Women Who Helped Shape the Sneaker Industry This Decade: Part 2
Following part one of our female-focused retrospective, we're again focusing on more women who've been big-game players in the sneaker industry over the past decade. This time, we've thrown in an athlete, a colour technician, and a few high-fashion figures. Check out part two below!
Serena has had her name on numerous Nike footwear silhouettes throughout the years: the Nike Flare 2 ‘BHM’ 2019, the Air Jordan 1 Retro High EP GG ‘Serena Williams’ 2017, the Nike Court Flare AJ1 ‘Serena Williams’ Bred 2017, the NikeCourt Flare ‘Serena Williams’ 2015 and, of course, the Off-White x Nike ‘Queen’ collection which released in 2018.
The ‘Queen’ Collection consisted of two special edition shoes – the Nike Air Max 97 and the Nike Blazer Mid – and was designed to honour Serena in line with the celebration of the 50th year anniversary of the US Open tournament. When designing the two silhouettes, Virgil Abloh paid careful attention to the tennis star’s love of ballet, as well as how Serena balances power and grace on the court.
Serena’s close relationship with Nike, for many, represents hope for the future of female athletes and representation.
Cynthia Lu and Cactus Plant Flea Market have crept in on us, making an enormous dent in the sneaker scene this year. But Cynthia’s sneaker history runs much deeper than that. She started off by interning at Complex and working as Pharrell Williams’ assistant before heading off to launch her own label, Cactus Plant Flea Market, in January 2015. Pharrell himself took a massive interest in the brand, endorsing it wholeheartedly, alongside some big names such as Travis Scott and Kanye West.
Since 2015, Cynthia’s CPFM have collaborated with Anti Social Social Club, Human Made and, of course, Nike. What at first was an elusive, highly-limited streetwear brand stocked exclusively in premium retailers in small batches became one of the most sought-after Nike collaborators at the end of this decade.
In 2019, CPFM helped push the DIY sneaker trend with unique and interesting Nike sneaker colab drops. The CPFM x Nike Air VaporMax was unveiled during Air Max Day this year – dubbed the ‘Green Flash’ – and is the most popular silhouette of three drops so far. Cynthia, the brain behind the brand, has brought a fresh perspective to sneaker design. We’re excited to see what moves she’ll make in 2020.
Sarah Andelman is one of the most powerful women in fashion. She founded Parisian concept store Colette in 1997 – distinguished for its unique product offering, innovation and in-store experience – and acted as creative director and consultant for the store for 20 solid years. When, in 2017, Andelman announced that Colette would be shutting its doors, the fashion world cried out. It was the end of an era in more ways than one. Andelman’s Colette was influential not only in the world of fashion but also in the world of sneakers.
Colette was an early champion of streetwear (Andelman herself is an avid fan and collector of Supreme). The influential store pushed for the merging of high-fashion and street culture at a time when the two were worlds apart. It took Andelman over ten years to build relationships with sportswear brands, which at first was difficult. Sneaker labels couldn’t see any authentic ties between Colette and their own product offering. Questions such as ‘What exactly is Colette?’, ‘Where would the product sit?’ and ‘Will this work?’ were being asked of Sarah constantly. It was up to her to get these brands to buy into her vision.
Sarah reached out to Michael Dupouy, the founder of ‘ALL GONE’, and together they worked on mastering Colette’s colabs with sneaker brands. Throughout the decade, several (now highly coveted) Colette sneaker colabs hit the market. These collaborations thrived at the helm of Andelman’s curation and jump-started the beginning of high fashion, transcending the land of sneakers.
The tastemaker is now a brand consultant with a range of fashion, beauty and sports brands. In 2018, Sarah debuted her partnership with Nike when she became the Global Curator of the women-orientated Unlaced project. Her job is to help curate a unique destination for female sneaker lovers, very similar to how she curated Colette’s whole USP. Nike intends to make Unlaced an IRL retail destination where women can organically engage with the sneaker community. Andelman, a pro at creating exciting retail experiences, sits at the forefront of what will hopefully be a positive change-maker for the female sneaker community.
Rei Kawakubo is a Japanese fashion designer that’s most notably known for founding the Comme des Garçons label, as well as Dover Street Market. Now past their 45th anniversary, Comme des Garçons are regarded as one of the most influential fashion houses on the globe – an institution within both high-fashion and streetwear fashion. Rei will go down in history as the female mastermind that offered women (Comme des Garçons translates to ‘like some boys’ in French) clothes that were fashionable and comfortable, yet never for the purposes of looking good for a man’s approval. Typical definitions of female sexiness, for her, were boring.
Rei has always had a holistic hold over the CDG business, not only focusing on the label’s clothing output and business profits but also on shop interiors, marketing, advertising, and everything creative. She designs the company’s whole being and believes that having complete control over the business is the reason for its success.
Rei likes to think outside the box when designing something new. This mindset has had a big effect on the sneaker industry. CDG have collaborated with many household names: Nike, Jordan Brand, Converse, Vans and Timberland. Most popular is the Converse ‘Play’ sneakers, an iconic collaboration between the two brands that still sells out restock after restock worldwide.
Then we have CDG x Nike. Two decades into their collaborative partnership, the two have tightened the gap between streetwear and high fashion. The past decade has seen them bring some unique interpretations to classical Nike silhouettes. It’s clear that Rei’s vision for her label and the future of fashion has been a substantial force within the sneaker industry – and the collaborations just keep coming.
Yoon Ahn, also known as Yoon Ambush, is another name that’s been propelled into the limelight over the past couple of years. She and her partner, Verbal, founded AMBUSH in 2008, a brand that intended to create unique jewellery that would make people double-take. Very soon after, the brand was being worn by a handful of A-list celebs – including Skepta, Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. Today, AMBUSH is one of the coolest brands on the market, pushing progressive design in jewellery, clothing and sneakers. Alongside this, Yoon is also heading up the jewellery design department for Dior Homme.
AMBUSH have an impressive list of collaborations under their belt. In 2016, they collaborated with sacai, in 2017 with UNDERCOVER, in 2018 with Beats and N.E.R.D. and, of course, Nike. Yoon joined forces with the sportswear monolith to bring a fresh perspective to the sports and athleisure industry.
The holiday collection features everyone’s favourite fur jacket, futuristic track tops and pants and, most notably, the AMBUSH x Nike Air Max 180, which came in both black and white. Although previewed in 2018, these bad boys only dropped in 2019, along with two other colabs, the Converse Pro Leather Hi Ambush Black and the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star 70s Hi Ambush that same year. The 180 silhouette had a lot of sentimental meaning for Yoon, being the first pair of sneakers she ever bought with her own money. We’re looking forward to seeing future AMBUSH x Nike designs.
The final name on our list is the very talented Jessica Washick, currently Senior Colour Designer at Nike and the driving force behind several AF-1 colourways that have dropped over the past two years. Think interchangeable Swooshes and double-stacked eyestays. That’s her.
Before joining Nike in 2015, Jessica was a nail artist with a penchant for colour and pairing nail art with fashion. Being so obsessed with colour, she applied for a colour technician role on the Nike website, bringing her nail art portfolio with her for backup. For Nike, it was a match made in heaven.
For Jessica, nail art and sneaker art go hand-in-hand. Both are confined spaces – with obvious limitations – and both are very functional. She believes that a person can express themselves through the mediums, each as important as the other, and loves the sneaker industry for its ability to bring people together in an organic and honest way.
So far, she’s worked on several crazy AF-1 colourways – peep her Instagram to view her work – as well as an Air Max 90, the Foamposite, and the HyperAdapt. Her go-to canvas is the Air Force 1, perfect for storytelling because of its iconic qualities. In terms of design, Jessica has helped to push the language of the classical silhouette forward, helping others create their own unique voice as they scroll through the endless catalogue of exciting and fresh AF-1s to buy.
There are several more women in the sneaker industry in need of mentioning for their incredible efforts and game-changing abilities in the industry. Honorary shout-outs go to Careaux, Susan Boyle of Rime, Nicole McLaughlin, Miniswoosh, Stella McCartney, Rachel Muscat, Melody Ehsani, Ashley Williams, Erin Magee, Martine Rose, Saskia (Maha Amsterdam) and Stine L. Peterson.