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Breaking into the footwear and sportswear industry can be tough— especially for those from diverse backgrounds. In response, Foot Locker (FL) has teamed up with New Balance and the PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy for the “Designing with Sole” program.
Guy Harkless is the vice president and head of the leading education and economic development initiative at Footlocker. He tells Yahoo Finance that the program looks to create a path for underrepresented voices in the footwear industry.
“We know in this industry that diversity is something that certainly adds a ton of value to the industry in which we operate — particularly the the Black community, which we are hoping to lean into. It is certainly well connected in the space and certainly a driving force for how the industry has been built and certainly has been driven,” he said.
The “Designing with Sole” program is part of Foot Locker’s "Leading in Education and Economic Development (LEED)" initiative. It is part of a $200 million investment made by Foot Locker to help support the Black community.
Applications will be accepted through June 7, and the first online class of the program will occur between July 4 and July 23. After that, 60 students will be selected and entered into a 12-week program. Students will form teams and learn about the product creation process. The top 10 from this class will get the chance to attend an in-person course at New Balance. In addition, participants from North America will have the opportunity to receive a paid internship with Foot Locker and New Balance.
Harkless tells Yahoo Finance that the design program is just one initiative in a “multi-faceted” effort to promote change within the Black community.
“We’ve just actually announced a $3 million program with one of our partners to get after over the next two years, a significant investment around getting deeply engaged in 12 cities across the United States. We also are deeply involved in investing in other Black-owned brands that we’re bringing into the Foot Locker ecosystem," he said.
“The two have invested $10 million between them both — $5 million each, which is an opportunity for us to bring something different into the equation in terms of other VC firms that are investing in Black-owned businesses or diverse led businesses that can actually drive a little bit more energy and economic development into the world that we operate in," he said.
Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.