In 2018, Sydni Dion Bennett was the first African American to win Miss Illinois Teen USA, but as she prepared to represent the state of Illinois on the Miss Teen USA stage, she struggled finding nude-colored shoes.
“In pageants, there’s a common shoe, and everyone wears that shoe, and it’s only in one color,” said Bennett, now 19 years old. “To me, it was just kind of like, why is it only in one color because nude necessarily isn’t only one color, which is kind of like our mantra for our company.”
Bennett’s business, Diverse Style, which launched in 2019, currently has four styles of shoes that are in three colors: cashew, cinnamon and black.
“My desire was that people like me wouldn’t have to spray paint their shoes to match their skin color.”
“My desire was that people like me wouldn’t have to spray paint their shoes to match their skin color,” Bennett said. “Within dance and pageants, I’ve had to do that.”
Bennett began participating in pageants when she was 14 years old, but has been dancing since she was six. She recently moved to California and has been signed to multiple modeling agencies, she said. Bennett currently holds the USA National Miss California title and will be competing for the national title in Florida this November.
Bennett is also in cosmetology school with a special interest in the hair field.
“It’s a little hard ‘cause I’m learning how to cut hair on camera,” Bennett said, referring to one way her teacher has adapted to the coronavirus pandemic by using a doll’s head to teach students virtually on camera.
Also because of the pandemic, Bennett said that manufacturing has been down, so Diverse Style hasn’t been able to receive new products. However, she said that people have been online shopping and buying shoes.
Diverse Style customer Breanna Myles, 17, has been competing in pageants for five years and is currently the Princess America Florida Teen. Before purchasing a pair of Diverse Style shoes, Myles wore a lighter nude heel while competing, but the shoes didn’t match her skin color, she said.
“I think that it’s so amazing that [Bennett] made this to be inclusive of everyone, not just lighter skin tones or darker skin tones, just a range of skin tones because really there is no true nude,” Myles said.
Diverse Style has been a trailblazer in expanding products with more nude shades. Recently, after a petition went viral, two different companies that produce ballet pointe shoes, Bloch and Capezio, announced that they would be adding darker shades of pointe shoes. Band-aid also announced on June 10 on Instagram that they would launch a range of bandages in light, medium, and deep shades of brown.
“It’s kind of sad that it’s never been a thing. Like why weren’t we included when you’re thinking of designing things like that,” Bennett said.
On June 10, Capezio CEO Michael Terlizzi issued a statement that said, “We support all dancers’ dreams to express themselves through the beautiful art of dance. While we provide our soft ballet slippers, legwear and bodywear in a variety of shades and colors, our largest market in pointe shoes has traditionally been pink. We recognize that custom made pointe shoes in any shade or color may not meet the needs of our customers.”
“It’s a good thing now that it’s actually brought to people’s attention and they’re able to produce things like that. But the main question for me is why wasn’t this an idea in the beginning when you first launched it, like to think about everybody and not just what they would think of as would fit everyone,” Bennett said.
To contribute to the Black Lives Matter movement, Diverse Style is currently donating ten percent of their proceeds to foundations that support the movement, Bennett said.
Bennett said that the pageant industry is very diverse and many are taking a stand within the Black Lives Matter movement. “[They] don’t really think about skin color when they’re choosing who’s gonna win,” she said. “So I would say that they had been very supportive and spoke what they thought, which is great for me to see.”
Bennett wants her business to grow more. “I want to be able to bring more skin or more colors into it and be able to produce more designs that people like and want to wear on pageant stages or everyday life.”Find More Stories