Mel Peralta is a natural storyteller.
The senior project director of Foot Locker’s Greenhouse incubator program is first-generation Dominican-American and comes from a family who worked in the apparel industry.
A native of New York’s Bronx borough, Peralta’s family all worked at the same baby clothing manufacturing company in the Garment District — something that clearly would have a major influence on his life.
While speaking about his childhood in the 1980s, Peralta recalled feeling embarrassed, thinking the food he was eating wasn’t good enough because of how different it was from the Americanized meals he saw on TV. He also remembered how his uncle would sometimes sneak people underneath the turnstyle to watch the New York Yankees and New York Mets play because they only had one ticket to the game.
These experiences not only informed his approach to storytelling and fondness for compelling narratives, but they also reinforced an idea he learned from his family at a young age: When you walk through a door, it’s your duty to hold it open for the person behind you.
“I feel like I have a responsibility to tell impactful stories, and if the story comes from someone of a Hispanic background, that’s amazing, but if it doesn’t, that’s fine too,” Peralta told FN. “When you look at Latinx and Hispanic cultures, we aren’t a monolith. For the Ecuadorian that was raised in Queens, the experience can be very different from the Dominican kid from Washington Heights, and they’re only about a 35- to 40-minute train ride away. But the foods, the smells, the sights, the sounds, the music, the dance, everything is so different that you might as well be in Ecuador and the Dominican Republic and not two different towns in the same city.”
Although his experiences may be compelling, Peralta is not necessarily focused on telling his own story, or ones similar to his, and views some of the projects that Greenhouse has released as a shared immigrant experience.
“Foot Locker trusted me enough to be able to craft this thing, so now it’s more about how I can use this platform to be able to uplift others,” Peralta said. “I think we’ve been able to deliver on that quite a few times.”
Since its inception in 2019, Greenhouse has launched projects with several people and brands of note, but Peralta believes the level of notoriety has been secondary to the purpose and narrative. He pointed to the work of emerging label Kids of Immigrants, a Vans collaborator, as one of the platform’s most impactful projects to date.
“The work we’re putting out isn’t necessarily about having a bunch of kids lined up just for the sake of lining up,” Peralta said. “There’s meaning in these garments that we’re making. Those are the things that we try to align Greenhouse with.”
Peralta is also proud of taking risks and telling stories outside of the norm.
“When we worked on our Hispanic Heritage Month capsule with Adidas, the last thing I wanted to do was work with every major Latin artist in the space because that felt like the rich getting richer, so to speak. All of those big artists are getting the Netflix and Apple [deals] and all a sneaker brand has to do is knock on their door,” Peralta said. “One of my favorite artists is Lucia Hierro, and her story is so amazing. She is a classically trained fine artist and her dad was one of the legends of Dominican merengue music. To me, I was looking at this super-talented person from a Dominican family, and I had to get her involved in this project with Adidas.”
While it’s easy for Peralta to control the narratives at Greenhouse, he cannot control the decisions of the greater footwear industry. As a fan of both compelling product and storytelling, he said he’d like to see others shift their approach to storytelling. Specifically, he would like to see diverse narratives told throughout the year.
“I like the idea of all the months because of the educational components that come with them, but I think in the footwear game, it feels lazy,” Peralta said. “One of my favorite designers right now is Cesar Perez, who did the De Lo Mio collabs with Nike. He’s one of the best guys in the game right now, why is he not dropping a monthly collaboration?”
He continued, “For me, we know we’re going to do these things three or four times a year, but what are we doing the other eight months? And it doesn’t necessarily have to be tied back to flag-waving. It could be: ‘I think this person is creative and they also happen to be from Guatemala, Honduras or wherever.’ And if they want to tell that story, cool, but if they don’t and they want to talk about standing on line at Alife or Reed Space, then let that be the story.”