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When Steve Jamison, owner of Blue Sole Shoes, an upscale men’s store in Center City, Philadelphia, opened his doors in 2007, he was determined to appeal to a diverse customer base looking for trend-driven footwear.
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The store’s location in the heart of the city’s business district gave Jamsion direct access to businessmen as well as drawing from the wide range of neighborhoods making up the greater Philadelphia area. “I wanted to appeal to all [types] of people,” said the retailer about the store’s location, also adjacent to the residential neighborhood of Rittenhouse Square. “I always thought Black-owned businesses don’t have to be in Black communities, so why not move into Center City.”
Over the years, Jamison, 54, has built up a broad following among men shopping for dress to casual looks from brands including Magnanni, Seboy’s, John Galliano and Jo Ghost. “We’ve always had a mixed clientele because of the conscious decision I made to make the store appealing to all races,” he said of dismantling stereotypes related to how people of various races dress and where they should shop for their clothes and shoes.
Jamison, who received his retail education at high-end department and specialty stores including the former Bottino men’s shoe store in the city, is committed to passing his business and fashion knowledge on to the next generation of Black entrepreneurs, including his three sales associates, all of color in their 20s. “There’s a knowledge gap between Whites and Blacks in their understanding about finance,” said Jamison, who is active in addressing the issue in the Black community.
The entrepreneur has given presentations to groups at his church in North Philadelphia, where he grew up, focusing on financial literacy. “I’ve done numerous speaking engagements talking to kids who are interested in fashion,” said Jamison, to inspire those in disparaging situations to think beyond their situation.
According to Jamison, the current racial climate has created the perfect storm for business and political leaders, financial institutions and the media to get behind encouraging and supporting the growth of Black businesses. He cites banks as the catalyst in helping build this community. “Part of it, is the lending process,” said Jamison, about making financial support more accessible. “I think people are paying closer attention to how banks operate, lend money, and who they lend it to,” said Jamison. “We’re now trying to get a better understanding of the percentages of [loans] that go to Blacks and minorities.”
When Jamison launched his business, he tapped into a home equity line of credit, personal savings and credit card funding. Since he opened the store during the a financial crisis, convincing vendors to take a chance on a new customer like him was one of his biggest challenges. But, Jamison found a workable solution at the time: Always paying his bills on time. “It required tremendous discipline, and I went a long time without a salary, instead drawing on my personal savings to sustain myself.”
Before arriving at his tony downtown retail address, Jamison recalled his early days as a child getting his first pair of fashionable shoes, a dress style from Pierre Cardin. Growing up poor, he said the shoes lifted his fashion spirit, receiving compliments on how he looked. The experience led to his desire to one day open his own boutique, giving others the chance to express their personal style.
Now, Jamison is on a mission to continue his fashion journey by passing the torch to others in the Black community. “It’s about mentorship and making a direct connection to younger people,” he said. “It will also take partnerships with high schools and colleges where people like myself can engage with business classes about business ownership.”
Despite his success, Jamison admits he has one regret — not venturing out on his own much sooner.