From facing indiscreet sexism, non-inclusive shoe sizing and mansplaining, women have had it rough in the sneaker industry, but the male buying power is declining now. So, we asked prominent female sneakerheads in the industry if female sneakerheads can save this soon-to-be obsolete footwear.
If the conversation happens to be about footwear—particularly sneakers, men have always been the centre of attention and the sneaker industry has made it apparent through its countless marketing campaigns and fashion shoots, making men a priority, by featuring male footballers and celebrities when it comes to sneakers.
According to the Business of Fashion, sneakers’ high growth phase has come to an end as they have been pushed to the back of the shelves as floor space is going out to mules and loafers — a more preppy style that currently dominates menswear. According to Euro Monitor in Hypebeast, global sneaker sales totalled 152.4 billion in 2022, reflecting a 2.7 % increase in sales from the year before, but a dramatic slowdown compared with the 19.5% spike in 2021. This raises the question of what about the female sneaker market?
With the sneaker industry being male-dominated, being a woman in it is a real challenge as avid sneaker collector Jessica Lawrence says in Vogue. In the article, Jessica explains how women are often viewed as a sidenote and not taken seriously. The only time women are appreciated is when brands decide to make dedicated all-female sneaker collections.
Even then, we’re still not treated as equals because the shoes created for females always lead back to being stereotypically designed, featuring shoes that come in rose gold or patronising pink. Not to mention, there’s always a lack of size inclusion especially if you’re a woman with UK 3 feet.
Could women have been a saving grace in this industry and helped maintain the pivotal growth of the global sneaker sales market if only we were viewed as equals? Is there any hope for it, and have our male sneakerhead fans finally decided to respect women instead of mansplaining us on what shoes we should wear? But most importantly, has there been a rise of female sneakerheads in this era?
Julia Lebosse, founder of Sneakers by Women, a community page on Instagram which talks about sneaker news, and features key female footwear designers agrees, although the sneaker industry is starting to get better with more female sneakerheads and influencers on the rise, there is still a slight sense of gatekeeping.
“There’s a lot of space created for women in the sneaker industry, but I still see no unity in it,” says Julia.
“Women want to be a part of the sneaker industry and culture as a whole, not categorised into a special type of box, and it’s always been like this due to sports culture, especially in basketball and how it’s always seen to exclude women.
“The sexism doesn’t stop there but also continues into the product too, this is when the industry is at fault especially when it comes to size. If you’re a person with smaller feet, there’s less consideration for bigger brands to make it inclusive,” Julia says.
Creative footwear artist and sneaker advocate, Titi Finlay, also agrees even with the increase of female-run sneaker platforms, women are still somehow not completely accepted in the sneaker community.
“When I first started out in the sneaker industry, it was very intimidating. The majority of the people were men and there was a lot of gatekeeping and trolling,” says Titi.
“It’s getting slightly better now but the worse kind of people who are making this industry less welcoming, are young men who resell sneakers but don’t know much about sneakers themselves, but act as they do. They misconceive women as being interested in sneakers just for the hype, and it’s frustrating when there are so many passionate and knowledgeable women who love sneakers.”
It’s not always, but often a disadvantage for women to be a part of the sneaker community especially when some men will naturally assume that women are oblivious about sneakers just like when it comes to cars.
Sneaker Enthusiast Heather Su, notes her bad experience of indiscreet sexism that she’s faced when queuing up for a new sneaker release.
“I would usually queue up with my partner to buy shoes, but there was one time, I had to do it alone because he was overseas. Being the only girl in line, it was intimidating until I bumped into my partner’s friend,” said Heather.
“He was in disbelief that I was in line and even asked me if I wanted to queue up as a runner and would pay minimum wage.
“The whole experience was infuriating because he didn’t even bother to ask me what I was doing in line, but only assumed I was just temporary space until my partner comes back for the shoes,” she said.
What the sneaker community needs now are great male allies who support women genuinely and see us as equals but in order to do that, big brands in the industry need to start implementing inclusivity and not exclusivity in their campaigns and sneaker designs.
As Julia puts it: “The sneaker industry needs to blur the line between women and men, instead of making us sound exclusive, why not welcome women into the male space instead of always trying to create a new space for us.”
Titi also expresses: “The sexism doesn’t stop there but also continues into the product, in terms of size and design. I’ve noticed that Adidas has always been bad for its colourways and designs for women, and Nike seems to always miss the mark especially when they were bringing back the Nike Dunk Disrupt in their iconic retro collection but was only releasing it in men’s size. They made a chunkier version of the shoe for women and at this point, you’d know if a shoe is made for a woman if it’s chunky.
“Nike has always been bad for overdesigning women’s shoes with its excessive stereotypical designs such as floral embellishments and frills on the panelling of the sneakers. The thing is, I don’t mind if the designs are made stereotypically for women but make that accessible for men as well,” Titi adds.
“When I was on a call with Dylan Rash, the creative director of Air Max, he notes the Nike Furiosa which was originally made for women, is finally now in demand for men in pink colourways. So, it’s important that big brands realise that the market must be equal and not limited. This goes the same if sneaker events are hosted too.
“All in all, when you do anything that’s solely “women-related” whether if it’s an event or a shoe, it seems like gatekeeping because society would never do a men’s only thing.
“I think the sneaker industry needs to lead by example and be gender inclusive. Although making women-only events in the sneaker community comes with a good intention, you’re still separating genders and it’s worse when the notion is just for marketing, “she says.
“It’s clear that women don’t want to be put on a pedestal or marketed off just because of their gender. Women want to be seen equally in the community for their style, knowledge and talent.
“Campaigners state that men in the sneaker community do more to be conscious of their privilege in this industry, by supporting female designers and celebrating female excellence within the community.
“Many believe they should also take the time to genuinely research women sneakerheads who are making history in a male-dominated industry, instead of just sharing a post on social media.
“Others also want to see big footwear brands produce rich meaningful content about women, and switch up their campaigns by featuring real successful women figures and their craft,” Titi explains.
It appears the sneaker industry and community have much to re-evaluate and improve on when it comes to treating and respecting the female sneakerhead community fairly. The good news is, there are several established women’s footwear designers who are paving the way for female sneakerheads in the industry, as we speak.
Here comes the good news: Founder and creative director of Ambush, Yoon Ahn also known as Yoon Ambush on her social media account has designed several shoes under a Nike collaboration. Game Royal, Green “Ambush” and the infamous dunk highs represent her popular shoes.
“Yoon is an authentic trailblazer, she’s doing her own thing with her craft and has such a big impact not just on women but on the male community in the sneaker industry,” says Julia.
Jazerai Allen-Lord is also another monumental figure, she’s a true sneakerhead and influencer at heart. She’s also the catalyst as to why women are represented properly, and not as a diversity hire.
Despite the sneaker industry being mostly made of men, there isn’t an official sign which says that it’s an all-gent’s club. So, women shouldn’t be afraid to venture into the sneaker community if they have a shared passion for shoes.
“It’s intimidating at first and you will have some people who will question your knowledge but remember, be yourself and don’t settle for less. There’s space for everyone in this industry” says Julia.
In the last couple of years, hype culture was the centre of fashion, and sneakers were a big part of it, especially during the lockdown. All in all, it was a bubble that was going to pop sooner or later, and now what’s left of it are individuals who are genuine sneakerheads.
Many believe the industry needs to realise that women have just as much or even more buying power as men when it comes to buying sneakers. If more inclusive releases and sizes were made welcoming for women, sneaker sales would not have gone down drastically, and female sneakerheads could have been a saving grace.