Women that Made Their Mark in the Sneaker Industry in 2021
We're shining a light on the women who are mitigating the ongoing issues of sizing disparity and representation in the sneakersphere through positive change, creativity, design and technological advancements. With collaboration and the essence of community as driving forces, many multi-hyphenates are using their platforms both online and off, to unite sneakerheads from all ends of the globe. The female presence in the sneaker industry is stronger than ever – here are the women who made their mark in the sneaker industry in 2021!
2021 was undoubtedly the year of Aleali May, with the celebrity stylist and designer dominating with her Jordan Brand releases. From the Air Jordan 4 'Veterans Day' PE inspired by her father, to the Air Jordan 14 Low and her Air Jordan 1 CMFT ‘Califia’, May is renowned not only for her impeccable design acumen, but also for her storytelling, which has become synonymous with her collaborations. To round out the year, May has announced that she'll being embarking on a project with Mattel, in which she'll be releasing a special collection with Barbie.
In May, global apparel designer Alicia Pinckney joined Team Jordan, moving on from her previously held role as Timberland's global women’s senior apparel designer. Pinckney's passion for inclusivity in the space extends outside of her full-time position, having founded the Black Talent in Design & Fashion Fund, a platform which assists young Black students in being able to enter the fashion and footwear industries through mentorship. 'Our industry has a huge lack of representation problem and my non profit is simply baby steps to address it at the root,' Pinckney said on the initiative. Since launching, the fund has received sponsorship from many notable brands, including New Balance.
Bianca Derousse, AKA @imsimplyb is all about building community and making connections, which indirectly led her to start Sneaker Sunday, a forum for women in the footwear industry to talk shop and to raise spirits! Derousse told SF, 'One of the reasons I started Sneaker Sundays was because I could see that brands were finally starting to realise that women are consumers with their own money. I hate to say it that way, but I feel like brands didn't really see us before and now they do. Since they're paying attention, I want to show them that it's not just five girls who are into it, there are thousands of us out here and we all have different stories, different collections and different style.'
Charlotte Lee has continued to usher in an exciting era for New Balance this year, designing the 237 and XC-72 models. Lee introduced the 327 at the beginning of 2020, setting the precedent for how she would continue to take 'inspiration and specific elements from the past' to reimagine them for 'today’s consumer' in 2021. Looking to the XC-72, Lee repurposes NB's traditional design language in very particular ways: pushing proportions to the limit, while ensuring that the intricate look of the classic runners is still present.
Footwear designer Cheresse Thornhill boasts 14 years of experience in the industry, with 10 of those years spent at Nike. In 2016 Thornhill launched the design consultancy, No Shoes Creative, and more recently has been appointed as the design director for the adidas S.E.E.D. Program, playing a vital role in nurturing the program's budding design talent. Based at adidas' Brooklyn Creator Farm – the program is in partnership with Pensole Academy.
Content creator and Vogue Business' social manager, Jessica Lawrence is at the forefront of discussions where the worlds of sneakers and Black female representation intersect. Last year Lawrence shared an essay via an IGTV video: ‘Racism, sneakers and my rundown quarantine skin’, speaking on racial bias in the industry, urging those who listened to focus on 'education and understanding, not hate and ignorance'. In 2021, Lawrence continues to advocate for diversity in fashion, most recently speaking on a SNKRS live panel earlier this month.
In such an originally male-dominated space, it's easy for women's work to go unseen and unheard, so Julia Lebossé is changing that. Through her platform Sneakers By Women, she's spotlighting the female heroes who are shaping both streetwear and sneaker culture. Her goal is to increase the presence of diversity among both men and women in sneakers, and now SBW boasts over 10k followers!
On starting the platform, Lebossé told Sneaker Freaker: ‘During lockdown, I got bored and I started looking for sneakers and inspiration. I wanted to see what sneakers by women are out there. I realised finding them wasn’t easy and, I was like, ‘why is that’? So I thought, why not start a page that highlights women, because it just didn’t seem like it was being done at all. It’s hard to find women in sneakers on websites and things like that. It’s quite hard to find women when compared to men.'
Liz Beecroft is not only a licensed clinical social worker, she's also connecting the dots between sneakers, sport and mental health. This year she collaborated with Jeff Staple and MENTL.SESH to release a collection of apparel and accessories, raising awareness surrounding Mental Health Awareness Month. Known as 'A Staple of Your Well-Being', the proceeds from their collaborative efforts benefitted Made of Millions Foundation.
L.A. designer and entrepreneur Melody Eshani has become a stalwart of the sneakersphere, following her collaborations with both Nike and Jordan Brand in recent years. In 2019, when asked how the industry can create opportunities for women, Ehsani stated to Sneaker Freaker, 'The industry can work with women and empower them in the same way they empower men, by giving them resources, opportunity and space to experiment and develop the market.' It seems that Ehsani has brought this sentiment into fruition, being appointed as the first ever female creative director of women’s business at Foot Locker earlier this year. As part of her role, she's responsible for creating capsules for the brand, as well as curating a selection of Nike and Jordan Brand products.
In 2016, Murata Prajumas launched the first ever women’s-dedicated sneaker boutique in Australia – then known as Sole Finess. Since then, the store has been supplying kicks to those who'd regularly miss out on releases due to a lack of accessibility in sizing. Continuing to flourish in 2021, it's not only undergone a rebrand to reflect greater inclusivity – now operating as Finesse – but has also seen the preparation to open a new bricks-and-mortar location with an even greater offering including both GRs and limited releases. Upon the expansion, Prajumas said, 'For over 5 years, we have always looked to innovate and evolve our brand, with a strong desire to be a customer-centric and inclusive brand with accessibility and experience at the core.'
Moolah Kicks – the first basketball sneaker brand set up exclusively for female ballers – was founded in 2019 by basketball fanatic Natalie White. After initially operating on crowdfunding and pre-orders to get the project off the ground, in 2021, Moolah Kicks has successfully secured a major retail partner (Dick’s Sporting Goods) to stock their shoes. From the get go, White's goal has been to make the sport more accessible for women, by creating an improved basketball shoe, with a focus on the key anatomical differences of the female foot.
Sophia Chang and Romy Samuel
Sophia Chang and Romy Samuel may have launched the online platform Common Ace last year, but in 2021 it's certainly found its stride. A one-stop-sneaker-shop of the modern era, Common Ace is aiming to be the answer to the problems surrounding online sneaker shopping for women – whether that's sizing or availability. Through the use of technology and UX, as well as their shared experience of buying sneakers on the Internet, Chang and Samuel have made finding pairs as seamless as you could've ever hoped. At the time of publishing, the site currently connects you to over 26,000 products!
Stine Lindholm Pedersen of Naked
Since business partners, Stine Lindholm Pedersen and Tommas Olsen set up Naked in Copenhagen in 2004, it's grown to become a leading female-centric sneaker boutique with international acclaim. This year they once again teamed up with New Balance to bring the heat with their coveted women's only collaboration, spinning their take on the 1080 and 725 silhouettes. The inspiration was drawn from the notion of 'community', and the way that it 'ties us together and makes us feel like we're part of something bigger than ourselves'. Here's to more colabs in 2022!