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Meet the presidents: FDRA’s Matt Priest and PLC’s Dr. D’Wayne Edwards

Black Footwear Forum a Big Success

The fourth annual event hosted an Oscar winner and an array of industry leaders and corporate sponsors.

Meet the presidents: FDRA’s Matt Priest and PLC’s Dr. D’Wayne Edwards
Meet the presidents: FDRA’s Matt Priest and PLC’s Dr. D’Wayne Edwards.

Bigger,broader,better…the Black Footwear Forum (BFF), held at Detroit’s Pensole Lewis College (PLC) of Business & Design, a Historically Black College or University, in late September, knocked it out of the park, reports PLC’s President and Founder Dr. D’Wayne Edwards. The free, four-day event, held in partnership with the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA), was attended by nearly 700 people and supported by more than 30 sponsors, including Nike, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Adidas, Target, Foot Locker, Designer Brands, General Motors, On Running, Puma, RG Barry Brands, Steve Madden, and Xbox. It featured presentations, panel discussions, and networking opportunities built around this year’s theme of “Culture is Currency: Know Your Worth.”

“We are the culture, and we are the currency that keeps the industry going,” Edwards says. “Remove people of color from sports, entertainment, music, and fashion. Is it the same?”

The event kicked off with a ribbon cutting ceremony to unveil the new Pepsi x Frito-Lay Refresh and Relax Lounge designed by PLC students and dedicated to Kevin Carroll, author, speaker, and agent for social change. The lineup of speakers included NBA all-star and entrepreneur Russell Westbrook, who encouraged PLC students to pursue their creative path and emphasized the importance of diverse talent in the design field. Panel highlights included the Black Genius Conversation, featuring Ruth Carter, a two-time Academy Award-winning costume designer, moderated by shoe designer D’on Lauren Edwards of Michael Kors. Another panel was Free Game: Generational Purpose, a discussion on heritage vs. legacy with June Ambrose, costume designer and creative director for Puma, and Grammy Award-winning DJ Jazzy Jeff, moderated by streetwear pioneer James Whitner.

Edwards says this year’s BFF served as a catalyst for innovation, fostering meaningful conversations and inspiring attendees to think differently. A particular highlight for him was showcasing people of color in careers attendees may not have known they were involved in. In addition to Oscar-winner Carter that included hip-hop architect Mike Ford, currency designer Brian Thompson, who designed the $100 bill, and rap ghost writer Grandmaster Caz. “BFF is a place where attendees come as themselves, not the brands they work for,” Edwards says. “This brings a vibe of openness to learn and share, no matter who you are. We’re all on the same level, and everyone is open to uplift you.”

FDRA President Matt Priest concurs on the phenomenal BFF vibe. “I was surrounded by joy, gratitude, and positivity the entire time,” he says, citing the powerful lineup of speakers for setting the tone. “To hear from the likes of Larry Miller, Ruth Carter, D’Wayne Edwards, Jazerai Allen-Lord, Jason Mayden, James Whitner, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and June Ambrose…I was honored just to be in the room with such amazing people.” Priest adds, “We need Black employees and Black culture infused into the broader footwear community. I believe it’s critical to our collective success.”

The fifth annual BFF is already in the planning stages. The overriding goal is to “elevate,” according to Edwards. “We’ve raised the bar every year, and this year the bar was set very high, but I’m already excited for 2024 because it’ll be better than 2023.”

Priest says Black employees deserve a top-shelf event to honor their contributions and create a compelling space to network and connect. He’s glad he called Edwards to launch this initiative in 2018 that his since blossomed into a beautiful movement. “I’m blown away by the impact BFF is having on our industry and grateful to have the opportunity to play a small role in its success,” he says, adding that regional BFF chapters across the country are driving engagement throughout the year. “My hope is that the event continues to blossom and serve as a platform for driving change at all levels of our industry.”

The March 2024 Issue

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