Tasha Cobbs Leonard On Aligning Her Purpose Of Entrepreneurship With TAF’s StAART
Tasha Cobbs Leonard is already known for her powerhouse vocals and is now dipping her toe into the footwear business.
The Grammy-Award-winning vocalist is also making history outside of gospel music, becoming the first female recipient of The Athlete’s Foot (TAF) StAART program. The initiative, started after the height of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, seeks to champion African American entrepreneurs by granting them the opportunity to own one of the franchises.
As the first of her kind, while already well-versed in a music career, Cobbs Leonard seeks to be part of the positive representation of Black business owners within her hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. Keeping faith at the forefront, the entrepreneurial step is merging with the singer’s legacy to connect with her community while providing a resource that inspires confidence.
Cobbs Leonard exclusively shared with BLACK ENTERPRISE about the unusual beginning to her love of sneakers, how gospel music will be part of the business philosophy, and what her inclusion in stAART means for Black women entrepreneurs everywhere.
Juggling this with her music career, Cobbs Leonard is focused on balance as she builds the foundation of her first The Athlete’s Foot store. In co-ownership with her husband, the couple tailors it to their community’s desires on what is needed from the shoe franchise.
“For the past year and a half, I’ve been balancing between my music career, my husband and I’s church, and our children. I have this theory about balance, that it’s not necessarily about holding everything up on the same level at once, but whatever requires the most attention at that time. We’ve been putting a lot of attention toward The Athlete’s Foot and building it from the ground up. None of the other things are lacking because we find a way to give everything [that] it needs in each season.”
Her secret to holding it all together? A team with knowledge of the sneaker industry and deep care within the community to see the store and its customers thrive. Referring to herself as a “baby sneakerhead,” the business leader is allowing her team to contribute, as she believes learning from those with experience is vital to success; as to how she got her foot in the door, a friend of Cobbs Leonard introduced her to Darius Billings, the founder of TAF’s stAART program.
“I thought it was great that they were providing these opportunities for African Americans to get into the space with franchising,” shared the artist, whose friend took the leap by throwing her name out to the founder. “I really fit the bill of what they were looking for. Not only am I the first female franchise owner of The Athlete’s Foot, but the first female recipient of the program. They were there the entire time, just walking us through the process.”
Her start to having a “shoe game,” a styling habit noticed even in her performance attire, came from necessity. Tasha detailed why she had to venture out into wearing sneakers to prioritize her physical health and how that led to a love of its versatility and comfortability.
“I played basketball my entire high school career but broke my toe during a game my sophomore year. I went through the full healing process, but at age 25, I started to feel aches and pains in that same place. At that point, I was very active in the music ministry at my church, so I’d wear heels. But the bone-on-bone arthritis spread to my right toe, resulting in me trying the ‘sneaker thing.’ I started performing in them, and it became an expectation as part of my fashion. That could range from Gucci to Jordan 1s, but I just wanted whatever was on my feet to make a statement.”
As having an extensive shoe collection became part of her brand, her partnership with The Athlete’s Foot allowed her to represent Black women’s empowerment in the entrepreneurial space.
“I didn’t realize initially how important it was to make a major step like this for Black women,” shared the multifaceted mompreneur. “You don’t realize the hurdles that you are going to run into, not just because it’s something new, but because of who you are. It’s a little bit harder to walk through those doors, such as getting investors. It’s something I had to war through. There were seasons [when] I felt discouraged, but it was not just about me. This is for my daughters. I’m making it work despite the walls that are in front of me.”
“The strength that you need is already in you for everything that you’re purposed to do.”
Her new business endeavor aims to be more than a store for the people of Greenville but to connect with them, as a major part of her willingness to dive into this venture with stAART is its mission of communal outreach.
“This business is so aligned with who I’m purposed to be, giving back to the community through this and pouring back into people. TAF gives me the opportunity to do that in this platform. I tell my team all the time, ‘When people walk into this store, I want them to leave feeling better.’ I think that’s a way to sustain it, for them to feel like they are a part of this. When you walk in, it is total Black excellence. On another level.”
With the official grand opening of the Greenville location set for Oct. 7, the Cobbs Leonards plan to showcase other Black-owned businesses through the event as well. With stAART, their aspirations are beyond the success of their own brand, but to enlist their community on a similar journey.
“After the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, the world was opening up, but there were so many issues that were revealed that we needed to talk out. TAF, through its stAART program, offered some form of solution to people who may have felt lost. Here’s something we can provide to help you get back in the game, to start over, and offer another tool to help you regain strength.”
As for whether patrons can expect a free show with a shoe purchase, Cobbs Leonard has no explicit plans to do so but speaks of all her career pathways serving the same mission. That being said, the potential collaboration of her two passions is not totally out of the question.
“Everything that we do is to expose people to the love of God. At the end of [the] day, yes, my singing, or selling somebody a sneaker, is in the hopes of making them feel better about themselves. There may be a day [when] I say, ‘Hey, let’s set up some speakers outside the store,’ and I may hop on the mic. But I think, ultimately, the two go hand in hand for my purpose.”
Her journey as a business owner is all about uplifting others. She envisions her service in this capacity to be one of restoration, for people to accomplish the dreams considered to be impossible, just like she has.
“What excites me the most about entrepreneurship is that I can inspire other people,” expressed the singer. “I want them to look at that hard thing and believe that they can defeat the giant. The great one for this specifically was opening the door, and faith played a major part in that. That hope is what I bring to this space. In most industries, faith needs to be restored, and that is what made me fall in love with my purpose from the beginning, bringing that to this community.”
To catch up with Tasha Cobbs Leonard and all her aligned purposes of music and sneakers, one can visit her website for the latest.