Highsnobiety’s Honors Week is a celebration of the women — particularly those who are trans and BIPOC — who have pushed our culture forward. During the time period commonly known as “Women’s History Month,” we’ve tapped six guest curators to go deep on the issues they care about and to spotlight their favorite women and nonbinary creators for a week of interviews, curated content, and conversations.
How we buy sneakers is changing, but brick-and-mortar stores are still crucial industry pillars. Not only do they bring together the community, nurture the culture, and act as an authoritative mediating force between brands and consumers, but they are also a gateway into sneaker culture and a stepping stone for many that go on to work in the industry.
Like most areas of the sneaker world, decision-making roles in retail remain largely the domain of men. In fact, of all the sneaker stores in the world — from boutiques to chain stores — less than 10 are run by women. Sadly, this isn’t that surprising. Opening a store is a huge investment for anyone, but additional challenges faced by those that don’t fit the stereotypical industry mold make it harder and understandably less appealing.
Susan Boyle opened cult New York store Rime (RIP) in 2007, and as one of the first women to run an independent sneaker boutique, she knows better than most the difficulties faced. “I wasn’t taken seriously for a long time,” she explains. “I do feel that I faced a lot of challenges in the sneaker business because of my gender, and looking back now, 14 years later, the fact that I was even acknowledged in the industry and that I was able to do collaborations and break some barriers is pretty amazing, because no one really wanted a woman there in the first place.”
Similarly, Kickslove owner Lisa Barlow was forced to close the London-based store in 2018. “My biggest challenge was access to the product that the other independent sneakerhead stores were getting. It was really disappointing not to have been supported by the big brands — all sneaker stores’ business relies upon carrying the best products from the leading brands,” shares Barlow. “Brands can make the most impact not just by writing women’s strategies, but actually executing it with a special focus on the entire female demographic and with inclusivity in mind. Then, follow through with them locally through access to product, local marketing, or bringing awareness to a retailer through events that will help elevate them in a crowded and mainly male space. A lot of brands are pushing a purposeful agenda now, and nothing is more purposeful and powerful than helping young female entrepreneurs find their space in the industry.” Barlow now runs Kicksloved, an online platform for sustainable and preloved sneakers.
To keep pushing towards parity and opening up sneaker culture to a wider and more diverse customer base, seeing that same diversification reflected in retail ownership is essential. Despite the difficulties, we’re thankfully heading in that direction and there are now more women-owned stores than ever. We spoke to those blazing the trail around the world about retail’s role in creating an inclusive community and what they’re doing to amplify the voices of those overlooked in the sneaker industry.
We try to support and elevate the community, the city. Our store is a love letter to this place. We carry local Black-owned apparel brands, feature local artists amplifying locally-relevant messages, partner with local vendors, host events that our community might find value in. We had a voter registration campaign, launched kids’ streetwear designed by students at a local elementary school, paid rent for families at the end of the year, etc.
While Black-owned businesses exist all over the city now, no longer restricted by legal segregation, Black Wall Street is still an important symbol of entrepreneurial success for the Black community. I greatly value the opportunity to carry on that legacy of success with a business concept that I think would have existed if the community was allowed to evolve without racism and violence. Sneaker culture has its roots in Black culture.
Listen to women! And make cool stuff for them! Invest in them; use your incredible marketing tools to amplify their role in the culture. If you’re putting money into communities, put that money toward issues that affect women and specifically Black women.
Makeway is and always will be a space for our community. Although it is owned by two women, we are not here to decide what women need. We are here to connect with our community and then provide products, programming, resources, a space, and brand connections based on their needs. Makeway doesn’t belong to us; it belongs to our community, and that will be the foundation for everything we do.
The unfortunate part is those who have been historically disadvantaged in the industry are also mostly responsible for the mainstream popularity of sneaker culture. For example, Black culture is synonymous with sneaker culture, yet a huge portion of the people benefiting financially from the industry are white. And what about the launch of the Go Fly Ease — we’ve seen many consumers living with disabilities unable to purchase shoes that were literally made for them. Or women who can’t get their hands on female collabs or exclusives that were made for them because they’re being bought up by male resellers. Sneaker stores — us included — need to recognize and acknowledge these inequities and be a part of the solution, not the problem.
Brands have already identified women as a key priority for their businesses and that puts us at an advantage. They’re looking to us to help them understand the consumer more and by being transparent with our needs, wants, and expectations, we can influence how they serve us. For example, instead of buying what they believe to be a key style or product for women, we challenge them and explain why we believe something will or will not work. We also know women are not just one size/style fits all, so we are requesting access to more than just women’s products. We want access to it all.
That it’s an ever-evolving market, where on the one hand you’ve got your own vision and on the other, there’s the consumer. The challenge is to always listen to your customers while staying true to your vision and be as authentic as possible.
Yes, 100 percent. The women’s market has grown immensely since we opened our doors. There are so many new and different consumers buying sneakers and using sneakers as their main footwear type. When we started, girls lining up for shoes was considered crazy and only a handful of troopers knew the concept. Now there are multiple girls lining up almost on a weekly basis, as the girls now know that they have to be on time if they really want it.
We don’t have to shop at the kid’s section anymore and we don’t only have “pink it and shrink it” versions of the shoes we want. By focusing on product and having the biggest offering in these styles and sizes, our store and website have grown from a small city local supplier to be able to cater to female sneakerheads all over the world.
Australian women’s love for sneakers and streetwear has been around just as long as anywhere else. Unfortunately, we haven’t had access to the same products as Europe and America, which has definitely set us back. Being the first women’s sneaker store here has come with its own challenges, but the support has been positive, which really reinforces the need for a strong women’s sneaker presence.
Absolutely, and it’s about time. Over the years, I’ve noticed a much wider selection of products offered to us and more accessibility to unisex sizing, which has always been one of the biggest barriers for a lot of women. It has come a long way and I only see things getting better for us.
I would hope for more creative control when designing sneakers for women and marketing sneakers to women. Historically, it has been a male-dominated space, but women need to be recognized for what they have already achieved and, given the opportunity, I think they will make an even greater impact going forward.
Wish ATL is the premier streetwear shop in Atlanta. Our customers travel far and wide to shop with us because we bring a level of authenticity to the community. Our clients include celebrities — entertainers, actors, athletes — but the majority of our clients are young, African-American men and women who live in Atlanta. Wish is known as a place where you can find the best product of local and international brands. We offer local talent an opportunity to use our platform to have their voices heard. We continually bring events, dialogue, ideas, and experiences to our local community. Wish is part of a dynamic and eclectic creative community called Little 5 Points, where people of all backgrounds converge.
We connect with other women in the industry as often as we can. As the founder, I have been privileged to mentor several young women. They have gone on to do great things in fashion and entertainment. We have hosted events focused on women, most recently the launch of Jordan women’s apparel. Wish has featured several women artists in our gallery space. We also support female-run institutions like Spelman College Museum of Fine Art who focus on female artists of the African diaspora. Being female-owned and run, it’s our natural desire to see the next generation of women step up and conquer.
We must serve our customers well. We carry clothing, sneakers, and accessories for women and listen to what they want. We listen to their stories and use our voices/her voice when speaking to the brands we carry. We know the importance and necessity of her mark on this community. And being in Atlanta, we are overwhelmed by all of the amazing female talent surrounding us. We will continue to work with a diverse group of women designers and influencers ensuring our voice as women grows stronger.
There wasn’t a place for women to shop a curated selection of sneakers alongside clothing and lifestyle in the UK. Since opening, we have found a real increase in what is available for women, particularly in sneakers. We actually came along just at the right time. Women’s sneakers were a major focus for all the major brands — they just didn’t have a women’s-specific door to place their top-tier product.
It really has come a long way since our very first season in the spring of 2015. The major brands have been making it their mission to increase their women’s business and we are definitely seeing the fruits of their labor. There is still a way to go as far as what colorways are available and releases just for women, but it’s been so positive seeing the growth. To note: unisex product is also on the rise, which is excellent, too.
As brands continue to release bigger ranges for women, we hope to see more women-specific marketing campaigns and collaborations. One thing to remember is that sometimes the sneaker world can be drowned out by all the hype releases. There are plenty of women wearing sneakers, but if it’s not hype, it sometimes feels like it goes unseen or doesn’t count. So the more the brands shout about women’s products, the more we’ll all notice the strong female representation in the sneaker industry.
We tend to use pastel colors to invert the stereotype but keep our Instagram looking uniform. The aim is to steer clear of the super-dark, overly contrasted imagery that’s typically seen on male-focused accounts. We also have a franchise called “Friday Fit,” where we reshare our customers’ posts.
The two stores in Copenhagen tend to get a more diverse array of visitors, mainly because they’re situated in the city center. Teenage girls are probably our most loyal store customers across all three locations, so we’ve tried to create an ambiance that suits them, from the oversized mirrors to the floors coated in signature naked pink.
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