The fourth annual National Black Footwear Forum (BFF) is set to take place from September 21 to 24 at Detroit’s HBCU Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design (PLC), in collaboration with the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA). The theme for this year’s event is “Culture is Currency: Know Your Worth.” The BFF’s primary objective is to celebrate and uphold the impact, leadership, and innovation brought forth by Black professionals within the global footwear industry. Comprising a diverse group of footwear industry experts and advocates from across the nation, BFF fosters cooperation to establish industry objectives that prioritize the development and advancement of Black talent at all levels.
Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, President of Pensole Lewis College, expressed his excitement, saying, “This is my favorite time of the year. I am deeply grateful for the industry’s leading brands that are deeply committed to our culture and the Black creative talent volunteering their time to share their expertise. Together, we can elevate our culture and remind ourselves of our value within the industry. Each year, we strive to raise the bar, and BFF 2023 promises to be a magical moment that continues this movement.”
Known as “The Industry’s Homecoming,” this event is made possible through the support of over 30 major industry brands, including Nike, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Adidas, Target, Foot Locker, Millerknoll, Rock, AmazonMusic, and more. BFF serves as a platform for uniting a significant community of Black creatives to exchange ideas, educate, inspire, network, and address diversity and inclusion challenges within the design industry.
Matt Priest, President and CEO of the FDRA, noted, “The Black Footwear Forum has evolved into a nationwide movement, spotlighting the diverse and impactful contributions made by Black creatives within the American footwear industry on a daily basis. I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity to express the collective gratitude of the shoe industry, recognizing the invaluable contributions of everyone involved in the BFF. The vitality of the footwear industry is intricately tied to the involvement of the Black community, and as such, FDRA relies on the BFF to provide a vital platform for our industry colleagues to connect, learn, and celebrate together.”
The BFF’s schedule includes a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Pepsi x Frito-Lay Refresh and Relax Lounge at PLC, designed by PLC students, a BFF opening mixer sponsored by AmazonMusic featuring DJ Clark Kent, an art competition and showcase by MARTK’D, a BFF VIP dinner sponsored by Bacardi, and more on Thursday, September 21.
On Friday, September 22, the event kicks off with opening remarks from Dr. D’Wayne Edwards and Matt Priest, followed by discussions led by Culture Raises US Co-Founder and Host Astor Chambers. The topics include “Culture is Currency: Know Your Worth” with keynote speaker hip-hop legend Grandmaster Caz, “50 Deep: Examining the history of hip hop, design, & culture with Hidden Figures” featuring fashion icon April Walker, a Black Genius talk by Rupert Campbell (President of Adidas NA), “JEMS by PENSOLE Spotlight: Highlighting the first black-owned shoe factory in the U.S.,” “The Real DEIL” (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Leadership), “The Brand of Culture,” and many other enlightening discussions.
Saturday, September 23, will feature panel discussions on topics such as “Black Genius Conversation” with Larry Miller (Chairman of JORDAN/Nike), “This is the Remix,” and another “Black Genius Conversation” with two-time Academy Award-winning costume designer, Ruth Carter. The Breakout Sessions include “Black Owned Everything” and “TappedIn,” while “Music Fuels Culture: Exploring and discussing the intersection between Music, Art, Sneakers, and Design,” sponsored by Amazon Music, will also take place. Additionally, creative director and designer June Ambrose will share insights during the panel “Free Game: Generational Purpose – A conversation and reflection on heritage vs. legacy.” A networking mixer featuring music by AmazonMusic and DJ Jazzy Jeff will conclude the day.
The final day, September 24, will focus on Adidas-sponsored events for women, including “Cultivating the Dreamer Within – a day for Her,” featuring “Community R&B Yoga,” “Sisters in Sole Brunch,” and a “Community Leadership Workshop.” Simultaneously, the Men’s Leadership & Wellness Workshop will include an exclusive session for men called “The Game Behind the Game,” led by Jason Mayden, Kenneth Anand, and Trevor Edwards.
An impressive lineup of speakers and industry leaders will participate in BFF 2023, including Brian Thompson, Senior Journeyman Banknote and Product Designer (Designer of the US $100 and $50 bills), Michael Ford, Hip Hop Architect and Educator, April Dinwoodie, Head of DEIB at Steve Madden, Jazerai Allen-Lord, Founder of True to size Agency, Daniel Cherry, SVP General manager at Adidas, Alexander-John, Designer, Jennifer Ford, Founder of Premium Goods, Michelle Marshall, Head of DEI at Puma, Byron Merrit, VP of Design at Amazon Music, Jarvis Sam, Founder of The Rainbow Disruption, Jessica Smith, CEO of i.e., James Whitner, Owner of A Ma Maniere, and many more.
The event sponsors for 2023 include prominent companies such as Adidas, Amazon Music, The Athlete’s Foot, Bacardi, Caleres, Carhartt, COACH, Designer Brands, eBay, Foot Locker, General Motors, Logitech, Microsoft, MillerKnoll, Nike, Off Broadway Shoe Warehouse, ON Running, PepsiCo, Puma, RG Barry Brands, Rock, Rubik’s, Steve Madden, StockX, Target, Under Armour, VisitDetroit, Wolverine Worldwide, XBOX, Xencelabs, and more.
About the Black Footwear Forum (BFF): The Black Footwear Forum (BFF) is dedicated to celebrating and preserving the influence, leadership, and creativity contributed by Black individuals in the global footwear industry. Comprising a collective of footwear industry professionals and advocates from across the nation, BFF promotes collaboration to establish industry objectives that prioritize the development and advancement of Black talent at all levels.
The BFF works to cultivate community for Black footwear professionals through national and regional chapter events and activations. For more information, please visit https://www.blackfootwearforum.com