K-Swiss

K-Swiss is dedicating efforts to empower Black creators, brands and youth of Los Angeles with a new multitiered program.

The California-based footwear brand under Chinese corporation Xtep has turned to current partner A Place Called Home to host 20 to 30 at-risk high school-aged children every quarter at the brand’s downtown Los Angeles global headquarters. The brand is also partnering with youth marketing agency The Digital Footprint to create a mentorship and internship program for young Black talents in Los Angeles to educate them about the fashion and footwear industries, and prepare them for the workforce. The application process for the mentorship program will begin in July, and the program will launch in August.

K-Swiss president Barney Waters said he and the brand have been listening intently and want to contribute time and energy as opposed to just financing. The brand is focusing on the youth in an attempt to fix the discrepancies in the workforce, and at K-Swiss. The company is 68 percent minority and 32 percent white, but Black people still account for a small percentage of the company.

“We do reflect quite closely the Los Angeles County numbers,” Waters said. “When you break it down further, we have higher than average Hispanic and Asian employees, but lower than average Black employees.”

When exploring the mentorship program, he met the founders of The Digital Footprint, Donye Taylor and Raymond Smith, and they are joining forces in their efforts. He hopes to expand the talent pool locally so that all companies can benefit.

As for bringing the youth to the company’s headquarters, Waters said this is dependent on when city lockdown restrictions are lifted, as he wants the jobs, including marketing and design, to be seen and experienced in person.

In addition, K-Swiss is opening its podcast studio twice a week to Black creatives in Los Angeles, providing support on editing and publishing as a form of mentorship and consultancy. That begins on June 12 on its Black Voices podcast series, where many will speak about their firsthand experiences in their careers. Taylor will kick off the series, followed by Beny Ashburn, the cofounder and chief executive officer of Inglewood-based craft beer and brewery Crowns and Hops.

“A couple of things had come out as consistent themes and messages,” Waters said. “We want our voices heard. We want platforms to be able to speak and let people know what we’re feeling, what we’ve been feeling and what needs to happen. I didn’t want to do a five-part series just on how awful things are. We also want to [talk about how] they as Black entrepreneurs inspire other people to be successful. This is more of a focus on talking about the issues of the day.”

K-Swiss is also partnering with Black-owned brands and creatives in Los Angeles to create collaboration pieces for Foot Locker’s Power Store, opening in Compton in August. The brand is doing a collection with artist Noah Humes, as well as South Central-based label Bricks & Wood, founded by Kacey Lynch whose uncle was a designer for K-Swiss in the past and had a sneaker, the Dazo, named after him.

“I think everyone is realizing that there are systemic issues that have created an un-level playing field and as a sneaker company we can help in some areas we can control,” Waters said.