The specialty footwear and lifestyle chain, The Athlete’s Foot, created its signature program, StAART, which stands for Strategic African American Retail Track, in the summer of 2020 at the height of the Black Lives Matter Movement. StAART's mission is to increase African-American representation and ownership within the sneaker industry, particularly through franchising, while championing Black-owned retail and entrepreneurship within the Black community. Through StAART, The Athlete's Foot directly recruits, develops, and mentors Black entrepreneurs through its retail franchise model. The program provides StAART franchisees with access to resources, systems, relationships with its strategic brand partners, and a mentorship network – directly addressing many of the barriers that typically prevent Black entrepreneurs from launching and successfully sustaining their businesses.
The Athlete’s Foot has outlined three areas of impact and focus for StAART: Expose, Educate, and Activate. These three areas are in direct response to the traditional barriers Black entrepreneurs face in business: lack of access to capital, lack of access to information, and lack of access to relationships with key decision-makers and gatekeepers. Because of TAF’s unique business model and position in the industry, StAART can support the entrance of Black entrepreneurs into the industry through franchising. TAF has a long-standing reputation for its commitment to diversity, inclusion, and community and remains the only retailer with a 100% franchise model – all stores are locally owned and operated. TAF has successfully supported hundreds of entrepreneurs in franchising in its 50-year history and has a reputation for providing its franchisees with the tools and resources needed to be successful. In 2023, TAF announced the official grand opening of Grammy-winning gospel artist Tasha Cobbs Leonard's newest location in Greenville, SC. The self-professed "sneakerhead" is passionate about giving back to her community and will continue to do so by elevating the local fashion and sneaker culture industry in her beloved hometown. Tasha is the first female recipient of TAF's StAART Program.
Success is defined by the partnerships TAF can create within the community and by the number of people we can expose to the lesser-known opportunities that exist within the industry. StAART has not only welcomed new franchisees into the industry but also injected hope, optimism, and action into others who will follow along in the journey. Our intention is for StAART to have a positive impact on the entire industry, not just those who will go through the program. We believe that a rising tide can lift all boats. If through StAART we can bring greater attention to the gaps, barriers, and inequities within the sneaker industry, we believe all stand to benefit. We want to use our platform to bring about change across the industry, not just within our company and we believe there’s enough opportunity to be shared. We’re also making a concerted effort to extend ourselves to current independent Black-owned retailers as a resource and an ally, which has always been of importance to us and a part of our TAF culture. The Athlete’s Foot currently has deep relationships within the industry that extend from the major athletic retail brands to the small independent store owners.