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Foot Locker pledges to bring more diversity to shoe design

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Foot Locker Senior Vice President Guy Harkless joined Yahoo Finance to detail the company's new shoe design diversity program.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Footwear New Balance and Pensole Footwear Design Academy announcing Designing with Sole. Now this is a new program to support diversity and inclusion efforts throughout the sneaker community. So we want to talk more about this with Guy Harkless. He is the senior vice president and head of the leading education and economic development initiative at Foot Locker, and our own Reggie Wade joining the discussion as well. Guy, just talk to us, I guess, big picture just about the opportunity that you hope this new program provides for people who are looking to enter or are looking to have a bigger role within the sneaker community.

GUY HARKLESS: Yeah, no, thank you. Absolutely. It's a great opportunity for us at Foot Locker Inc to take advantage of one of our strategic investment partners in Pensole to get after building diversity in the industry. So we started this recently over the last couple of weeks Designing with Sole. So 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 Black community, which we are hoping to lean into here. It's certainly well connected in the space and certainly a driving force for how the industry has been built and certainly has been driven.

You know, the Pensole organization, with their overall design ethos and with D'Wayne Edwards at the helm, have done a tremendous amount of solid work over the last number of years to build talent into the industry. We certainly see this as an opportunity for us as a Foot Locker Inc entity to get involved deeply with D'Wayne on another level to build something that's really unique and different that we're super excited about.

REGGIE WADE: Guy, Reggie Wade here. Foot Locker works with the who's who in the sneaker game-- the Nikes, the Adidas, the Pumas of the world. Why was New Balance the right fit for this particular program?

GUY HARKLESS: Yeah, we like the energy that the New Balance team brings to the overall equation. We certainly work with plenty of vendors in our industry and certainly love working with all of them. We had to be selective, unfortunately, with this one and certainly found a great partner in working with the New Balance team.

I think the way that we've built this is really thinking holistically about how we can build inclusion, not only through the design work itself, but also over time, getting connected into doing some things unique and different with the New Balance organization. So there's a full ecosystem that we've built around this. And New Balance certainly is one that has jumped into the fray and certainly excited about the opportunity for us to move this forward. So we like their overall approach.

ADAM SHAPIRO: A lot of us are old enough to remember fashion trends that would have started in communities of underserved people that then became the norm for the greater society. With $200 million committed to this, will part of this be going into communities where there may be things going on that most of us don't see on a regular basis and then bringing it forward?

GUY HARKLESS: Yeah, it's a super-- it's a very comprehensive program. So Designing with Sole is one arm of what is a multifaceted program that we're doing as part of the $200 million investment that we're making as part of Foot Locker Inc and what we're calling our LEED initiative, which stands for Leading in Education and Economic Development. So there are a number of workstreams that are part of the effort that we're getting after. Designing with Sole is certainly one which we're super excited about.

But it involves everything from community outreach programs. 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 engaged in investing in other Black-owned brands that we're bringing into the Foot Locker Inc ecosystem. So there are 34 new Black-owned brands that we've been able to bring into our overall business, which is part of the effort.

The other component that's related to this is that we're investing deeply with some of our venture capital-- minority-led venture capital firms. We've invested in two to date. One is Mac Venture Capital. The other is Harlem Capital Partners, where we've, between the two, have invested $10 million between them both, so $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.

So it is a multifaceted effort that we are super excited about. And we know it will bring some change and some difference as we continue to lean in and move forward over the next four years of this program.

REGGIE WADE: Guy, a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Foot Locker CEO Richard Johnson. And he talked about the community store in Washington Heights on 181st Street. And he talked about it's a place where young people can gather. They can hang out. They have a safe space. They can even use the Wi-Fi to do their homework. Do you feel that the LEED initiatives, such as this program, is just the next evolution in what Foot Locker is trying to do for young people today?

GUY HARKLESS: Yeah, it's part of the effort. So for sure, I mean, the community involvement that we're doing around our community power stores is a part of the effort. And it's-- we know that getting deeply engaged in the communities in which we operate, hiring from those communities, making sure that we provide a safe space for kids in the neighborhood to get deeply engaged, you know, we hire a tremendous amount of people that are from a lot of the areas in which we significantly operate in. And those people are deeply embedded into their communities.

So to the extent that we can continue to foster and develop an opportunity for kids in the neighborhood, for people from the neighborhood, from an employment standpoint, from a long-term development standpoint, that's part and parcel of the effort that we're getting after here. It is deeply engaged in some of the things that we're doing as a company where we repositioned our business several years back to be more purpose led, kind of rallying around the idea that we wanted to inspire and empower youth culture. So the multifaceted arms of what we're doing here with the effort around LEED and certainly with our community stores that are part of that overall effort is really engaged and connected in that overall effort from a purpose-driven perspective.

SEANA SMITH: Guy Harkless, it's great to have you here on Yahoo Finance. We hope to have you back in the future. And of course, our thanks to Reggie Wade for bringing us this interview.