Story at a glance

  • Black retailers saw little of the $70 billion generated by U.S. sneaker sales in 2020.
  • Just 5 percent of sneaker retailers in the U.S. are Black.
  • Black business owners say the sneaker industry is a “white boys’ club” and Black retailers have a more difficult time obtaining startup money and running successful stores.

The U.S. sneaker industry raked in roughly $70 billion last year, according to market research company Statista, and is set to reach a value of $102 billion by 2025. But while Black individuals routinely account for the lion’s share of sneaker sales each year, Black retailers hardly benefit.

That’s mostly because Black-owned sneaker stores are few and far between, NBC News reported.

“It’s been messed up that there aren’t nearly enough Black stores to spend Black dollars on sneakers,” Earl West, a self-described “sneaker head” from Atlanta whose own collection nears 900 pairs, told NBC.

Black retailers say Black businesses are routinely boxed out of the sneaker market by white establishments, and just 5 percent of sneaker retailers in the U.S. are Black, according to NBC. 


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More broadly, less than 10 percent of U.S. businesses are Black-owned, according to data from the Small Business Administration, and a staggering 80 percent fail in the first 18 months.

“It’s a white boys’ club, like most things,” James Whitner, a Black business owner of several sneaker and apparel stores on the East Coast, told NBC. “There are people aware of it, but their privilege doesn’t force them to have to change it.”

Whitner recently created his own sneaker with Nike, and Vice President Harris visited his store on the campaign trail last year. But his success makes him an outlier in an industry where there “are white gatekeepers who are keeping us out,” he told NBC. 

Whitner’s first store, Social Status, was originally called Flava Factory, but he changed it from a “very Black, very urban” name to attract more business. Since that change was made, “the business has just exploded,” he said.

The cost of entering the market is extremely high, and business owners looking to sell sneakers can expect to spend roughly $60,000 on startup costs. That’s a problem for prospective Black and minority entrepreneurs, who often have a harder time obtaining lines of credit or small business loans than their white counterparts.

“Resources are required to be successful,” Whitner told NBC. “And not many of us have the resources or the business savvy, or the understanding of what it takes to actually win in this industry. Starting when you’re disadvantaged is hard.”

Some Black business owners are using their success to help others get their start in the industry. Darius Billings, a senior director of product and marketing for sneaker retailer Athlete’s Foot, launched the Strategic African American Retail Track, or StAART program, earlier this year to help Black entrepreneurs become store owners.

“The program is about fostering change within an industry that was really built on Black culture, Black influence and Black community,” he told NBC. “And from a holistic standpoint, I looked at ownership and questioned myself: How many Black retail owners are out there in the sneaker space? Not many and not nearly enough.”


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Published on Oct 25, 2021