South L.A. students learn the science behind creating sneakers 

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By Ural Garrett

Contributing Writer

LEIMERT PARK Community mainstays TEC Lemiert and Sole Folks already collaborated for Sneaker Day late last year, which premiered the Sole Folks Sneaker Lab incubator program.

Now, the two entities have partnered with the Los Angeles Unified School District for a sneaker science program to help minority students understand the sneaker industry through foundational product design and entrepreneurial skills.

The five-week summer school elective took place in early July at both Audubon and Bret Harte middle schools through the school district’s Humanizing Education for Equitable Transformation initiative that focuses on customized curriculums that are culturally relevant toward students.

“It’s something fresh and new as our youth love sneakers,” said TEC Leimert co-founder Rashidi Jones. “It gives them not only a chance to learn how sneakers are designed but learn about entrepreneurialship and business alongside the language used in the industry.”

Students who enter the program learn key entrepreneurial concepts, business structure strategies and product design applications including virtual reality based design software. According to Sole Folks co-founder Akil West, the goal of Sneaker Science is to bridge the gap between science and technology for Black and brown students within the community.

“Kids are creating new products from their phones,” West said. “They’re making T-shirt designs … and working with organizations like Shopify where they are printing on demand. They’re learning that they can create a business from their bedroom utilizing phones. Technology and fashion are more than collaborative with each other.”

West said the program uses the ideas of both stock market and real estate to explain the economic aspect of modern sneaker culture to students.

“We don’t just teach how to start shoe design, develop the shoes and market the shoes,” West said. “We also use the stock market logic in regards to selling, buying and holding sneakers as well.”

To put that in perspective, Nike’s limited edition Air Yeezy collaboration with controversial hip hop star and mogul Kanye West sold for $245 in 2014. As of June this year, sneaker resale outlets like StockX have seen the shoe sell for more than $10,000.

So far, the program has enrolled 134 students during the summer pilot program with future plans to expand to other schools including Crenshaw High School. There, the program will be a full elective that will last an entire semester.

Both TEC Leimert and Sole Folks’ ultimate end-goal is a 10-week incubator for 18-26 year olds where participants will be able to come to the Sole Folks Sneaker Lab. Participants in the program will hone in their skills and potentially join the vertical at Sole Folks.

“We want a sneaker to come out of Leimert for purchase and 10 to 15 new business to come through the lab,” Jones said. “We’re partnering with several entities to make them happen as we’re building this ecosystem for success.”

According to Jones, the new relationship with LAUSD has grown significantly.

“LAUSD is really leaning on the concept of culturally relevant curriculum so they want to partner with local community organizations to fulfill that and we’re built for that,” Jones said.

In a statement, Dechele Byrd, director of the Humanizing Education for Equitable Transformation initiative, was appreciative of the collaboration.

“The daily exercises push students’ thinking beyond traditional consumers to cultivate their inner entrepreneurial skills, develop financial literacy and curate thought leaders,” Byrd said.

This isn’t the first time TEC Lemiert has entered the education realm. Last year, they created the free NXT LVL Social Media incubator program focused on teaching attendees how to properly use social media platforms for digital marketing. A 12-week course for graduating high school seniors and young adults between 18-24 years old, participants of the program eventually got to work at top-tier creative agencies within social media departments as paid interns.

For Jones, it’s another example of how organizations within the community are coming together to help future leaders.

“It’s a direct example of how we’re taking young talent within our South Los Angeles community and plugging them into the creative economy,” Jones said. “These kids are blown away by that.”

Parents or potential students interested in the program can send inquiry emails to team@solefolks.com or admin@tecleimert.com for more information.

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