Women Who Helped Shape the Sneaker Industry This Decade: Part 1
There have been some big shifts within the sneaker industry over the past decade. Resell culture went off the charts, sneaker celebrity partnerships became the mainstream, high-fashion merged with sportswear and athleisure, collaborations became the new GS, the list really is endless.
Watching women’s influence on the sneaker and streetwear industries rise exponentially over the past 10 years has been great, especially in the second half of the decade. Several female creatives have gained visibility, women have opened up conversations around inclusivity, gender politics and body issues, and brands are more frequently referencing female opinions and preferences when shaping their overall strategies.
While there has been so much movement for women in the industry, it can still feel like too many don’t get enough recognition in comparison to their male counterparts. So, we’re shining a light on the women that have helped shape the sneaker industry over the past decade – highlighting the ways they have contributed to the scene. A crop of females is beginning to tip the scales, and it’s time we let them weigh in.
Rihanna is one of the biggest names within the music industry – male or female. Aside from her many musical achievements, she’s also placed a large dent within the world of fashion and, more specifically, sneakers. In 2016, Rihanna teamed up with PUMA to launch her Fenty x PUMA collaboration collection.
Every collection that has dropped since then has placed a large focus on footwear. Several new silhouettes have hit the market since. Creepers went back into fashion; nudes, pastels, suede and velvet all went on-trend; and the world spent two years obsessing over a line of trainers designed by and for females only.
Rihanna’s contribution to the sneaker scene has been immense. Fenty x PUMA sneakers have also helped to lift PUMA’s standing, which is an impressive feat considering the constant competition from the range being developed by brands such as Nike and adidas.
The current Senior Creative Director of Women’s Footwear for Nike, Georgina James studied fashion and footwear design at university before going on to work within the brands sector, mainly women’s sports and functional sports. Originally from the U.K., Georgina has taken significant strides in the industry, now finding herself at Nike’s headquarters in Portland, USA.
In 2018, Georgina played an enormous role in one of Nike’s biggest female collections to date – Nike 1 Reimagined Collection. Fourteen of the brand’s female employees were given the responsibility of creating an all-new collection consisting of reworked and reimagined Air Force 1s and Air Jordan 1s. The result? Ten overhauls of two OG Nike styles, originally designed by and created for men, yet this time designed by and created for women.
Nike Reimagined 1 pushed the boundaries for female sneaker design and modern style. Each shoe was provocative and inspiring. And women loved them. Producing the collection was a huge team effort, but Georgina very much supervised the design process for a collection that sold out instantly. We’re excited to see what else she has to offer for Nike’s designs in the near future.
Vashtie Kola is a filmmaker, director, designer, artist, and creative consultant living in New York City. She is also the first female to collaborate with Jordan Brand and design her own Jordans. While, in 2019, it may no longer seem like a very big deal when a woman collaborates with a sportswear brand, at the start of the decade, this was practically unheard of.
Back when women wearing trainers was considered rare, Vashtie was alternating between Jordan, Converse, New Balance, Nike and adidas kicks on a daily basis. After designing several pairs of trainers, receiving numerous credits in music videos, and posing with an Air Jordan 3 shaped birthday cake at her own party, Vashtie had officially made a name for herself in the industry. She ran into her friend Astor Chambers by chance one day, who had just begun a new gig at Jordan, and shortly after found herself looking at swatches to design the 20th Anniversary exclusive of the Jordan 2.
The Air Jordan 2 was the perfect model for Vashtie to work on: the silhouette itself was extremely bold and masculine, and her design was almost entirely feminine. It was a merger of the two worlds. The model dropped in late 2010 with a lavender nubuck upper and a deep-purple trim, with hints of silver on the laces and a metallic midsole to complement. It was a milestone moment.
Aleali May has had a huge impact on the world of fashion over the past three years. She is the second female to have collaborated with Jordan, so far releasing three extremely popular sneakers alongside the brand and, in turn, completely revolutionising female sneaker design and collaboration.
Aleali released the Air Jordan 1 Shadow back in late 2017 and, alongside juggling numerous fashion weeks, countless photoshoots, and several other commitments, in 2018 Aleali dropped the Jordan 1 Retro High Aleali May Court Lux, and the Jordan 6 Retro Aleali May the year after that. All three pairs sold out immediately, and are extremely sought-after today.
What was special about the AJ1 Shadow was the fact that it was designed by a woman and overtly marketed as such, and yet it was still unisex. Too often women are shoehorned into a female category, far removed from the rest of the sneaker world. But this wasn’t just a women’s shoe, and that’s what made it so much more important.
If there’s one name that you need to remember from this list, it’s Tiffany Beers. Although no longer with the brand, Beers spent 13 years working with the Swoosh as their Senior Innovator and Designer at Beaverton, Oregon. Her projects mainly spanned the Nike Mag and Nike HyperAdapt 1.0, as well as Kanye’s first Yeezy.
So why is she such a big deal? Remember how shocked you were when the self-lacing HyperAdapt 1.0 dropped, the frenzy surrounding its release, and the pretty hefty price tag associated with it? That was all Beers. She was instrumental in designing the Back to the Future II–inspired kicks, and engineering them into a functional sneaker that was wearable by athletes.
The decade-long endeavour began when Tinker Hatfield and Mark Parker set the company the then unimaginable task of designing the kicks worn by Marty McFly in the 1989 film. A few years into her Junior role at Nike, Beers was approached by Hatfield who asked her if she could build the shoe that, at the time, had 30,000 names signed to a petition, demanding for the self-lacing shoes to be made by 2015 (as set in the movie).
Beers has always had a crazy obsession with the construction of a shoe, so this was the perfect project for her. Spending years working in the company’s Innovation Kitchen, Beers sat at the forefront of one of the most difficult and hyped aspects of sneaker design over the past decade.
The leader of Japan’s next generation of designers, Chitose Abe has established herself as the pioneer behind stylish streetwear with that distinct feminine edge – worn by males and females alike. She began her career working at Comme des Garçons as a pattern cutter, before moving on to work alongside Junya Watanabe’s design team. The lessons absorbed in this environment prepared her to launch a small home-run label where she could unleash her creativity and create limited edition pieces her way, in her style. Welcome, sacai!
Over the past decade, Abe’s sacai has collaborated with names such as Beats Electronics, The North Face and, most notably, Nike. The latter is how Abe has made her mark on the sneaker world. sacai’s first collaboration with NikeLab dropped in the spring of 2015, and was an instant hit.
While that early success was impressive, Abe’s position in the sneaker realm has grown enormously in the last two years. In 2018, there was the ‘Blazer With The Dunk’ collection, which merged the Nike Blazer and Nike SB Dunk into one shoe. Double Swooshes, double laces, and double tongues. The new form of layering.
That idea was expanded upon just a couple of months back when the two launched the sacai x Nike LDWaffle Daybreak. So far, we’ve seen five colour renditions of this silhouette, with each reselling for more than four times their retail value. Sneaker critics are calling the sacai x Nike LDWaffle Daybreak the hottest sneaker collaboration of the year.
Chitose Abe has successfully broken down the dichotomy between casual and formal, masculine and feminine. Her designs stand for powerful and confident 21st century femininity. She doesn’t substitute femininity for the streetwear industry’s standards of what’s acceptable. She’s one of a select few women who have reimagined several OG Nike silhouettes, and boy did she do it justice. Her Nike renditions have paved the way for the future of sneaker colabs – wacky, unusual, and pretty darn cool.
Don’t worry, we’re not done yet. There’s more to come. Keep an eye out for Part 2 of our list of women who helped shape the sneaker industry over the past decade.