Oct 12, 2023

Culture is Currency: Learnings From the Black Footwear Forum

Find out what adidas’ Salimatou Berete-Perez took away from her recent visit to the Black Footwear forum.
by Salimatou Berete-Perezstaff

In the words of Designer & Artist Jae Tips, “Storytelling can only be great if it comes from your true self, and we all have a story to tell.”

Going into the Black Footwear Forum (BFF), I was unsure what to expect not being a footwear designer or an artist. I am a Progressive Soles leader – an Employee Resource Group for the Black community at adidas, with a passion for the community. But if you asked me to describe my experience in a few of words, I would say homecoming, acceptance, creativity, passion, authenticity.

It was an inspirational experience to see the representation of black leaders, to be immersed in the creative vibes flowing through so many creators, to see the passion in their eyes and hear the authenticity in their words. I was confounded by the sense of homecoming and community.

Homecoming mixer with Pensole Lewis Art students.
Creative collaboration.
Deannelys Corcino joined the event as part of the adidas team.
Being able to connect with likeminded others helped to stimulate a creative flow.

As I sit by my computer reliving my time at BFF, reading over my notes filled with so many inspiring quotes from new and familiar faces, I want to tell you about Dr. D’Wayne Edwards and the legacy he is creating for generations to come.

Together with Dr. D'Wayne Edwards, founder of the Pensole Design Academy & Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design and adidas' Chereese Thornhill-Goldson.
Dr. D'Wayne Edwards taking to the stage.

Black spending power is expected to reach $1.8 trillion, but Black creators make up less than five percent of the design industry. Dr. Edwards’ work is crucial to closing that gap.

Dr. Edwards is the founder of the Black Footwear Forum and of Pensole Design Academy in Portland, Oregon, which is the first academy in the U.S. dedicated to footwear design. Now he’s investing more deeply in the future of our industry, having reopened the Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design in 2020, the first and only Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in Detroit. The college was originally founded in 1938 by Dr. Violet T. Lewis, and it was an honor to see the Black Footwear Forum pay tribute to her granddaughter, Violet E. Ponders for her grandmother’s contributions.

Dr. Violet E. Ponders accepting a tribute in honor of her grandmother’s legacy.Dr. Violet E. Ponders accepting a tribute in honor of her grandmother’s legacy.

Dr. Edwards also created the Jan Ernst Matzeliger Studio (JEMS), the first Black-owned, creation-to-production footwear shoe factory in the U.S., creating even more opportunities for Black designers.

No one can deny the impact Dr. Edwards has had on the industry, and it was inspiring to see him and leaders, trendsetters, and creators such as Creative Director & Designer June Ambrose, Podcast Host Astor Chambers, Oscar-winning costumer designer Ruth Carter and Sport Executive Larry Miller dropping words of wisdom and encouragement for the future leaders of the industry.

DJ Jazzy Jeff by June Ambrose, Creative Director & Designer, and James Whitner of Social Status, A Ma Manière, and A.P.B. Boutiques.
Sali Berete-Perez with Astor Chambers, host of the Culture Raise Us podcast.
The Tappedln Panel: stockX's Damien Hooper-Campbell; Tai Neal VP, Strategy at Foot Locker; Sharifa Murdock, Chief Impact Officer at Kith; Amy Hunter, VP, Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Caleres; and Daniel Cherry III, GM adidas Originals.
Academy Award Winning Costume Designer - Ruth Carter.
Daniel Cherry III, GM adidas Originals.
The State of Self Care Panel.

While we are on the subject of inspiring leaders, I will be remiss if I do not share my experience during Sunday’s Cultivating The Dreamer Within – a day for her (hosted by adidas and i.e. (industry education).

Sunday was a day for us – a day for resetting, connecting, and rebranding.

After a unique R&B yoga experience hosted by yoga therapist Lauren Spearman and brunch hosted by adidas and Sisters in Soles, I was honored to participate in the adidas Community Leadership Development Workshop with our very own LaNiece Douglas, Ayesha Martin, Cheresse Thornhill, and Jessica Smith.

The workshop focused on reframing our failures as powerful tools that drive creativity and innovation. Going through the process of reliving my missteps, through my Failure Resume, was one of the hardest things I’ve had to face but listening to the many sisters in the group, I felt a renewed sense purpose. I owed myself grace that I didn’t know I needed.

If I could take one ounce of the drive and resilience showed by our panel and sisters in the audience. I would consider myself accomplished.

I cannot tell you which moment was the most impactful as so many resonated with me:

"Listening to industry heavy hitters, learning from up-and-coming innovators, or experiencing vulnerability. The entire experience was a continuous lesson that I will forever humbly cherish for years to come."