The Brooklyn Museum launched its latest exhibit "The Rise of Sneaker Culture" this week, on view until Oct. 4 and curated by Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack. To celebrate its opening week, the museum hosted "Sole Sister Revolution," a conversation between professional women who not only share a love for sneakers, but also recognize the “purposeful emphasis of sneakers as expressions of masculinity,” as mentioned by Brooklyn Museum curator, Lisa Small, during the discussion’s introduction.
The panel included Sophia Chang, an illustrator and designer whose work has been commissioned by Puma; Susan Boyle, owner of Brooklyn-based sneaker boutique Rime, as well as the first non-designer woman to collaborate with Reebok; fashion designer April Walker, and sneaker collector-slash-vlogger Sole De Vida. Moderator Sean Williams, host of the online show Obsessive Sneaker Disorder, posed topics and questions on the lack of female sneaker designers, the overlooked female sneaker consumer, and proposed possible solutions.
“There is so much cool stuff for guys and it doesn’t come in our size. Or if it does, they’ll take something out and tweak it a little different, use cheaper material, or change the silhouette. They’re not thinking about us, who we are, and I think that’s one of the biggest problems we have,” said Boyle, who voiced that sneakers for women are often an afterthought by most major brands.
Although Chang mentioned that labels are making strides with celebrity endorsements (Rita Ora for Adidas, Rihanna for Puma) and high fashion collaborators (Stella McCartney’s longtime range with Adidas, Sacai’s groundbreaking capsule collection with Nike), these companies are still lacking in the endorsement, marketing and storytelling of a female athletic shoe by a woman who's truly excelling in her sport.
“When you look at the current climate of women’s sports: Serena Williams dominated Wimbledon, the U.S. women’s soccer team dominated the World Cup,” noted Williams. “You have women like Maya Moore who is a Team Jordan athlete. But you have shoes for [Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks], you have shoes for [Los Angeles Clipper Chris Paul], and you have [Los Angeles Clipper] Blake Griffin wearing a shoe. Between all of them, there are zero championships… and Maya Moore has two. So, is it just the brands not willing to tell the female sports story because they don’t think there’s enough interest?”
“Kobe [Bryant] has a story, LeBron [James] has a story, and they put the work in to relay that message to consumers. There is none when it comes to a female shoe,” said Walker.
Serena Williams actually debuted her new NikeCourt Flare sneakers at this year’s Wimbledon (Nike has endorsed her since 2003). The design features an ankle cuff taken from Bryant’s signature shoe line. According to Sports Illustrated, her shoe story isn’t complete without a nod to other athletes — that have nothing to do with tennis.
“You can credit Kobe Bryant and the Kung Fu philosophy for the design of Serena Williams' completely new on-court footwear for Wimbledon 2015…The NikeCourt Flare was designed with Kobe and Kung Fu in mind. Now it’s up to Serena Williams to channel all the inspiration into tennis.”
WNBA Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore is the first and only female basketball player to sign with the coveted Jordan Brand, a partnership that began in 2011. When the New York Times reported this endorsement deal, it's interesting to notice that there’s always been apprehension when it comes to marketing a female athlete, especially in a male-dominated sport. Bob Dorfman, the executive creative director for Baker Street Advertising told the NYT, “It’s very difficult for female athletes in team sports to rise above their sport and become marketable icons because the sports aren’t as followed; they don’t bring in the casual fan.”
Casual fan or not, since 2011, Moore has yet to release her own Jordan Brand sneaker for consumers. If you visit Nike’s website right now, you can purchase a Lebron or Kobe sneaker in the women’s basketball shoes section instead.
As for a solution, Sole De Vida and Walker believe these Fortune 500 companies need more females involved — not just through endorsements and collaborations— but also at the executive level. Perhaps we can start with Adidas.