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Chick and Kicks: The Paradigm Shift!

Date: December 30 2017

By: Lisa Barlow

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As a female sneakerhead and the owner of Kickslove, London’s only female-centric sneaker boutique, I’m excited to have a platform to talk about the current state of the game. Over the course of my career I’ve worked for Foot Locker, size? and Nike’s head office in London. I’ve been collecting kicks since I was 16 years old and stacking Sneaker Freaker from issue one, so I think I’ve got the qualifications to talk on the topic. However, I realise that this privilege also comes with responsibility. I think it’s only right that I try and cover the issues that are currently facing women in the sneaker world, and share my experiences setting up a store in what is still a male-dominated arena.

My retail space has been open for just a few months now, and during the process of getting it off the ground, I’ve been given immense support from some companies. On the other hand, some brands have turned their back on me, which I just can’t understand. I’m talking about big manufacturers that talk all day about how, ‘We need to target the female consumer! We need to create a sneaker neighbourhood!’ Then, when these same brands are offered the opportunity to support a female-owned store in a major capital city, they decline.

In some of these cases, the reality is that I haven’t been supported with the right product. The brands are also rife with bureaucracy, and no one in the corporate structure is empowered to take a chance on anything. Instead, they’re stifled with layers and layers of hierarchy that makes them question their own gut instincts. The popularity of women’s kicks is at a fever point right now, so it’s quite disappointing that it’s hard to get any support. Especially when they’re afraid to trust someone with more than 15 years worth of experience in the game!

'I’m talking about big manufacturers that talk all day about how, ‘We need to target the female consumer! We need to create a sneaker neighbourhood!’ Then, when these same brands are offered the opportunity to support a female-owned store in a major capital city, they decline.'

I think I speak for a lot of female sneakerheads when I say that one of our biggest gripes is the product itself. Women are crying out for quality, or at least the ability to purchase ‘men’s’ colabs down to a size three. The most recent Stone Island x Nike Sock Darts started at a men’s size six – why? Also, I would love to see female-specific colabs that aren’t patronising. Something that doesn’t involve glitter or the colour pink in the mix would be great. Pastels are very much on-trend at the moment, but you surely can’t think that’s all we want from our sneakers? One brand that deserves credit for moving the needle slightly is PUMA – both for working with the female footwear designer Careaux, and for offering select drops in smaller sizes.

Fundamental changes are needed before we see a real shift in the industry. Among them is the need to update production lines in order to produce unisex sizing. A lot of the time, I hear that it’s the cost that stops this from happening – that the brands would have to build a new factory, that it’s expensive to create new lasts and there are minimums to hit et cetera. But surely the rewards outweigh the investment, particularly when you consider that last year, women’s sneakers outsold heels for the first time. Sure, brands like Converse use unisex sizing in their mainline range, but their First String offering starts at a men’s six. Then you have brands like Le Coq Sportif that are making trend-relevant products for the sneaker market that are different to the usual models we’re used to. I think it’s fair to say there’s still a lot more work to be done here.

'I would love to see female-specific colabs that aren’t patronising. Something that doesn’t involve glitter or the colour pink in the mix would be great.'

The whole point of a female sneakerhead store is to offer women something special, including limited editions and collaborative product. For me, this is very challenging territory. I think it’s a combination of being new to the market, being in a part of London that isn’t Shoreditch, and a general disbelief that there are actually female sneakerheads out there that want these shoes. This is despite the fact that there’s nearly 120,000 pics tagged with #femalesneakerhead on Instagram! This is where the paradigm needs to shift.

I’m still shocked by the number of men who leave as soon as they find out Kickslove is a women’s store. They literally beeline for the door like we’ve said something offensive! It’s a shame that more guys aren’t open-minded enough to check out amazing product because it’s labelled as ‘women’s’. It’s baffling. Women have been shopping in male sneaker stores for years and the only thing we ever worried about was whether another female sneakerhead had copped the smallest size already.

The other prevailing issue is the lack of female athlete signature lines. If you’re a sprinter, you can’t buy Allyson Felix spikes. If you’re a boxer, you can’t buy a female athlete’s boots to inspire you. Serena Williams’ tennis shoes are only available if she’s won a major tournament recently. The lack of female-focused signature footwear across a broad spectrum of sports is actually quite shocking. I think at some point the brands will need to move away from gender-specific lifestyle sneakers, and focus more on the intention of the product. Is it for an OG head? Is it for the catwalk or a fashion-conscious consumer? Or is it for a special celebration? This is where the brief should start, then the teams who build the product need to come together to ensure that they work collaboratively on a unisex version. I’m sure this has happened a few times, but we definitely need it to occur more frequently. High-end fashion houses have been doing this for years with open lines that aren’t restricted by a gender-binary, and I think sneaker brands need to follow suit.

By Lisa Barlow-Weber

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