The first ever African American Footwear Forum (AAFF) took place last week in Washington D.C. The Forum brought together African American talent from across the footwear industry in a way no previous event has. It also helped close out Black History Month 2019 at a time when questions surrounding diversity and opportunity are at the forefront of the national mindset. Two Ten is thrilled to be a sponsor and partner of the Forum and we’re grateful to have taken part in such a historic moment for the footwear industry.
D’Wayne Edwards, the founder of PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy and sponsor of the event, identified diversity in the footwear industry as his next large initiative. D’Wayne has been discussing this topic and working to promote diversity in the industry for years, starting PENSOLE as a way to give aspiring designers of all backgrounds a chance to break into the industry. D’Wayne calls out the story of Jan Ernst Matzeliger, who “revolutionized the footwear industry with his patent for an automated shoe-laster,” as an example of how underappreciated the contributions of black men and women have been within the industry. Mr. Matzeliger and his invention were largely ignored until 1991 when he received a stamp honoring him and his work.
The Forum’s other main sponsor, FDRA, also discussed diversity throughout the industry with D’Wayne and others. Last year’s second annual Sneaker Week included discussions around not only racial diversity in the footwear industry but also how to ensure gender diversity. Throughout February, FDRA’s podcast brought in leaders within the industry to discuss these topics even further.
- Diversity Download with D’Wayne Edwards pt. 1
- Diversity Download with D’Wayne Edwards pt. 2
- Driving Diversity with Geoff Green
- Diversity Real talk with Drew Greer
This partnership between FDRA and PENSOLE, and the discussions happening because of it, culminated in the AAFF last week. The Forum took place at Howard University in Washington D.C. with the stated goal to “enhance access, education, and awareness for African Americans who are seeking opportunities to influence, lead, and impact the global footwear industry and consumer culture.” In attendance were a variety of footwear brands, passionate industry professionals, representatives from historically black colleges and universities, athletes, entrepreneurs, and influencers. The Forum featured two days of events exploring and celebrating how diversity drives innovation and creativity drives global competitiveness. Sessions of note include, career panels, networking events, and discussions around solutions to bridging the gaps across the industry.
The Forum sparked a wave of enthusiasm around the industry surrounding this topic. Media outlets, like Footwear News, are also helping to spread the message. In addition, Nicekicks.com has partnered with D’Wayne and PENSOLE to highlight some of the best up-and-coming talent in the industry with their Future 50 campaign.
Two Ten is thrilled to be part of this growing and important conversation and looks forward to more opportunities to improve the lives and careers of ALL members of the footwear industry.