Don’t Move the Needle on Diversity — Break It: African-American Leaders Meet in Portland to Tackle Inclusion at AAFF

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By now, much of the footwear and fashion industry’s diversity challenges are well documented.

From fashion label fallouts to athletic brand missteps, the past few months have seen many footwear and apparel brands face the harsh reality of their inadequacies on the diversity and inclusion front.

The executives, designers and aspiring shoe-industry practitioners who convened in Portland, Ore. over the weekend for the second African American Footwear Forum, were all seemingly on the same page: No need to flog a dead horse. The industry has its shortcomings. For this gathering of the shoe industry’s minority rising stars: The focus was on tapping solutions.

“In order to move the needle, we have to break the needle: [Leaders] need to understand that diversity is not only a good thing to do but it is essential to the bottom line,” said Darla DeGrace, founder and diversity, equity and inclusion strategist at Boston-based DeGrace Group, who on Saturday joined Bimma Williams, co-founder of Claima, for a conversation about “unlocking the footwear industry.” (Williams co-founded storytelling platform Claima — short for “claim a seat at the table” — after a stint at Adidas.)

“When you can make a case for [inclusion] and leaders start to understand [the importance] of diversity, they’ll start to put some goals and metrics behind it,” DeGrace added. “It wont’ be fluff [and] it won’t be ‘I’ll just hire this head of diversity.’ There will be resources and time committed and [key performance indicators] that are affiliated with it. It’s not just going to be ‘a check the box.’”

The day-long event, held at the Portland Art Museum on Aug. 10, marked the second time this year that members of the shoe industry unified for the African American Footwear Forum, which was formed through a partnership between Washington, DC-based Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America and Portland-based Pensole Footwear Design Academy.  (The inaugural event took place in Washington, DC in February.) (read more)

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