by Executive Editor Timantha Norman
Sneakers have undergone a very interesting cultural trajectory in our modern history. From purely practical purposes when they first came into existence in the early part of the 20th century, then becoming a staple of the burgeoning hip-hop subculture of the 1980s, to the forefront of the basketball landscape of the 1990s, and now, fully immersed in the mainstream fashion scene of today, sneaker culture has come full circle.
I spoke with Silhouette founder and owner Venita Cooper about what motivated her to start the sneaker boutique, her plans on utilizing ethical business practices, and the importance of empowering the community while making a profitable business.
Timantha Norman: What inspired you to start this business?
Venita Cooper: I love sneakers, I love fashion, and I love the art and music and vibe that come with the culture. There’s no place in Tulsa right now that is showcasing and forecasting local sneaker culture. You can’t walk into a physical store here and participate in it. As a sneakerhead, my only option to cop the hottest, most limited kicks and apparel is to buy online or travel out of the area. Silhouette is going to change that. But also, Silhouette, to me, represents an opportunity to build and give back. My roots are in education, and I want to amplify sneaker culture and all its opportunities for the youth. The artists and creators that I partner with are really committed to engaging younger generations. They go back to the times when they were into sneakers, into art, as kids and the limited opportunities that they had to express themselves and to develop their interests. Within the next year or so, Silhouette will do programming for youth in the community to engage in a culture of art and fashion that is rooted in black culture, something they can take pride in and be excited about.
Norman: So do you plan on this boutique being a purely fashion-oriented business? How does the theme of community fit into your overall business model?
Cooper: At the core of the business, we are absolutely sneakers and apparel. It is high fashion, limited edition, rare, authentic stuff. That’s our North Star. As a business, making a profit does matter. But I believe that what you do with the profit also matters. That’s where the longer-term vision comes into play. It’s all about community. If I am able to be elevated and those around me are not, to me it’s like what’s the point? I’m not in this business to perpetuate the same system of inequities that already exists. I’m in this business in part because I love sneakers, but also because I want to be a part of improving outcomes in this community.
Norman: What are some of the specific business practices that you plan to implement that will create a more equitable work environment for your employees?
Cooper: I think a big part of it is being intentional about working with talented people who have been historically disadvantaged in the job market. Then when they join our organization, I have to ensure that they are being paid fair wages that really represent the quality of their work and support a sustainable lifestyle. That looks like paying $15 an hour minimum wage. That looks like discouraging even folks that work for me on a limited, project-oriented basis to give that labor to me for free, as a favor. Like, no, I’m advocating for you just like you need to be advocating for yourself. You are hard-working. You are talented. Those qualities should be compensated. Also, I’m really trying to work with people to help develop and support them in their professional vision through mutually beneficial partnerships. I work with a lot of young creatives and artists who are still crafting a vision for what it is they want to do and how they want to execute it. To me, that’s very important. What does success look like to you? How are you going to go about achieving that? I want to partner with creatives and not just have their art in the store or their t-shirts in the store, but truly make sure we are both progressing.
Norman: What do you ultimately hope to accomplish with Silhouette? What will set it apart from other retail endeavors?
Cooper: Part of why I think Silhouette is going to be successful is that there is a real desire in the community right now, in Tulsa, and really across the country, even globally, to participate in sneaker culture. The sneaker resale market is a $6 billion global market! When you come into Silhouette, you are going to be a full participant in that culture, in that market. There’s going to be apparel, there’s going to be art, there’s going to be music, there are going to be sneakerheads engaging you in conversation, and it will all be curated with you in mind. Hopefully, Silhouette will be a space where you want to be, where you find energy and community and where you want to add to your sneaker collection. —
Photo credit: Catherine Betances