypes and breaking into the footwear industry from our 2019 Black History Month Spotlight series.

Breaching the Barriers to Entry

“Keep trying. Continue to apply for jobs. If you can’t get your foot into design right away, just get your foot in the door of the company you want to work for. My work ethic and dedication is what opened the door for me to be in design.” — CarLeisha Garner, senior designer, Aerosoles

“Make connections online and in person. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people, but make sure your delivery is correct. Do your research, use social media to highlight your interests or talent and always remain a student.” — Jasmine Pendergrass, director of events and marketing, Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America

“Get a degree. Study the game. Create real relationships. Remember you are the flavor.” — DJ Clark Kent, record producer and sneaker collaborator

“Intern for an established designer or brand and do your best to grow professionally and garner experience before starting your own brand. This time will provide you an opportunity to build relationships with factories, retailers, mentors and learn how the business ticks. It will not guarantee your success but will give you a fighting chance.” — Umindi Francis, founder of Umindi Francis Consulting Group

“Do your homework. You need to be extraordinary and authentic. Never let anyone tell you can’t do something in an age where influencers make millions for posting. I was told if the position doesn’t exist, make it and don’t wait for anyone. You prepare, build and grow, and watch everything align.” — Jerome LaMaar, lifestyle expert and futurist

“It’s very difficult for young black founders, and black founders in general, to raise the capital that they need in order to get their businesses off the ground. Especially in luxury. It’s crippling. Also, the lack of exposure to networks you need to infiltrate to really carry through the next phase of growth. I’m learning, and in fashion, it’s a small group. It’s really hard to break in.” — Kendall Reynolds, designer and founder of Kendall Miles.

“Once you have identified your passion area, you have to obsess [over] it and become a student of it. It’s much easier to break into an industry if you have a point of view, a certain capability or skill and enough knowledge to be considered a subject matter expert who has the ability to add value immediately. What I just described is called owning your career and destiny. This starts with each and every one of us. We have to do the work upfront if we want folks to give us a shot.” — James Whitner, founder and owner of the Whitaker Group

“No. 1 is don’t get discouraged when you think you might not be getting an opportunity — just keep [reaching out to] everybody. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Don’t be afraid to tell your story because your story is what will inspire somebody to get you into the company. Continue to believe in yourself, continue to push and continue to strive and know that your story is special and that you can make it within the company. Getting into 2019, there’s been a big push in the world to push minorities forward and giving them opportunities.” — Tim Day, senior product line manager, Nike Basketball

Overcoming Stereotypes

“Being a black woman in corporate America to some can be seen as a ‘double challenge’ and comes with the base-level obstacle of being one of very few in a room who look like me. Common human tendency is to gravitate towards those who look like you, and when you find yourself standing alone, it can be isolating and intimidating. Recognizing this challenge, I’ve always worked to ensure I stand proudly in the space I occupy as a black woman. Ensuring I use this differentiator as an advantage is a critical piece to how I’ve leaned into my biggest potential obstacle and turn it into a positive.” — Adrienne Lofton, incoming Nike executive and former Under Armour SVP of global brand management

“To be honest, me being a minority is what I feel sets me apart from the rest. If I feel like people from the footwear industry are blocking my opportunity, I’ll make my own. I grew up watching Nigo of Human Made create his own shoe with no help from any shoe companies. He showed me it is possible to do everything on your own.” — Anwar Carrots, founder of Carrots by Anwar Carrots

“When I ran anything past the half-marathon point, people were like, ‘Black people don’t do that.’ I had to find like-minded groups with people who happened to be of color, too, who said, ‘Yes, you can do this.’ Sometimes we put barriers on ourselves because we’ve been conditioned for years not to do this — because other people have told us that were not supposed to do this.” — Latoya Shauntay Snell, fitness influencer, Hoka One One athlete

Finding Strength in Numbers

“Our culture has always and continues to move the needle in fashion and footwear, while we simultaneously continue to be underrepresented or unrepresented in the boardrooms. I’d like to see more big-name athletes and celebs, who are brand partners with these major companies, demand more diversity and inclusion before doing long-term business with them. Our community has tremendous economic power, and we need to exercise that power by being discerning and proactive about how we spend and with whom.” — Damion Presson, director of global entertainment marketing for Reebok 

“The best advice I could give other African-Americans is to help each other progress. This is simply done by extending opportunities to your own. Don’t think you’re diminishing your light for helping someone else’s shine. What’s meant for you is for you — simply helping someone who looks like you takes nothing away from you. I’ve personally witnessed other races progress by partnering to elevate each other’s careers. As a whole, we haven’t done the best job with this concept. It speaks more to you as a creative in this industry to desire to see more people of color at the same tables versus being the one person of color that made it.” — Harrison T. Crite, celebrity stylist

“The footwear industry has not been to kind to us. Because after 136 years, we still are struggling to be recognized. Our relationship with this industry is pretty one-sided. We are paid millions of dollars to endorse and sell products. And billions annually are spent to encourage us to buy products. Sadly, our industry spends very little time or money letting us know we have a potential future in it.” — D’Wayne Edwards, founder of Pensole Footwear Design Academy

When Fashion Brands Miss the Mark

“Fashion houses, like wider culture, can at least inch the inherent humanity of blackness along by not intentionally, systematically releasing the most inane and blatantly racist concepts only to apologize almost immediately and pull the product off their shelves shortly thereafter. Let’s consider all the steps a consumer product must take before it hits a store self. How many desks does a sketch cross? How many hands hold the mock-up? And no one at no time, white, black or polka dot said: ‘[Wait a minute.] This is a bad idea.’ You have got to be kidding me.” — Crystal deGregory, historian and professor

How Footwear Firms Can Take the Leap

“It goes back to when you recruit — where do you cast your net? If you’re a company, look at where there’s consumption [of your product]. Focus on where that is. Going to where the consumer that really buys your product lives and is a brand advocate is the easiest place to start to get that pipeline going.” — Eric Wise, global senior director of product for Adidas Originals

“It’s 2019; companies can no longer judge their success on profitability alone. Our world is literally falling apart in front of our eyes, executive men have been violating their positions and powers, and until recently, companies have turned a blind eye. We as companies have a responsibility to do more — that means spending more to save the planet, firing scumbags immediately and not covering it up, and hiring a diverse workforce.” — Treis Hill, GM, Alife

“I view online and print campaigns wondering if they are satire. I am befuddled by this glaring lack of representation. A gentleman may speak to a woman friend about how to approach a woman he is interested in — if he is not knowledgeable. Sneaker companies should do the same regarding consulting African-Americans about marketing to African-Americans. Put us in positions of power and watch your company thrive.” — Jemayne Lavar King, professor and author of “Sole Food: Digestible Sneaker Culture”

“‘Diversity’ is more than a buzzword to use in meetings. Top-level executives should openly acknowledge the lack of diversity and implement a plan of action that involves actively recruiting, retaining and promoting minorities in their organization. For example, companies can start internal one-on-one mentoring programs that pair minorities with senior-level executives who can provide career advice and long-term guidance as minorities advance in their careers.” — Robin McCoy, U.S. marketing manager, FitFlop

“Before, I could understand how you could [only] know somebody that’s ‘two below’ but now you can go on social media and search #designer and all these amazing designers and their designs will come up. That’s what’s missing. There aren’t enough [viable] opportunities for people of color to [connect with major corporations] as well as there aren’t enough companies putting in the effort to find [people of color]. To make it really easy for them, maybe somebody should come out with an app. So all the designers can sign up and have a hub where they can exist and [brands] can find them.” — Tami Roman, actress, author and shoe collaborator

“I’d love to see companies open up satellite creative offices in the inner-city neighborhoods. Boston, Portland [Ore.], L.A. and New York are cool, but let’s get inside of Philly, Detroit and Chicago. These kids are too talented, and they are the future. We need to find a way to reach them and to provide opportunity. Imagine the change we could make by just providing opportunity and tools. A lot of these kids have never even been to the mall or outside of the 5-square-mile radius surrounding their neighborhoods.” — Clyde Edwards, senior marketing manager, Puma