The barrier to entry into the retail market is high for a potential store owner, between the company’s control over which stores can even sell their sneakers, and the required start-up costs that start at around $ 60. $ 000.
“Resources are needed to be successful,” Whitner said. “And few of us have the resources or the business acumen, or the understanding of what it takes to be successful in this industry. It’s hard to start when you are disadvantaged.
Ball traced the emergence of sneakers in pop culture to the 1986 rap song, “My Adidas,” by Run DMC.
“Sneakers have a history with hip-hop, Russell Simmons and Run DMC and the influence of their relationship with Adidas and the popularization of sneakers and sneaker culture,” Ball said. “Hip-hop, in a broad sense, as a fashion force in itself, also generally relates to the overall influence of blacks on American and popular culture. It has been pointed out: there is no American pop culture without black people.
The black influence sparked the sneaker phenomenon, exploding when Michael Jordan became a global sensation in the early 1980s. Between Nike’s creative marketing and Jordan’s growing popularity, Air Jordan sneakers have become a staple for young people. of the whole world.
As West said, the head of the sneakers, the right pair of kicks “says a lot about who you are.”
Lowman, 45, said he bothered that an industry run by black dollars and black culture was not inclusive for black businesses. He started at the age of 22, in 1998. He graduated a semester earlier than expected from Morehouse College and sought resources to secure his first store. He used remaining scholarships, a loan from his parents (who took out a second mortgage on their home), income from an investment in Yahoo, and a small business loan to buy his first store.
“It wasn’t easy, but I had a lot of support and was able to reimburse my parents and buy other stores,” he said. “I’m grateful that Athlete’s Foot had a relationship with a bank that funded franchises because we know how racist there is in the banking industry.”
Lowman said acquiring retail space now, however, is more difficult for blacks than it was two decades ago.
Nike, the giant athletic brand, plays a huge role due to its universal popularity, he said. It alone can determine the profitability and existence of a store. The shoe brand has implemented an element of direct customer contact that eliminates many retailers. It has also become more selective about which stores sell its products, often focusing on its own retail stores instead. On top of that, Nike has been producing fewer shoes in recent years to stimulate demand even more.
“Back then, if you had a Nike account, you could open a store pretty much anywhere,” Lowman said. “But now it’s hard to get a Nike account. So that makes it a lot harder for people to expand in the business, and it certainly made it a lot harder for people to get into the business. “
Nike did not respond to NBC News requests for comment.
Lower the barriers
Darius Billings, who has worked in the sportswear and sneakers industry since graduating from Howard University in 1988, is the senior director of products and marketing for athlete’s foot. Billings said he was inspired by a conversation with a group of family and friends during the social justice movement led by Black Lives Matter last year to examine how his business could be a factor in bridging inequalities racial.
Last spring, he launched the Strategic African American Retail Track or StAART program, which is designed to respond to Lowman and Whitner’s arguments about helping to create pathways for black entrepreneurs to become retail store owners.
“The program aims to foster change within an industry that has truly built on black culture, black influence and the black community,” Billings said. “And from a holistic perspective, I looked at the property and asked myself: Not a lot and not enough.
StAART recruits, nurtures, and supports black entrepreneurs in the sneaker industry by educating, exposing them and helping them break down traditional barriers that potential black business owners face.
“I wish StAART had been there when I started the business,” said Jennifer Ford, owner of the Premium Goods sneaker store in the Rice Village section of Houston. Seventeen years ago, she became the only black woman to own a sneaker store in the country that sold all the big brands like Nike, Nike’s Jordan Brand, Adidas and New Balance.
A friend in the company encouraged Ford, a department store buyer in New York at the time, to join us, and she used “every penny I had” to start her business.
“But if there had been StAART it would have helped me a lot,” she said. “It would have been amazing if someone told me ‘Look at this’ and ‘Don’t do this.’ “Make sure you have a really good accountant.” Also, I would have had more confidence to expand and have other stores. It was hard for me to risk losing everything I built to have another store.
Whitner said he has shared information with potential black retail store owners at annual summits for years.
“Half of our business is lucrative, the other half is non-profit, and our goal was to bring people into our industry,” he said. “I work with business partners like Nike and other industries like Bank of America, and we’re strategically working on highs, courses – anything we can do to help get black people to really help try to bridge the gap. gap for our industry. Change will not happen overnight. But the work is done every day.
He added that potential black business owners must do their part as well. “When there are resources out there,” Whitner said, “we have to go in there and hold ourselves personally accountable to get to a place where we can break the system. We don’t break the system by just saying that the system is against us.We break a system by getting into the system and then letting that system know what’s wrong.
“Camping Out” for sneakers
West said he would only support black-owned retail stores if he had more options. West is so entrenched in the sneaker world that he’s already spent four days lining up outside Whitner’s social status to be among the first to buy a pair of the Air Max 97, a Nike 2018 collaboration with the famous shoe designer Sean Wotherspoon which was partially corduroy. Pairs can sell online today for up to $ 2,000. They sell for $ 160.
West wouldn’t be alone spending dark nights to get a pair of sneakers.