If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that things have been looking up for female sneakerheads of late.
While sneaker culture has, for many years, been a bit of a boys club, 2017 saw a shift toward the celebration of women in the sneaker-sphere through major brand campaigns, sneaker collaborations, and expanded sizing options.
Nike and Jordan Brand, in particular, have been pushing more women-specific products onto the market, signaling to consumers that they’re serious about giving women what they actually want from sneakers. For last year’s Air Max Day, the brand with the Swoosh dropped its second women-only Air Max model, the Air Max Jewel. We also got some women’s versions of the Air VaporMax, a Cortez campaign led by Bella Hadid, a Jordan collaboration from stylist Aleali May, and a Nike Women campaign led by Serena Williams. Not stopping there, Nike also unveiled a range of five Air Jordan Is and five Air Force 1s designed by women, for women.
Most recently, Jordan Brand has partnered with Vogue for its first-ever women’s only Jordan collaboration, announcing the Air Jordan I “High Zip AWOK” and Air Jordan III “SE AWOK.” While female designers May and Vashtie have both previously worked with the brand, this new collaboration is the first to come exclusively in women’s sizes. Highsnobiety commerce content curator Rhianna Matthews says that “even though the sneaker still has a more feminine look to it, having a woman collaborator is definitely a step in the right direction.”
Brand consultant Selma Kaci explained the shift to Highsnobiety. “For a long time, brands seemed to assume that girls don’t have the same knowledge or understanding of the product as boys,” she says. “But this attitude is definitely starting to change with the arrival of women in key leadership roles at brands like PUMA, adidas, and Nike.”
Emily Petersen of Copenhagen-based women’s sneaker boutique Naked agrees that Jordan Brand’s approach is the right one. “We love the new creative direction that Jordan is going in,” she says. “Having someone like Aleali May as an ambassador is progressive and caters to the younger market, which has a different connection to the Jordan Brand than previous generations.”
Andrea Perez, vice president and general manager of women’s at Jordan, builds on that sentiment, noting, “Women have a deep passion for the brand. We were really inspired by true insights coming from women.” Touching on Jordan’s approach to collaborations, Perez says, “We look to partner with brands and individuals, such as Aleali, who authentically connect to Jordan Brand and the community. [Aleali] inspires young women to stay true to themselves without limitations.”
Aside from the Jordan Vogue collab, 2018 has seen other positive steps in the women’s sneaker market. Nike again led the charge by making women’s sizes widely available for retro models such as the Air Max 180 “Ultramarine” and the Air Max 98 “Gundam.” Nike’s latest lifestyle shoe, the Air Max 270, is also being offered in six new colorways, some exclusive to women.
During Paris Fashion Week FW18, the brand unveiled the retail space Nike Unlaced, which was described by Elle as “a love letter to women.” Intended to quell frustration about size runs that don’t cater to women, the space offered women’s products (smaller sizes of Virgil Abloh x Nike “The Ten” plus the Nike Air Force 1 and Air Max lines) as a starting point. The Unlaced initiative also enlisted new female-fronted collaborations from designer Martine Rose, Yoon Ahn of Ambush and Dior, and colette founder Sarah Andelman.
But it’s not just Nike and Jordan Brand that are improving their offer for women. Over the last few years, Rihanna has helped PUMA to regain relevance, Kylie Jenner switched from PUMA to endorsing adidas’ women’s Falcon silouette, and Reebok enlisted Gigi Hadid. For this year’s International Women’s Day, adidas launched a set of exclusive EQTs to celebrate the occasion. Meanwhile, in the fashion arena, Balenciaga made its hyped Speed Trainer and Triple S sneakers available in women’s sizing.
Collaborations and big-budget, female-focused activations are certainly great headline-makers, but Highsnobiety senior staff writer Lia McGarrigle points out that many women sneakerheads have simply been waiting for the right sizes. “Expanded sizing for major sneaker releases has been the best thing to happen the industry in a long time — finally, sneakerheads with smaller feet aren’t being left out,” she says. “More women-led sneaker campaigns and female sneaker designers are also really impactful. Instead of male executives deciding what we want, having women in charge doesn’t only result in better sneakers, but it shows that the industry actually cares about our opinions.”
It’s also refreshing to see that women’s sneaker offerings are extending past the scope of men’s sneakers done in “traditionally feminine” colorways. Last year, writing for Forbes, Bridget Brennan kicked back against the cliché of simply assuming girls want pink things: “Resist the three Ps: Pink, Patronizing, and Passive. Women tend to be wary of marketing approaches that depict them as ‘other.’ Unless you’re raising money for breast cancer causes, think twice before relying solely on the color pink to market gender-neutral products.”
While we still have a way to go before women are truly treated as equals in the sneaker world, the moves of 2017 and 2018 show that sneaker brands are at least starting to listen to what women really want and cater to their actual needs.
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- Main & Featured Image: Nike