Adidas is tackling inclusion with a council to fight racism and a new hire for global HR. Here are 15 change-makers at Adidas paving the way for diversity within the company.
- Adidas is making major changes to increase diversity and inclusion efforts at the company.
- Over the summer, the company announced a commitment to filling a minimum of 30% of all open positions with Black and Latinx talent in addition to an investment of $120 million in social justice and anti-racist initiatives.
- Adidas also recently appointed Amanda Rajkumar as its new head of global human resources. Karen Parkin departed the position in June after coming under fire for her handling of what employees described as the company's "systemic racism."
- Beyond company-driven initiatives, employees are also leading Adidas towards new diversity goals.
- From footwear designers creating sneakers for all consumers to program directors encouraging diverse talent, here are 15 outstanding people who are leading the charge for diversity and inclusion at Adidas.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Like many athletic-wear companies, Adidas is aiming to improve its diversity and inclusion efforts.
One year ago, The New York Times reported that less than 4.5% of the 1,700 Adidas employees at the company's Portland, Oregon, campus identified as Black, according to internal employment figures from summer 2018.
Business Insider previously spoke to employees at Adidas who cited issues of upward advancement for Black people at the company. Some of these employees have been protesting at the company's US headquarters and speaking up about what they describe as an uncomfortable and problematic environment for people of color.
Other companies in the industry are confronting similar issues. Nike and Under Armour have also acknowledged their part in maintaining a workplace lacking in diversity and inclusion. Both have announced new initiatives to tackle the problem head-on.
Read more: POWER LIST: Here are the 28 most outstanding people of color transforming the sneaker industry today, from designers to influencers
Adidas is spearheading certain initiatives to increase diversity, such as aiming to fill a minimum of 30% of all open positions with Black and Latinx talent and investing $120 million in social justice and anti-racist initiatives. The company also launched an employee-led group, the US United Against Racism Accountability Council, to oversee Adidas' commitments to diversity and equity. Adidas also recently appointed Amanda Rajkumar as its new head of global human resources. Karen Parkin departed the position in June after coming under fire for her handling of what employees described as the company's "systemic racism."
"At Adidas, we're focused on working with our employees and empowering them to accelerate diversity, equality, and inclusion within our organization and our communities," an Adidas spokesperson said in a statement. "The fight against racism is one that must be fought continually and actively, and we recognize the work that so many of our employees are doing from inside the company. Together, we can create lasting change."
Beyond company-driven initiatives, individuals at Adidas are pushing the company towards its diversity goals. Business Insider identified 15 of these outstanding people at Adidas who are leading the charge for diversity and inclusion. After a nomination process, inclusion in the list was based on multiple factors, including an individual's impact on Adidas' diversity and inclusion efforts. The final list was determined through our reporting.
From footwear designers creating sneakers for all consumers to program directors encouraging diverse talent, here are 15 outstanding people who are leading the charge for diversity and inclusion at Adidas.
Role: Color and material designer
Career highlights: In her role at as a color and material designer at Adidas, Victoria Adesanmi has created footwear for a variety of athletes and artists, including Kanye West.
She started her career at Adidas working on the Alphabounce sneaker and then moved to the Yeezy team in 2018 to design for the brand. In 2019, she joined the team that collaborated with Jonah Hill for a collection and currently works on color and material for the footwear division of Ivy Park, Beyonce's collection with Adidas. Adesanmi is a graduate of Pensole, a design academy that encourages the next wave of young footwear designers on their path into the industry. She was nominated in 2019 as a member of The Future 50, an honor presented by Nice Kicks that highlights Black leaders in the footwear industry.
Why is it important for athletic-wear and sneaker companies to promote diversity, inclusion, and the voices of BIPOC? "It is important for us to narrate our own stories and for our voices to be heard as we are the most influential consumer within this industry," Adesanmi said. "I hope companies begin to shift and reallocate their resources from marketing to us to properly investing in us. You can't be what you [can't] see so, I pray that this industry as a whole continues to give Black people like myself opportunities to be seen and celebrated to show the next generation what's possible."
Role: Global director of strategy and innovation for digital partnerships
Career highlights: Shakir Ramsey currently works as the global director of strategy and innovation at Adidas, where he establishes digital partnerships with leading creators and artists.
Ramsey specifically focuses on the gaming, music, and film industries to find diverse talent to work with Adidas. In addition to working with influencers, Ramsey also works to increase the visibility of Black and brown start-ups in his role working on Platform A, Adidas's sports accelerator program that connects the company with smaller startups to work together towards innovation in product and business models.
Why is it important for athletic-wear and sneaker companies to promote diversity, inclusion, and the voices of BIPOC? "For a long time diverse communities (especially Black and brown) have originated and innovated fashion trends and cycles that have shaped the identity and language of 'cool' in pop culture, à la sneakers and clothing," Ramsey said. "In many instances, these communities are at a disadvantage socially and economically with few resources to own or get credit for their creativity. It is important that brands that target and sell to these communities promote diversity and inclusion to show compassion beyond transaction. So many of these communities are full of visionaries and entrepreneurs with drive and intelligence, and they need brands with mega-platforms to dispel consumer stereotypes and show the richness of their truth, to change the world."
Role: Senior footwear designer
Career highlights: Sa'rah "Rah" Sabino has been designing footwear professionally since 2013, when she started as an assistant designer at Nike's Converse brand.
Today, she works as a senior designer for statement footwear at Adidas, where she focuses on products for Pharrell Williams' Adidas line. While at Adidas, Sabino has also worked on products for Men's Originals, Yeezy, Kid Cudi, Pusha-T, Ivy Park, and Damian Lillard. As a woman of color, Sabino said one of her lifelong goals is to encourage young people of color to make it in the industry. She does this by leading outreach programs to give back to local communities of color as a member of Adidas's Employee Resource Group for people of color, Progressive Soles. As part of Adidas' MLK Day programming, Sabino also leads a workshop for local Black and brown kids in Portland that pairs employees with mentees to discuss bringing their dreams of working in the industry to life. Sabino graduated from Pensole, a design academy that encourages and readies the next wave of young footwear designers.
Why is it important for athletic-wear and sneaker companies to promote diversity, inclusion, and the voices of BIPOC? "In my humble opinion, it is our duty as People of Color who have found a way into these seats to pull up a few extra spots for those to come after us. We need to build the future that we want to see," Sabino said. "For years, communities of color have curated and created the culture that drives billions of dollars of revenue in these companies. It is simply a miss of the industry to just now, in 2020, realize how important these conversations are. We need to ensure the equal opportunity of building generational career paths for all People of Color who have the interest and willpower to enter this industry. It's equally important for young people, to see themselves in those who are sitting in these seats, promoting a healthy and overdue cycle of turning dreams into fruition."
Role: Global VP of product for Adidas Originals
Career highlights: Since Joining Adidas in 2016 as director of merchandising for Foot Inc. brands, Eric Wise was promoted multiple times finally landing in his current role in April, where he leads global marketing for Adidas Originals.
In addition to his official job at Adidas, Wise has helped shape the company's United Against Racism (UAR) commitments and has worked directly with Adidas' North American President Zion Armstrong in his role as a co-chair and executive sponsor of the brand's US United Against Racism Accountability Council. He is also a member of Adidas' Global Committee to Accelerate Inclusion and Equality and recently helped launch Honoring Black Excellence, a company movement focused on engaging communities with specific activations focused on Black culture.
Why is it important for athletic-wear and sneaker companies to promote diversity, inclusion, and the voices of BIPOC? "First and foremost, data shows that diverse teams produce better results than non-diverse teams in the corporate setting," Wise said. "And secondly, Generation Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in history. In order to understand this generation and be consumer-centric, companies need to mirror what their consumer looks like. This will enable companies to build authentic relationships with their target consumers both short term and long term."
Role: Design director of Adidas S.E.E.D (School for Experiential Education in Design)
Career highlights: Cheresse Thornhill is the design director for Adidas S.E.E.D. (School for Experiential Education in Design), which is headquartered in Brooklyn, New York.
Via a partnership with the Pensole Design Academy and Pharrell Williams, S.E.E.D facilitates an entryway into careers in design for women from diverse backgrounds. To Thornhill, passing on her knowledge to a new diverse wave of talent is the "culmination" of her extensive career in the industry. Thornhill started her career at Nike as a footwear design intern with Nike SB (Skateboarding) in 2006. She went on to work full-time at Nike for more than nine years, designing women's sneakers and sportswear as well as basketball footwear like the Jordan 16.5 and the Jordan Flight. Before she joined Adidas, Thornhill pivoted to helping young talent find their way into the industry by founding No Shoes Creative, LLC, her own design consultancy, in 2016.
Why is it important for athletic-wear and sneaker companies to promote diversity, inclusion, and the voices of BIPOC? "It's not enough for athletic-wear and sneaker companies to only promote our voices but they must create access and pathways into the industry for BIPOC," Thornhill said. "Brands and corporations must see value in BIPOC voices beyond just consumer insights and marketplace dollars but value in our thoughts, ideas, partnership, and a seat at the table. Diverse knowledge, perspectives, thought processes, and experiences lead to infinitely more innovative ideas. It's not just good business but a law of nature, one cannot reap where they have not sown. BIPOC within brands also shoulder the responsibility of holding their brand accountable and leading the charge in being the change we want to see in our industry for generations to come."
Role: VP of business development
Career highlights: Caroline Lew-Wolf oversees Adidas' strategy and business development teams for North America.
She came to Adidas in 2016 after an over 20-year career in the consumer products and sneaker industries. Passionate about advocating for women and minorities, Lew-Wolf is a member of Adidas' United Against Racism (UAR) accountability council, working with a group of employees, athletes, and artists to ensure accountability and change from within the company. Lew-Wolf is also an advisor on Adidas' employee resource group focused on engaging the Asian community.
Why people of color are important to the sneaker industry: "It is important for people of color to play a role in the sneaker industry today because sneakers are a celebration and reflection of inner-city communities and culture," Lew-Wolf said. "People of color should not only play a role, but also lead the innovation, evolution, and growth of the industry."
Role: Senior director of baseball business
Career highlights: Seabron started at Adidas in 2016 as the director of wholesale strategy. He currently leads strategy for Adidas' baseball category globally.
In his role as senior director of the baseball unit, he oversees marketing for product and sports as well as brand communications. He also works closely with the teams for product development and design. Seabron helped create Adidas' United Against Racism (UAR) commitments and co-leads the company's accountability efforts as a member of the Adidas' UAR accountability council.
Why is it important for athletic-wear and sneaker companies to promote diversity, inclusion, and the voices of BIPOC? "The athletic-wear and sneaker industry can attribute much of its success to the voices of BIPOC. Our industry is woven into the fabric of diverse communities because of its critical role in self-expression," Seabron said. "Communities of color are the heartbeat that gives this industry life, not just through their financial support, but also through their people and culture. We have a responsibility to elevate diverse communities to see themselves not just as consumers, but as individuals with the power to shape the world they consume. If done correctly, we can harness the passion for our products to have a unique and powerful impact on future generations."
Role: Director of global purpose
Career highlights: Ayesha Martin joined Adidas in 2014 as an internal social media lead for the Women's category. She later moved to the brand strategy and development side, where she worked on partnerships with creators to tell women's stories through product. In her current role as Adidas' director of global purpose, Martin focuses on helping Adidas create change and innovation through community-centered initiatives and grassroots impact programs.
Martin led a partnership with a resource group focused on education to develop an experiential learning curriculum to introduce young people of color to the fashion and design industries. A South African woman of color, Martin is passionate about helping Adidas excel in the realm of inclusion and equity. She is also a part of Adidas' United Against Racism group, where she focuses on addressing the lack of opportunities for BIPOC in the industry.
Why is it important for athletic-wear and sneaker companies to promote diversity, inclusion, and the voices of BIPOC? "I believe that for our industry it needs to go beyond 'promoting' diversity, inclusion, and the voices of BIPOC — which, as a member of the BIPOC community, can land as largely performative," Martin said. "More sustainable and impactful change comes with taking responsibility individually and collectively; to actively engage in being anti-racist. Our (the BIPOC community's) voices and craft have shaped culture – and this industry – for generations. Reclaiming our seats and getting recognition for our contribution should not be an exception to the rule, it should be the norm."
Role: Footwear materials designer
Career highlights: Victor Wilson is responsible for the material selection and design for Adidas' performance footwear.
Before venturing into the design side of materials, Wilson spent years on the development and strategy side of footwear as a development manager. Throughout his career, he has created over 300 footwear models. He also introduced a thermo-regulating technology to Adidas' sneaker lifestyle offering in 2018. Wilson has served as a cultural consultant to help senior leadership analyze cultural sensitivities related to products and other matters. This year, he led a workshop that outlined the company's efforts against racism.
Why is it important for athletic-wear and sneaker companies to promote diversity, inclusion, and the voices of BIPOC? "BIPOC, specifically Black people, are largely responsible for the mega-success of athletic-wear and sneaker companies today," Wilson said. "Black people account for billions of annual revenue in the athletic space spanning over several decades — from the influence and authentication through sport, to innovating and creating an entire culture that has been accepted and adopted globally. BIPOC are not only the driving force behind product creation, we are also helping to create longevity and a more promising future for the entire industry."
Role: Assistant designer, Adidas Originals
Career highlights: Julia Bond is an assistant designer at Adidas, where she creates products for Men's Originals.
Bond was only a few months into her full-time designing job at Adidas when she became the face for activism and change within the company. In June, she wrote an open letter to the company that called out leadership for ignoring what she described as "systemic racism" at the brand. Bond asked for a public apology from Adidas and continues to lead protests at the brand's Oregon headquarters at noon every day in pursuit of a response from the company. In addition to her roles as designer and activist, Bond is a dancer with the Freshvibe Dance Crew.
Why people of color are important to the sneaker industry: "This is an industry that uses Black bodies as mannequins and Black culture for profit, but does not always celebrate or amplify Black minds within the space," Bond said. "Black erasure is a real thing, and our industry can do better if it amplifies black voices and perspectives in the space. It's so necessary and long overdue. This industry would be nothing without Blackness, and I see that some people are recognizing that. Black people need to be in this industry because at its core, it is us."
Role: Global category director for the Beyonce collection
Career highlights: Raymond Boyd currently works as Adidas' global category director for the brand's partnership with Beyonce. He has worked at Adidas for six and a half years, starting with his first role as a product manager for basketball footwear.
Between 2015 and 2017, Boyd led Adidas' Black History Month (BHM) collections, which told the stories of Black athletes and icons like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jesse Owens, and Arthur Ashe. In 2016, he shifted to apparel and worked on collections for athletes such as James Harden, Damian Lillard, and Derrick Rose. Before joining the Beyonce team, Boyd worked with the Yeezy brand from 2017 to June of 2020.
Why is it important for athletic-wear and sneaker companies to promote diversity, inclusion, and the voices of BIPOC? "I not only believe it's important for companies in our industry to promote it (diversity and inclusion), I believe we have a responsibility to do so!," Boyd said. "We partner with Black athletes and entertainers, we market and sell product in Black and Latin communities. We have a responsibility to show those kids that we don't have to just be consumers, athletes or entertainers; their experiences and voice are extremely valuable and valued. Their voices can and have cultivated great product, business, marketing, strategy, design ideas and more!"
Role: Program manager for Adidas S.E.E.D.
Career highlights: Liz Connelly is the program manager for Adidas S.E.E.D. (School for Experiential Education in Design), an alternative two-year design program headquartered in Brooklyn, New York, that helps women from diverse backgrounds find careers in the footwear industry.
Connelly cofounded S.E.E.D in 2019 via a partnership with Pensole and Pharrell Williams and currently identifies high-potential talent for the program. Connelly attributes the early success of S.E.E.D to her team and partners involved, all of whom are working to create more opportunity for women and minorities in the industry. Connelly started her career at Adidas in 2016 in talent acquisition and later moved to recruiting for design and innovation roles.
Why is it important for athletic-wear and sneaker companies to promote diversity, inclusion, and the voices of BIPOC? "Our industry is a massive global influence thanks to its position at the intersection of sports, music, and fashion," Connelly said. "At the helm are the voices and actions of the BIPOC community. Not only should our industry promote diversity, inclusion, and the voices of BIPOC, but we should ensure our employee base is reflective of who we create for."
Role: Footwear designer for football
Career highlights: Aric Armon currently designs footwear for Adidas' football division. He joined Adidas in 2013 as a full-time designer after completing an internship there.
Before that, Armon had the chance to take a footwear design class at the Pensole Design Academy, thanks to a scholarship that he won from Adidas in his senior year of college. As a designer for Adidas, Armon has worked across the football, baseball, basketball, running, training, and lifestyle categories. Armon recently created a curriculum for footwear design that he teaches as an adjunct professor at the Academy of Art University, his alma mater. He is also creating a design program with Pensole meant to help youth from underserved communities learn about how to get involved in the world of sports and footwear.
Why is it important for athletic-wear and sneaker companies to promote diversity, inclusion, and the voices of BIPOC? "There is a lot of work to be done and it's the responsibility and obligation of the industry as a whole to right what they already know is wrong and it is up to the consumer to hold them accountable," Armon said. "It's not just about trying to sell a dream that if you buy these shoes, you'll be a better athlete. It's about selling the dream that if you like shoes, there are careers that you can pursue. You don't have to be just a consumer, you can be a creator. It is also the responsibility for the diverse talent within this industry to reach back into their communities to inspire the next generation coming after them. We need to show them that we do exist and that there is a path forward if they want it."
Role: Color and materials designer
Career highlights: During his five years at Adidas, Charlie Kirihara has worked on designing and constructing products for the company's US football division. In this role, he has worked on designing cleats for the NCAA, NFL, and for consumer purchase in stores.
Kirihara has also worked with top athletes such as Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller. Working closely with such figures has allowed Kirihara and his team to accurately tell diverse and authentic stories about football culture and the athletes that live it on and off the field.
Why is it important for athletic-wear and sneaker companies to promote diversity, inclusion, and the voices of BIPOC? "It's important for sneaker companies to promote diversity and inclusion because it eliminates a one-track way of thinking. I am fortunate to work on a diverse team in football and appreciate that everyone has a voice, no matter their background or title," Kirihara said. "There are still many opportunities to improve on our representation within the category and the company but I feel that we are headed in the right direction. Anyone should have an opportunity to work in this industry and I look toward contributing to a future where that is truly possible."
Role: Global director of future talent acquisition and university relations
Career highlights: In her director role on Adidas' talent acquisition team, Jessica Smith helps identify early career and high-potential talent for the company.
Part of her job involves maintaining relationships with various universities for recruitment purposes, but Smith also keeps the door open for a diverse set of candidates by exploring talent at less traditional training programs. Smith helped launch Adidas S.E.E.D., one example of a different way for people to get their foot in the industry. Smith is currently a doctoral candidate in organizational change and leadership at the University of Southern California.
Why is it important for athletic-wear and sneaker companies to promote diversity, inclusion, and the voices of BIPOC? "The trajectory of people's lives shouldn't be determined by the circumstances they were born into related to their identities," Smith said. "Our belief is through sport we have the power to change lives. That is on and off the pitch. And that includes supporting all people's dreams, removing barriers to those dreams, and ensuring an accessible pathway for all to lives of passion and purpose."
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