Words by: Kixie Jixie
It’s easy to see that the female sneaker game is getting bigger and more diverse. Just a few months ago, NPD reported a 37% increase in profits for the women’s sneaker market and it’s clear that those numbers gave a ton of brands more incentive to cater to the female consumer. For those of us who consider ourselves seasoned collectors, this isn’t a surprise. We’ve been buyers - even when items didn’t come in our sizes or preferred colorways. Even when marketing campaigns weren’t geared towards us - we bought. One brand for many a female sneaker lover rose above in a lot of ways which led me to pose a few questions: why is Jordan Brand so important to the female sneaker community? What needs to change? And finally, what is our responsibility as female consumers?
Male or female, no sneaker collection is complete without a pair of Jordans. As women, many of us can agree with that Jordans were the first sneakers we started collecting. This itself gives us a solid reason for affinity but, a lot of women, like myself, have a certain sense of nostalgia when it comes up to Air Jordan sneakers that goes beyond the happenstance of receiving a GS pair at random or before we could even decide for ourselves. We, much like our fellow sneakerheads of the male variety, either 1.) loved Michael Jordan -- a legendary player and icon who transcended the power of sport; 2.) fell in love with the technological advances and conceptually aware sneakers designed by Tinker Hatfield or, 3.) personally have a deep rooted love affair for basketball sneakers. This is me in a nutshell. There is something about feeling quality leather on the back of my ankles, pressing the balls of my feet into plush soles held with side panels that hug firmly and closed with thick laces that hang loose. I have an admiration for Michael Jordan’s game, sportsmanship, and mannerisms but, growing up in Bushwick, Brooklyn; I admired how the “d-boys” swagged in their Jordans. And I’m sure wherever you lived, you admired some male figure in his 23s.
So, again I ask, why is Jordan Brand so important to the female sneaker community? Because it has catered exclusively to men so long that it has become a cultural barometer of change.
The lack of sneakers designed specifically for women has been a hot topic for the last five years in the industry. The discussion of equality for women in the sneaker industry has been the subject of many panels, articles, and podcasts - and, in my personal opinion is at this point, an exploited topic. Women have been extremely vocal in their desire for brands to do more with specific demands ranging from the absolutely necessary (i.e. not enough women in decision making roles at brands, subpar quality, not enough pairs, and resellers) to the cosmetic (i.e. too much pink, not enough small size runs, and small selections of women’s sneakers on store walls). Even though brands like Puma, Reebok, Nike, Vans, Fila, Athletic Propulsion, Ash, New Balance, Skechers and Adidas have made and continue to make visible efforts to supply the growing demand of women who love sneakers through accessories, apparel, and an increase in women’s collaborations, concepts, and events.
"How did we get to a point where we are more inclined to point out what’s missing as opposed to vehemently supporting the efforts of brands eager to cater to a female audience?"
Yet, an unwavering spotlight continues to shine on JB which begs the question: how did we get to a point where we are more inclined to point out what’s missing from JB as opposed to vehemently supporting the efforts of a slew of other brands eager to cater to a female audience?
WOMEN CONSUMERS ARE ‘WHY’ CONSUMERS
There is no question Jordan Brand’s visibility is everywhere from corporate offices to the street. This type of marketing creates a lifestyle women want to be apart of alongside the men and an initial “why” for the reluctant female buyer. Women who are at the table at these brands know this, understand it, and have made major moves because of it. For example, Claire Ortiz was brought on by MJ himself as a Global Creative Director in 2000 to turn Jordan Brand apparel into a success. The result? 15 million in sales revenue in 2000 nearly tripled to 128 million by 2005. Yet, JB remains one of the only brands without a distinct apparel voice for the female consumer and, as we enter into an era of power shifts and the notion of EQUALITY, women who have been invested are demanding a new investment strategy - a new ‘why’, if you will, from a brand that has collected many of our coins without (until recently) actively checking for our wants in both apparel and footwear.
THE CINDERELLA EFFECT = KEEP IT SIMPLE
A question I hear time and time again from my friends at some of these brands is: “what needs to change?” In the ladies game it’s easy to overthink. I get it. We can be demanding and a hard-to-please demographic but, if you listen we’ve been telling you what we really want and need for years. It is important that Jordan Brand knows that we’re not always checking for a modified, “lady” version of iconic sneakers like the Flu Games, Last Shot and Olympic 6s. We want those releases in a woman’s size. That’s it. While it is hard to satisfy the needs and wants of all women (read: impossible), you can rarely go wrong by keeping it simple. Some women simply want Pinnacles, Glove Packs, Premium 5s, 11 Suede PRMs, and the Element Series, because we love what the sneakers mean and the concept as it relates to Jordan Brand. Did Jordan himself ever wear an Air Jordan 1 “Rebel”? While innovation is respected, many women weren’t looking for a variation of the Top Three. We were looking for the Top Three. That’s it. Zippers and new fangled side laces don’t hold a candle to a simple re-release with her in mind. Give us the premium materials with a signature colorway and a shoe crafted to fit a woman’s foot, whether she’s a 7W or a 10M, exactly as it should. That’s the Cinderella effect.
Ultimately, it all boils down to the understanding that being a woman doesn’t mean you pay less attention to detail. If anything, we’re more meticulous. When the price point for women's product costs just as much as a mens release without the equal quality. On the reverse, I love the quality that I can get because I fit into an 8M US but, I still have unsightly scarring from leather high tops that are too bulky for smaller ankles. That’s a problem. And, it’s one we’ve seen JB attempt to rectify in this year’s releases of the Season of Her AJ 1, the Rose Gold 11s, Rose Gold 3s, the Shattered BB Satin and, of course, the Jordan Brand 1 “AWOK.” But, the reward for a job well done is always more work and, in the case of many female consumers, more questions.
For a number of us seasoned collectors and those who have had their brains picked by designers and comms reps, we’re also wondering if the new idea of Jordan Women is set to cater to just a specific kind of woman. The Jordan Brand 1 AWOK was a great concept that a strong number of us supported. However, when images of influencer gifting and drop events started to hit the timeline, it seemed many of the women who put in work in the male dominated sector of this sneaker-related journalism industry weren’t even a thought. We all need to do better at making sure releases are covered by a range of influencers who can tell the story of one shoe from a variety of perspectives, not just the popular one.
LADIES, WE'RE RESPONSIBLE TOO.
We want the brands to hear us but, how much incentive are we giving them? As much as we sometimes agree about our dislike of a release, critique without solution is just complaint wrapped up in a pretty package. We need to support brands that show us concept, creativity, and innovation. We want Jordan Brand to celebrate women not only in their footwear efforts but, future apparel, accessories, events, and in an acknowledgment of our buying power just as other brands show the same love continuously.
"The brands that create for women need to be supported with a purchase."
The brands that create for women need to be supported with a purchase. Above all, this is a business and sending a message with your dollar goes a bit farther than it does just with your commentary. Progress goes a long way when the people in position to make decisions hear positive feedback. When we purchase, we have an obligation to give opinions as consumers to brands. Complete store surveys, include product feedback, and be vocal online. As a whole, women are doing a great job at expanding their interests in other brands and influencing other women to dip into new products online and, it may be time to allow Jordan Brand to evolve naturally into a Jordan Women collective free of the kind of lofty expectations that tend to stifle real growth.
KIXIE IS A SILVER TONGUED, SHARP-WITTED, SNEAKER QUEEN BORN AND RAISED IN NEW YORK CITY. REACH OUT TO HER @KIXIEJIXIE.
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