Historically, women, Black women, have not been recognized for their contributions to culture and to the workplace. Efforts are being made now to correct those wrongs, but it’s so important that people are recognized for the work that they do, and often the vast amount of work that they do goes unnoticed.

I always tell people I didn’t know my job was a job until I got here. People say “adidas” and you immediately think footwear or clothing designer, but there’s an infinite galaxy of jobs and possibilities that exist.

From dragons to design

When I was a junior in college, I got really lucky when some adidas recruiters came to my school looking for footwear designers. I was studying illustration and product design and my illustration teacher somehow got a couple of spots for illustration kids to meet with the recruiters. I met Lucy Nobles, one of the recruiters, and that meeting completely opened my path to a career I hadn’t imagined.

Colourful sketches of MLB rookie players by Bernadette Little
’22 MLB rookie player sketches by Bernadette Little ©Bernadette Little

I was hired as an intern in Global Brand Design. I don’t think they knew exactly what to do with me at first, but I was fun and had an interesting portfolio full of like dragons and cute illustrations and stuff like that. I was like “yo, I bet I’m gonna be a comic book artist. I’m gonna work for Marvel.” At the time I got my first internship, I was just appreciative that someone was gonna pay me to do something artsy on this scale.

My department was new, and I knew a little bit of 3D design, so I helped out with that, assisted with a couple of event spaces, and did some concepts for ads. As the department grew and I grew, I made my way over into doing more art direction.

Accepted, acknowledged and appreciated

My internship ended, and for a time I pieced together some other opportunities until I found my way back to Global Brand Design at adidas. The department had grown, and I dove into learning art direction and photoshoots with some great mentors. This is gonna sound really simplistic, but a mentor, more than anything, is a person who makes time and is present during that time that they have with you. Many of my mentors were senior to me, but when the conversation started and the relationships grew, they talked to me as if my perspective mattered. It was always like, “I’m coming to you as a whole person, here are my experiences and pain. I’m ready to receive yours within this strange corporate sphere that we exist in.”

Jackie Joyner-Kersee stands in front of a bright orange wall art work celebrating Black excellence.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee is one of many motivational voices in the Black community.

Being able to stay with the same team for a long time and get a second education with folks who are invested in you and want you to grow made all the difference. My experience has been really life changing because I’ve been able to do things and travel to places I never thought I would be able to.

I think we all want to be accepted and acknowledged… especially in the world that we live in now. You can feel like you’re not being appreciated. I’m privileged to be at this job, sitting on the computer from home, but you know, even in that privileged state, it can be exhausting, so I think recognition goes a long way for morale.

Paying it forward

I’m now in a position where I am leading a team and I try to keep recognition in mind for my team members. It’s super important to acknowledge everyone’s efforts.

Last summer I had an intern on my team. People sign up to be interns to learn, but in that experience I learned just as much from her. She was brilliant. I’m like “girl, you could take my job tomorrow.” The experience was an opportunity to not only instill information but also gain insight from someone with a different perspective. Similar to how my 3D modeling knowledge was useful to my team during my internship, she was a computer science major and applied her knowledge of information systems for our team. The fact that she was a young Black woman made her contributions even more important.

Creating with purpose

We have a grand opportunity with the financial backing and platform that adidas comes with to actually have a positive influence and change people’s lives. We’re still working on photo shoots and ad campaigns, but if we take a step back, there’s a grander purpose behind it all.

After the past two years with COVID and the Black Lives Matter movement, I have come to realize my privilege even more so than before. Being in a position to create imagery, create content, create messaging at a global level is really big responsibility. I want to make things that are positive representations of Black culture, accurate representations of my culture.

Three people stand in front of a vibrant wall mural celebrating Black excellence.
2021 HBE honorees CJ and Kelli Stewart uplift their Atlanta community by developing leaders through L.E.A.D., their non-profit organization. Mural by Chicago artist Brandon Breaux.

I got involved with the Honoring Black Excellence (HBE) campaign at adidas in 2019 right when the pandemic was starting. As 2020 unfolded I saw something important happening within adidas with the formation of a Black Coalition in response to the cultural and global awakening inside and outside of our company. Design help was needed, so I jumped in and that morphed into a long-term project to establish creative direction and visual guidance and then working to create the voice for HBE as well.

HBE is all about recognizing the full experience and influence of Black people using adidas platforms and visibility. The goal of HBE is to educate and inspire. Throughout the year, we highlight honorees through the lens of sports or activities celebrating the achievements of Black individuals and Black culture, giving recognition, or “flowers while they’re still here.”

Honoring Black Excellence removes stereotypes. Creative direction for HBE came down to demystifying the whole thing, like, how do you talk to Black folk? How do you approach Black folk? How do you photograph Black people?

adidas basketball shoe on a bright orange background with flowers.
“Flowers while they’re still here” is a visual reference for a shoe designed with basketballer Trae Young.
A Hornets basketball jersey placed on a orange background with flowers.
The Hornets jersey created for our Historically Black College and University partners for Black History Month.
An image of a Alcorn basketball jersey on a bright orange background.
Creative expression in the form of basketball jerseys sends out a message of support.
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Our approach is to just go to the people who know what they’re talking about, to tell stories, but not try to embed the story. Don’t try to create a story that’s not there. Photograph people and their wholeness, their full colors and light. There’s no reason to play into Black tropes with black and white heavy imagery or some downtrodden story. Stories like those can be true too, but that’s not everything that Black culture is.
Having the humility to allow folks to present their own stories and capture them in an authentic way is at the core of how we do things. One of our campaigns, Welcome to the Kingdom, took this approach really well.

Uplifting colleagues and communities

For Welcome to the Kingdom, the team found people in New York who were doing beneficial things for their community. The campaign featured a basketball coach, somebody in her neighborhood who was exploring design, a small business owner and others. They were all connected to sport or style, but they weren’t trying to orchestrate some crazy big thing.
The campaign celebrated regular people and their stories in full color, with dope videos, interesting interviews, bright photography, and with quotes pulled directly from their stories. The campaign uplifted folks and celebrated the normal. In my eyes, that really met the mark.

It’s always great to be seen and felt for who you are and your endeavors. I feel like I’ve been lucky enough have folks around me who go out their way to recognize me or recognize my efforts.

So, what can companies like adidas keep doing to provide recognition? Make it your business to understand who is there, day after day, putting in long hours making stuff happen.

I was the only Black woman in my department for several years. It’s critical to continue to remove barriers to help more Black women get to the spot that I’m in, and then invest and grow Black female talent. Recognize the folks who are doing the work and then invest more to grow the pool of Black talent who are growing with your company and getting their voices heard.

It really is like kind of simple. If you have the people in the room, just uplift them. Allow them to speak.

6 COMMENTS

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by Jason Smith 14.03.2022
Representation is important and much needed for all to see and recognize.
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by Chris 15.03.2022
REAL BLACK QUEENS
Reply
by Gelfry Colon 16.03.2022
Let's keep moving forward together
Reply
by Robert Cobb 16.03.2022
Great article about BLACK empowerment
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by Juan Carlos campas 20.03.2022
Love it
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by Brian Parker 28.03.2022
I'm a winner
Reply