It’s not exactly a secret that Black culture is the engine that powers countless industries throughout the globe. Yet despite this fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single Black face in the management or executive positions of some of your favorite brands and companies.
We’ll be front and center in every Burger King commercial or Ford marketing campaign, though.
As the secret sauce at powerhouses like Nike, Adidas, and Rebook, sneaker savant Bimma Williams was appalled by the lack of diversity within the footwear industry. So instead of contributing to the problem by remaining silent, he abandoned his “dream job” in order to disrupt the status quo instead.
His podcast, Claima Stories—as in “claim a seat at the table”—features prominent creators, professionals, and influencers of color sharing incredible insight and personal stories about the business behind the business. So with its second season underway, Bimma chopped it up with The Root to discuss his mission and how he’s using his podcast to inform and inspire the masses.
Bimma’s passion for sneakers began at an early age. He fondly remembers being drawn to the marketing and storytelling of the sneaker industry as a child in his hometown of Baton Rouge, La. But as he grew older and his passion intensified, he realized he had no pathways to pursue his dream.
“I grew up loving sneakers since I was like nine,” he told The Root. “But the problem was that I didn’t grow up with any mentors that work in creative spaces. So there was no way for that interest to be nurtured. My parents, and a lot of our community, worked at chemical plants. They were blue-collar workers. Clock in, clock out. That’s all they knew.”
But despite these circumstances, Bimma remained committed to the cause. He would eventually find his way in after accruing an exorbitant amount of debt in college, but he was in for a rude awakening upon finally cracking the code to the sneaker industry.
“I moved to Boston and I was working as a social media manager at Saucony,” he said. “When I walked into this building of like 400 people, I was the only Black guy in this building.”
From that moment on, as the years progressed and Bimma ascended within the industry, he became more and more alarmed by what he uncovered behind the veil.
“All I saw was the ads and stuff that we see that’s externally based. The Black faces they use to push products,” he said. “And then I get in these places and I find out more about the sneaker industry, the creative industry, the advertising industry, and I’m just like, ‘Wow. We’re really not up in here.’ So I wanted to change that.”
He continued, “That’s kind of how we started to go down this process of, well, how are you going to change it? How do you want to help? Are you trying to boil the ocean or are you’re going to try to make an impact in the area that you can’t?”
So Bimma did what many of us would never even entertain: He left behind his Global Entertainment Marketing gig at Nike—and in turn, working with celebrities like Travis Scott—in order to help usher in the next generation of BIPOC creatives. And part of that mission involves using Claima Stories as a vehicle to educate and enlighten those interested in following in his footsteps.
“I met these two kids—they were 18 and 19—that had met me for the first time. They found out what I was doing and they were inspired by that,” Bimma said. “They told me that this was the first time that they ever heard a story or met someone that worked close to sneakers and creativity like they’ve aspired to do.”
He continued, “Where we can definitely impact is we can figure out how to bring stories that are about careers and about real-life experiences from people that look like them and show them. Give them as many examples as possible about how to try to get to where they’re going, because there’s never going to be one example that’s going to be like I can do. So what we want to do is make sure they get access to information that honestly, a lot of white kids have had their entire lives subconsciously. Because they grew up in communities where their parents know people that work at Wieden+Kennedy or work at the Times or work at Nike. And a lot of times we don’t. And so we don’t have those connections sometimes ever, or those stories sometimes ever. And if we do get them, we don’t get them till like 20 years later.”
And while Bimma is doing his part to educate and empower the future movers and shakers of the footwear industry, he demands those who wield power at these billion-dollar corporations to do the same.
“The biggest thing that we need to see is swift change,” he said. “That is very uncomfortable for a lot of these traditional organizations because these organizations were started by white folks. And so those white folks are in power at every level in these organizations. We need to see more turnover at the executive levels because that’s where all the decisions are made.”
He continued, “I’ve had brands hit me on LinkedIn and they’re like, ‘What can we do to support?’ I said, ‘I’m not doing nothing but your work to figure out your talent pipeline. What you should be doing is figure out how to amplify this to HBCUs. You should be figuring out how to amplify this to the non-profit organizations that say they’re supporting BIPOC youth creatives.’ So when they say these things, I’m like, ‘Are you I’m not seeing what’s happening?’ It can’t be this difficult.”
It’s really not. But thankfully, creatives of color have people like Bimma who know the game and are hell-bent on balancing the scales. And in this season of Claima Stories, he’s recruited guests in adjacent industries to expand the scope of his mission.
“We have some really incredible folks coming up,” Bimma said. “The first season we focused heavily on just folks that worked behind the scenes in the sneaker industry. This year, we’re expanding to creatives in the widest sense. We have Melody Ehsani, who’s an amazing designer. We have Jeff Staple, who’s a designer and brand out of New York. We have James Wittner, who’s an incredible retailer and just a mogul in general. And then also on the music side, we have folks like [Top Dawg Entertainment engineer] Mixed by Ali, who just mixed [“What It Feels Like” by] Nipsey and Jay-Z. So we’re really expanding this idea of creatives and really continuing to keep our connection to fashion and sneakers as well.”
When your passion has a purpose, it’s no surprise when the stars align.
Check out Claima Stories on your podcast platform of choice.