Creps and Community: Celebrating the Female Sneaker Game in 2020
The sneaker game is an ever-changing beast, shifting and realigning as fashions ebb and flow, and various industry figures fall in and out of favour. But below the teeming current of trends there are foundations that will always have their impact, and Nike Air Max is one of them.
Since ’87, visible Air has been the vanguard of change for the industry as a whole, whether it’s pushing the boundaries of cushion tech or broadening the market with trailblazing female-exclusive models that garnered genderless appeal.
Recently, Nike launched their 2020 Air Max collection in London, unveiling the retro-futuristic Air Max 2090, the Air Max 90 Recrafted, the Air Max 90 FlyEase, and the revived female-exclusive Air Max Verona – the force was decidedly female. And that got us thinking: what’s the state of the game for females in the sneakersphere? So, we went straight to the source, asking a handful of members within the SF community who are kicking ass in the female sneaker space what they thought about the state of sneakers in 2020.
Historically, the sneakersphere has been pretty male-dominated, and while women are increasingly taking centre stage, they are still facing hurdles along the way. These issues might not be so obvious to outside observers, but are keenly felt by female members of the sneaker community. London-based blogger Shan Pryce-Royal, of Shansgotsole, points out the imbalance, saying:
‘My experience of buying and collecting sneakers is completely different to my male counterparts. The craziest thing is, until I speak about some of the challenges, most people don’t even realise these challenges exist!’
From a broad perspective, there’s the feeling that female members of the community need to prove themselves more emphatically than the guys do. Yasmin Kovacs (yasi_loves_kicks), a collector from Melbourne, Australia, explains:
‘I feel like females perhaps need to work a little harder to be recognised and cement their place… To prove that they can keep up with the guys, but that they can bring something new to the table, know what they’re talking about, and are just as important to the culture.’
But as women’s voices in the sneakersphere grow louder, it is becoming clear that it’s no longer acceptable to assume what women want – ‘shrink it and pink it’ doesn’t cut it anymore! Choice and availability is still a hot-button issue in the community.
Like so many of us, Li-Anne, aka YouTuber monsieurbanana, knows the disappointment that follows a hyped release:
‘Some [brands] only release them in men’s sizes. But I usually just buy the smallest of the men’s size, which is 1–2 size up from my true size, because there are just certain key releases that I want to have to add to my collection.’
If we’re lucky, releases will drop in GS sizes, but that comes with its own pitfalls. Materials and quality often take a hit or, even worse, the shape and design are completely different! And, not to state the obvious here, but we’re not kids. Inclusive size runs, not ones defined as men’s or grade school, would put women on an equal footing.
Hurdles aside, there’s a lot to love in the female sneaker world. Female sneaker lovers have created their own community within a community, where they support and uplift the contributions of other women in the space.
Through social media, Annika Matheis (annikamths) has found like-minded sneaker lovers in her home region and across the globe, saying ‘I was able to connect with many sneakerheads from all over the world, but also from my region… We are like a huge family and support each other in things we do.’ Instagram and Facebook are bringing people together and, as Hanna Helsø (helsoe) has said, ‘You don’t have to live close to create a community… Sneakers allow people to speak a common language no matter where you live.’
Yasmin sees social media as levelling the playing field too, noting that ‘[it] has elevated female collectors and content creators to a level where they can’t really be ignored.’ It offers an online platform for female creatives to express themselves in a different way. Through her Instagram, Sally Javadi, aka sallyssneakers, ‘[teaches] women that we can pull off a pair of sneakers just as well as boys/men (maybe even better, haha!). Some people think that wearing heels or ballerinas is the only way to look feminine, but in the modern world there’s no such thing, and I want to be one of the women to prove that.’
The community thrives IRL too, with local scenes offering events and stores that cater specifically to women. Melbourne’s Sole Finess is one such venture, not only a brick-and-mortar and online shop for women, but also an online space to grow the community. Owner, Murata, says of starting the business:
‘I wanted to create a space specifically for women and sneakers, but I also wanted it to be much more than just that. I wanted to create a community through the “For The Honeys” blog so I could collaborate and showcase like-minded women through art, music, sneakers, or anything else really.’
Change is Afoot
It’s been a two-pronged advance in the female sneaker space, and online and offline grassroots are being matched by a groundswell of changes from the brands themselves. The way Annika sees it:
‘Serena Williams or Aleali May came up with great colabs and messages, and provide great inspiration for all of us. Women have become more influential and more powerful in sports and media, and it’s great that sneaker brands recognise that change.’
The success of these colabs, and others like the all-conquering AMBUSH, Cactus Plant Flea Market and sacai link-ups, is testament to the fact that female-helmed colabs are just as capable of whipping ‘heads into a frenzy as Virgil or Travis. Li-Anne also made the point that, ‘these appealed to a wide range of consumers regardless of gender’.
Change is creeping in at the retail level too. Murata has ‘seen the women’s product range grow from season to season, and extended footwear size ranges [mean] we have more access to men’s products and gender-neutral colourways’. January’s Air Max 90 Recrafted is the perfect example of this: sizing that runs the gamut, and colours that anyone can wear. Another small detail, but one that means a lot, as pointed out by Hanna, is that shoeboxes are now coming with both male and female sizes on them. Sometimes it’s the little things that count!
The change hasn’t been a silent one either. Brands spread the messages of empowerment and inclusivity loud and proud through more female representation in campaigns, women being included in men’s sneaker campaigns, and vice versa. According to London-based collector Ria Emmins, this shift is also seen in campaign visibility:
‘Brands have definitely taken this on board and are noticing it growing more. I also think that brands are more conscious about their campaigns now. Getting big names on board and celebrity ambassadors reaching out to millions.’
Shan sees brands celebrating female releases more these days too:
‘Brands are much more celebratory with their campaigns rather than the female market feeling like an afterthought. It’s evident that brands are beginning to understand the female market a lot more, and they are listening to what we want.’
The same goes for the sneaker and streetwear media, where more and more female-centric outlets are telling stories from a female perspective and heroing their contributions.
Visible Air Vanguard
Always innovating and looking to the future, Nike are leading the charge, and the ever-growing Air Max family is a recognisable and accessible crucible for change. This year has seen the Swoosh take both the female-exclusive the unisex release routes, embodying the diversity within the female sneaker community.
The Air Max 90 Recrafted represents a classic silhouette offered in an inclusive size run, and it’s a huge step in the right direction that the celebration of the iconic silhouette has begun with that accessibility. Hanna echoed this idea: ‘Maybe brands like Nike are realising that the differences between what men and women want… are not that large.’
The Air Max Verona, on the other hand, offers a women’s exclusive with an aesthetic that simultaneously propels Air Max into the future and heroes the history of women’s sneakers. For Swoosh fans like Murata, ‘combining innovation with the past and present is something that Nike have always been doing so well, so here’s hoping this is just the start of a new wave’.
If there’s one conclusion we can take away from speaking to these women and those in the Sneaker Freaker team it’s – first and foremost – equality in the sneakersphere. In sneaker utopia, every shoe would release in a full unisex size run, with the same quality from a size 4 to 14. Women want to have diverse choices, and not be limited to what brands deem ‘traditional’ choices for females.
We’re keen to see even more representation at every level of the industry, and for brands to champion even more women who are making moves. The way Shan sees it:
‘I would love to see more collaboration with inspirational women who connect with the average girl, and occupy spaces within different industries. Females on the ground level are women with real stories and experiences, and giving them a platform to be recognised for their contributions to female empowerment and sneaker culture would be amazing.’
Sally reinforces this idea, calling on sneaker-loving women to take their place with pride. She says, ‘I would love to see more female sneaker collaborations and more women in the field and in the community. Now I’m also asking for women to be better at speaking up and stepping forward.’
It goes without saying that women’s voices will continue to be heard louder and louder – from the industry, media and consumer perspectives. We’ve already seen the collaborative clout that they can wield, and the fresh perspective they bring, which will – without a doubt – only increase further in the future. And with women like these leading the charge, backed by brands, the future looks pretty bright.