Why a former Air Jordan design director left his job to lead the charge for Black representation across the sneaker industry
D'Wayne Edwards is one of a handful of Black designers who built a successful career in the sneaker industry. He worked as Nike's footwear design director between 2001 and 2011, where he made sneakers for the Air Jordan brand. Now, Edwards is leading the charge for more Black representation in the sneaker industry, via his work as the founder of design academy Pensole and as a leader for The African American Footwear Forum (AAFF), which addresses and solves diversity issues in the field. "It's our job to tear the damn door down," Edwards said of the industry's barriers to entry for Black people. "And make sure it never closes again." Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
D'Wayne Edwards is known as one of the more influential sneaker designers around. He's also one of just a handful of Black people who managed to find major success as a creative in the industry. In a career spanning three decades, Edwards launched his own brand, SITY, and completed a 10-year stint as Nike's footwear design director, where he designed for the Air Jordan brand. To date, Edwards has created over 500 styles for athletes like Derek Jeter, Carmelo Anthony, and Michael Jordan. But even with all of his success, Edwards said he felt like it wasn't enough. "I realized there was just a greater purpose for my existence in this industry than just to design shoes for athletes," he said, explaining his decision to stop working as a full-time designer in 2010 and start Pensole, a design academy that encourages the next wave of young footwear designers on their path into the industry. Since its founding, Pensole has placed more than 475 former graduates at brands such as Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas.
But beyond nurturing budding designers, Edwards has also embarked on another mission to correct what he sees as an overarching problem in the industry. As national attention shifts to conversations around diversity and inclusion, Edwards is collaborating with sportswear and sneaker industry workers and alumni in actively fighting for change through The African American Footwear Forum (AAFF). This organization works to address and solve diversity issues in the footwear industry. The forum held its second meeting on June 19, or Juneteenth, where Black professionals and industry workers virtually discussed and took stock of the state of diversity and opportunity for Black people in the field. In describing his motivation to move into a more activist trajectory, Edwards described feeling fulfilled as a designer, though "incomplete as a Black man and as a person." As such, Edwards has figured out how to leverage his experience to create more opportunities for other diverse candidates. He is doing so in his role at Pensole as well, with initiatives like the Leaders Emerge After Direction (LEAD) by Design program, which helps nurture students of color on their path towards a career in the industry via a partnership with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). "Right now, we all know there's not that many of us in the industry," Edwards said, noting that one of the forum's goals is to get an accurate census of Black people within each major company to fully understand the discrepancy within the industry. The Nike alumnus estimated that there are likely less than 200 black designers among thousands in the footwear industry right now. Black representation in the sneaker industry The sneaker community is largely considered intrinsically bound to Black culture. But for some industry people, this cultural influence isn't seen beyond outward messaging or campaigns. For example, marketing campaigns and celebrity partnerships from Adidas and Nike are known to prominently feature artists and athletes of color, such as Beyonce, Kanye West, and LeBron James. "We're always talent, we're never the brains behind organizations, we're never a part of the organizational structure and the planning, the manufacturing," Edwards said. "We've been completely shut out of those areas." After recruitment and retention, career advancement is one of the biggest problems for Black employees in the footwear and athletic-wear industry, said Darla Pires DeGrace, a diversity, equity, and inclusion strategist. Pires DeGrace is also a former recruiter for Reebok and a member of AAFF. Beyond the office, activists say there is still work to be done in other sectors of the footwear industry, like at retail stores, to support other Black people in the field. Some changes are already in place. Brands like Adidas, Nike, and Under Armour have all acknowledged company-wide problems with inclusion and diversity. As for Edwards, his role as a forum leader allows him to ignite important conversations with major footwear brands regarding diversity and inclusion. In Foot Locker's most recent earnings call, CEO and chairman Richard Johnson announced the company's continued partnership with Edwards, which involves funding training and mentorship programs for Black creatives. "When it becomes a part of the way they do business, then that's when you'll have sustainable long-term impact," Edwards said. "If it's just cutting a check, that just serves the immediate purpose."SEE ALSO: Trevor Edwards was the highest-ranking Black employee at Nike until 2018. Now the former exec is guiding new brands on diversity and inclusion 2 years after his high-profile ouster from the sportswear giant. Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why thoroughbred horse semen is the world's most expensive liquid
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Adidas is considering selling Reebok amid declining sales of the sneaker brand, according to a report
Summary List Placement German sportswear brand Adidas is considering selling US sneaker company Reebok as early...Summary List Placement German sportswear brand Adidas is considering selling US sneaker company Reebok as early as March 2021, a source close to the matter told Bloomberg. Adidas has assigned an internal team, who have signed confidentiality agreements, to work on a potential deal, but this is in its early stages, the source said. An Adidas spokesperson told Business Insider the company "does not comment on market rumors." Adidas bought Reebok in 2006 for around 3.1 billion euros ($3.8 billion) — a bid to stay competitive with US sportswear rival Nike. Read more: eBay is launching a sneaker-authentication program, in another attempt to win over resellers from StockX and dominate the multibillion-dollar sneaker-resale industry The proportion of Adidas' income that comes from Reebok has fallen since the acquisition. In 2007, a quarter of Adidas' total retail sales – more than $2 billion – came from Reebok. This has steadily declined over the past decade, and in the quarter to June 2020 Reebok made up just 6.4% of Adidas' total sales. While Adidas' sales fell by a third in the quarter to June compared to last year, Reebok's dropped by 42% to just 228 million euros ($270 million). Manager Magazin, which first reported the potential sale, said interested parties included VF Corp, which owns outdoor apparel brands including Timberland, Vans, and North Face, as well as FILA-owner Anta International Group Holdings, although it did not cite any sources. Prior to the pandemic, Adidas Chief Executive Officer Kasper Rorsted hoped for about 2 billion euros ($2.4 billion) from a sale, Manager Magazin reported, but would now accept less.SEE ALSO: Nike shares hit a record high after the company reported an 82% jump in online sales Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why thoroughbred horse semen is the world's most expensive liquid
A former Nike exec reveals the crucial lessons he learned at the athletic-wear giant — and how they inform his new role at Vistaprint supporting small businesses
Ricky Engelberg spent 20 years at Nike before leaving to become the CMO of Vistaprint, a...Ricky Engelberg spent 20 years at Nike before leaving to become the CMO of Vistaprint, a customizable printing company that supports small businesses. During his time at Nike, Engelberg worked on the company's digital evolution and was focused on helping the brand become a partner for athletes. At Vistaprint, Engelberg leverages a similar partnership mindset in his work supporting small businesses. Recently, the company used its printing capabilities to launch a mask collaboration. Like sneakers, Engelberg sees masks as instruments of self-expression that can be fueled by artist collaborations. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. Whether via Nike or Vistaprint, Ricky Engelberg's goal has always been to make an impact in the world. The former Nike executive spent 20 years at the athletic-wear giant, where he focused on driving innovation related to the brand's digital evolution and worked on initiatives such as the FuelBand and Nike+ training. Though he left the brand in 2019 to become the CMO of Vistaprint, Engelberg said he is drawing on his previous experiences at Nike to help inform his role at the customizable printing company, especially amid the pandemic. "Ultimately, you have to be incredibly focused on how you're going to solve problems for customers," Engelberg said, touching on a similarity between the two seemingly opposing industries that live on his resume. As Engelberg explained, just as his role at Nike focused on offering solutions to make athletes more successful, his role at Vistaprint operates similarly, but in the context of small businesses. Now, as the pandemic threatens the future of small businesses, Vistaprint's role as a partner to these entities is even more important. "Our goal has to be to be able to provide solutions that helps that small business succeed and really truly be their partner," Engelberg said. Learning from Nike Engelberg started at Nike as an intern right of high school in 1999, joining full-time in 2002 as a global digital innovation manager. Throughout his 20-year tenure, Engelberg held roles at Nike as a senior experience director and VP of experience innovation. His career culminated in his role as the VP of brand communications and digital media for the Converse brand, which was acquired by Nike in 2003. Choosing to leave Nike was not an easy decision. But after 20 years at the company, Engelberg said he felt ready to implement what he has learned in a new area of focus: small businesses. As Engelberg put it, the athletic-world is filled with high-impact opportunities, such as the Olympics, The World Cup, and the All-Star Games. Once he left that world, the challenge was to find similar opportunities where Vistapoint could make a difference. This impact factor became even more relevant during the pandemic. In April, Vistaprint launched the Save Small Business Fund with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and donated $1 million dollars to support small business owners in the pandemic. The company also leveraged its printing capabilities to launch a mask collaboration via a partnership with artists Jen Stark, Geoff McFetridge, Futura Laboratories, and Parra, the latter two of which have collaborated with Nike for previous projects. The masks are priced at $24 for adult sizes and $16 for kids and a portion of the proceeds go to support youth mentorship program Free Arts NYC and communities that have been impacted by the pandemic. A sneakerhead by his own description, Engelberg said that launching the Vistaprint mask collaboration has evoked certain elements that have come to define sneaker culture. Like sneakers, Engelberg sees masks as instruments of self-expression that can be fueled by artist collaborations. However, the goal for Vistaprint is not hype. "The last thing we wanted was to go and make a mask that was sold out in 15 seconds and is being flipped on StockX," he said, noting a popular phenomenon among high-demand sneakers. Instead, Vistaprint is looking to help people find a safe and affordable means of safe self-expression, something Engelberg sees as an opportunity for impact. And while he hopes the widespread need for masks eventually subsides in the future, Engelberg feels lucky to be able to fill that crucial need right now. "I think that's all anyone asks for every day," he said. "To try to go and make something that puts a dent in the world."SEE ALSO: Trevor Edwards was the highest-ranking Black employee at Nike until 2018. Now the former exec is guiding new brands on diversity and inclusion 2 years after his high-profile ouster from the sportswear giant. Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why thoroughbred horse semen is the world's most expensive liquid
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