Rolling Out

Hawk & Sole founder, luxury footwear designer Charles Hawkins’ mission is bigger than selling sneakers

Luxury shoe wear designer Charles Hawkins cares about delivering a quality product to his consumer market.

Luxury shoe wear designer Charles Hawkins is the founder of Hawk & Sole, LLC, a Chicago-based sneaker startup. The DePaul University graduate led a successful 30-year career in sales in the investment industry, retiring from The Northern Trust Company in 2016. After using his talents to help large institutions and family offices build their wealth through the financial markets, Hawkins pivoted his energy and passion to build wealth and create economic development opportunities in urban communities. Sparked by the idea of better aligning urban consumerism with long-term employment and ownership opportunities in the footwear industry, Hawkins conceived Hawk & Sole, LLC.

Hawk & Sole is at the forefront of the redevelopment of local manufacturing to rejuvenate communities, by providing sustainable, life-enriching jobs that inspire productive citizenship. Hawkins’ vision is to build a distinctive luxury footwear enterprise that leverages expertise in design, marketing, and local manufacturing.  The company’s mission is to deliver quality, American-made and sourced footwear that invigorates the human spirit and resonates with fashion enthusiasts everywhere. 

Rolling out’s CEO and founder Munson Steed spoke more with Hawins about his company and his journey.

Tell us about your business.

I’m in the sneaker business. We have a luxury brand called Hawk & Sole, and I’ve been working on this now for a few years. We just did a pre-launch and it was the end of the summer, early fall of 2022. Things are going extremely well.

Why is it important for people to understand your company’s mission?

The mission of the company is to provide not just job opportunities, but well-paying jobs. We want to make sure that our employees are happy, they enjoy coming to work, and money is not necessarily the first thing on their minds. We want to satisfy that as quickly as we possibly can. The mission of the company has to have an ESOP (employee stock ownership) program so the employees can actually have ownership in the company. The other aspect of our company is that it would be a “B Corporation,” which means that all of our financials would be public. It’s a privately held company, but the world would be able to see exactly how the money flows. Luxury brand sneakers are inexpensive so I want people to know that. What I want to make sure people [understand] is that you get an A-quality sneaker but in addition, you know where your money is going, and how the money is flowing. We want people to see that the money flows to the employees and the future creation of quality products of Hawk & Sole.

Who’s been able to help you along your journey?

I didn’t grow up in the shoe industry so I had to learn to trade. I reached out to a lot of people over the last several years to get some type of understanding of how does it work? How can I go about doing this? A lot of people, when I first started talking to them, they were like “You sure you want to do this?” And I said yeah. They said they liked the mission of the company, so as I reached out to people, I came across some that were extremely well-regarded in the industry. One gentleman who helped me with design now sits on the advisory board. He is the first African American to design the Air Jordan shoe, and his name is Dwayne Edwards. Dwayne now has his own design academy called Pensole. Dwayne is well-regarded in the industry and when I first met him, he wanted to make sure that this was something I really wanted to do.

He told me that this is a competitive industry, but he liked what I was doing. He’s been with me every step, so when I need designers for particular shoes, he’s the guy that we go to and he provides those designers. For manufacturing, I met someone years ago. They’re a third-generation manufacturing family, and they’ve been doing it for a while, I talked to him about the mission of the company and he also said to count him in and let him know what he can do. The goal is to bring that manufacturing to Chicago, and right now it’s being done in Maine. The gentleman in Maine said he’d like to be a part of the training, so he can help people learn how to use the machines and teach them what we know.

What have you learned about yourself as a CEO?

Growing up in the investment industry, I saw how direction mattered in terms of where it’s coming from. It didn’t depend on how high it was, but you can see that direction mattered, and people want assurance that the person who’s in that leadership position has the best interest of the company, but also their interests. All of that should be aligned. I’ve learned not to be a complainer, and to be more of a doer if I want things to change around me. I have to be the catalyst. I want it to be contagious, not just for the company and the employees that accompany it but just even outside of it. I want other people to be inspired by Hawk & Sole. I want it to be something special. I want the community to grab a hold of it and say, “Maybe I might want to do something to whatever that specialty might be.” Maybe it’s something that is true to their heart, but maybe they can create something that’s not only a benefit for them individually, but it can be a benefit for the community as well.

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