In March, the Jumpman LA flagship store’s windows greeted visitors and anyone stuck in LA’s famous traffic with a glimpse of history. Aleali May — fashion trailblazer, longtime Jordan Brand collaborator, and LA native — had curated a display inside the store featuring her favorite sneakers for Women’s History Month.
A huge banner outside displayed May wearing her highly anticipated “Califia” Jordan Brand collection, inspired by the fictional Black queen of the same name after whom the Baja California peninsula was named. Califia was said to be a fearsome warrior queen, who ruled over a kingdom of Black woman warriors. This week, May adds an LA twist to the story, tapping into her own childhood for her most personal Jordan Brand collaboration to date.
The supremely talented multi-hyphenate’s fourth Jordan Brand link-up sees May take on a familiar silhouette in the Nike Air Jordan 1. This time, however, May is tasked with bringing her distinct aesthetic to the Zoom CMFT version. The sneaker arrives in a varsity blue and green colorway, honoring Hillcrest Elementary School and Inglewood High School, where she performed on the drill team long before her fashion days. The collaboration also comprises her first apparel line, featuring varsity jackets, tearaway pants, tees, and cheerleading-inspired panel skirts.
We spoke with May about how her Jordan collaborations have evolved, how the story of Queen Califia inspired the latest collection, and about paying homage to her drill team coach, Shanora Holloway.
How did your Jordan Brand partnership come to life?
It was probably late 2015 or early 2016 when I went to Portland, my first time in the Michael Jordan building. They were introducing me to the design team, the women who work for Jordan Brand. [Back then] Jordan 1s weren't coming out as much as they are now. Collaborations weren't as popular as they are today. Still, they’re the Holy Grail. So for me to ask for the Air Jordan 1, I was very scared.
They asked, "Would you want to do it for women?" I'm like, "I wear men's and women's clothes, so if I can have it just be for men's and women's, that would be okay." I want to be able to have men wear [my collaboration] as much as women.
How is the story of Califia central to this project?
Legend has it that Califia was a Black queen who the Spanish named the island of California after. She [led an army of] warrior queens. Nobody would cross them, or it would go down. That story tied in with the women around me that I grew up with. I wanted to highlight who these new queens of California are.
In elementary school, I was a part of the drill team. I feel, as I'm looking back on things, that experience helped Aleali when she was younger. Shanora, my drill team coach, was a woman that would be like, "you got this, let’s go." For me, it's a matter of just going back and saying thank you. The two girls in the teaser video are actually the girls on her team now. Again, [this collection is about] just highlighting the new queens and the next generation.
Knowing that [women coming up in the industry] have support is important. There are a lot of things [in the industry] that we can be easily [taken advantage of], but when you have that solid foundation of just women pushing you, it's really important.
How did this collaboration process differ to your previous Air Jordan 1s?
Never expect the same process. I’m four shoes in and every process was very different. This one actually, I came up with the concept just like, “aha.” It was like a Eureka moment. I thought it would be really dope to highlight extracurricular activities. The area that I'm from, extracurricular activities are an escape, like drill team or cheerleading. [When participating in extracurricular activities], you feel all these amazing things and you feel like you can accomplish something.
Why did you opt for the Jordan 1 Zoom Comfort this time around?
A lot of times, when you wear a sneaker to set and you're styling for 12 hours, your feet are going to hurt. When you're getting dressed, you're like: what's the most comfortable shoe that I could be standing in all day? The Jordan 1 Zoom CMFT is actually the low-key way to go, especially if you're that working girl that has to get a million things done, but you still want to look fresh.
With four Jordan collabs now under your belt, how have you evolved as a sneaker designer?
I feel like I've evolved in my own life, and I had to experience all my experiences with each design in order to come up with the next one. When you are in that design moment, be open and receptive. Listen to what everybody's saying. It really takes a team and takes a village — whether it is Jordan brand, whether it was working on set with my drill team coach and everybody — and when we all come together, I can walk away feeling like we did our thing.
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