The historically male-focused sneaker industry is being challenged by designers like Aleali May and new platforms to encourage female sneakerheads
Some women are challenging the sneaker industry, which has been known to often exclude female creatives and fans. Aleali May was the first woman to design unisex sneaker for the Jordan brand, and the second to have an official Air Jordan collaboration. Two female sneakerheads just launched a female-oriented sneaker site to help facilitate greater access to products for women. Here's a look at how women are finding a place in the multi-billion dollar industry. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Aleali May has been described as the most influential female sneakerhead. And truth be told, she probably is. As the first woman to design a unisex sneaker for the Jordan brand — and the second to have an official Air Jordan collaboration in the brand's 36-year history — May is certainly one of the more vocal and accomplished female sneakerheads in the game. Plus, with close to half a million followers on Instagram, she's made a name for herself in the historically male-dominated industry. "We're just now seeing a lot of collabs outside of Nike as well really gravitate towards women and realizing that there's this whole huge lane that hasn't been filled yet," May told Business Insider in an interview about how she got her start in the industry and how she's helping pave the way for other female sneakerheads. The sneaker industry's 'Boys Club' The multibillion-dollar sneaker industry has been historically known to exclude women in various capacities, from limiting female sneaker sizes in hyped drops to lacking strong female representation at the design and creation level. "I think a lot of these stories about the sneaker world can be very male-focused," said Jacques "Kustoo" Slade, one of the most influential content creators and hosts in the sneaker world. "I don't think the female voice is given enough credit." While icons like Virgil Abloh, Tinker Hatfield, and Jason Petrie might be some of the more iconic faces on the design side of the sneaker industry, there are women who are involved in and appreciate the culture just as much. For May, becoming a female pioneer in the sneaker world was never her intention. Earlier in her career she worked at Chicago-based conceptual gallery RSVP Gallery, which was created by the famous sneaker and streetwear designers Virgil Abloh and Don C. Eventually May moved back to her hometown in Los Angeles, California, and she was approached by the Jordan team in 2015.
"They reached out and just wanted to have an organic conversation at first," May said of the start of her Jordan journey. "And then they were just like, 'Hey, do you want to come to Portland [Oregon] and just talk more Jordan talk?' And of course I did not say no." Eight meetings later, May was asked to design a sneaker for the brand. And while doing so would make her the second woman to have an official Jordan collaboration, May said at the time, she wasn't really thinking about the implications of the offer. "Honestly, I didn't even think about any of that when I went in," she said. As for the decision to launch the sneaker in both men's and women's sizes, May said the choice was a no-brainer. "I said, 'Well, I want it to be for both because, naturally I mix men's and women's wear,' So I just thought that that would be the best bet," she said. According to May, she was not made aware that she had become the first woman to design unisex sneakers for the Jordan brand until she read about it in the news. Women are breaking through The launch of May's Los Angeles-themed Air Jordan 1 Satin Shadow in October of 2017 was a big step for women in the sneaker industry. Since then, May has done more collaborations with the Jordan brand, including a revamped Air Jordan 6 with a 'Rust Pink' colorway. "We're still very new," May said, despite the recent progress she has seen in the industry. "I feel like we're still in the incubator as far as women being in the sneaker game." And yet, while the list of influential female sneakerheads is brief, it is undoubtedly expanding. In 2018, Nike launched Unlaced, a digital sneaker boutique designed exclusively for women. Last April, Beyonce signed a major deal with Adidas to create new shoes and apparel and relaunch Ivy Park, her athleisure brand. Slowly but surely, the influence of women on the sneaker world is becoming harder to ignore. More recently, two female sneakerheads launched a platform focused on women's footwear. The website, called Common Ace, is designed to offer women a curated sneaker shopping experience to cater to their sizes and styles. Creators Sophia Chang and Romy Samuel told Hypebae that the goal was to create a platform to foster an active women's sneaker community. "With the growth of social media in the past decade, female consumers are now able to share their opinions on the change they want to see, and brands are listening," Samuel told Hypebae. "With the ever-evolving involvement of women, there is a lot more awareness around the female consumer. There is undeniable power in our spending and we will drive the change we want to see with that awareness." As for May, her success thus far has not distracted her from her ultimate goals. She said she's still focusing on advancing the representation of females in the sneaker culture. "We started the foundation, May said. "How can we actively keep progressing and say, 'Look, we're not going anywhere.'" Are you a female sneakerhead with a story to share? Email email@example.comSEE ALSO: As Air Jordan sneakers skyrocket in value, these are the pairs that are most worth the investment, according to resale experts from Stadium Goods and The RealReal Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why thoroughbred horse semen is the world's most expensive liquid
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