The "W" Stands For
In an ever-evolving creative sphere dealing with the global sneaker culture, women and LGBTQIA + sneaker enthusiasts are still waiting for the day when power positions will be equated.
The Sneaker/Streetwear community has existed for the longest time and has battled various ranging issues and challenges. One such blatant issue is that of the difference in approaches and the void that has been created in the market towards women and LGBTQIA + sneaker enthusiasts. We have entered a realm where women or LGBTQIA + individuals are ascertaining and taking back what has been denied to them as rights, opportunities and status.
However, what still requires defining is the sneaker as well as streetwear industry and community, that need to start equating power positions and give due credit to all women and queer individuals for their striving efforts to make a mark. There is no denying that the injustice in the creative sector is equally harrowing to what is battled by women or queer folks in reality. This article focuses on the overlooked female/queer sneaker consumer and certain possible solutions.
I’d like to begin with my own experience - I was recently absorbed in the sneaker community because of my intrigue in the creation of concept sneakers and the creative attachments that are prevalent in the sneaker industry. This very interest of mine began being imbibed while playing basketball in high school. I was still understanding the game and was aware of the major role sneakers played in building the community and, as and when I grew up, I further understood the the culture and nuances of the historical foundation that were laid through sneakers and streetwear.
However, alongside my intrigue came a quick realisation of the disparity that exists due to certain genders being favoured in this community. There are no two ways to put this – the sneaker community is heavily male dominated.
A sense of alienation from the community is often felt due to express shunning and gatekeeping which majorly revolves around the idea that, if you aren’t knowledgeable enough or hype enough, you cannot be considered a “Sneaker Head”.
Women/queer sneakerheads face a major disparage when someone from the community itself belittle based-off of gender, rather than addressing the stark difference of how women sneaker designers or even someone who consider sneakers as a collectible/art piece aren’t easily considered to be a part of this community. Furthermore, the challenges women/queer sneakerheads face go beyond sizing, availability to drops and the patronising shades of pink and campaign ridden sneakers that are created with an agenda for profit and relevancy, all while lacking artistic weightage.
Let me give you an example of how this community favours men in various areas as a consumer or as an artist over women/queer homosapiens. It is a well-known fact that when the most anticipated collaboration between Air Jordan and Virgil Abloh’s brand Off-White was about to drop, it was announced that the same would be a women’s-only release.
However, when the market roared for men sizes as well, the brand quickly agreed to the release of Jordan 4 Retro Off-White Sail in men’s sizes. Let me be very clear here, I do not stand for “women exclusive” sizing, what I stand for is inclusive sizing that runs in metrical charts providing everyone with an opportunity to cop a pair and be able to appreciate the sneaker. Apart from sizing, the WMNS releases have an undertone that is layered with colourways & silhouettes that are monotone and stereotypically feminine.
On reaching out and speaking to women in the community itself, it is clear they too come from a similar point of contention and share viewpoints that are alike. Haya Rukiya, a content writer for Capsul reveals,
Haya Rukiya, Content Writer - Capsul
We live in an era that respects a spectrum when it comes to the notion of gender, however this industry is somewhat still stagnant on the idea of gender neutral launches and collaborations. With the current scenario changing the dialogue about inclusion of every gender on this very spectrum, it’s glaringly obvious that some brands are still missing the mark when it comes to engaging and supporting women/queer individuals successfully.
Haya Rukiya, Content Writer - Capsul
Additionally, what might be another problem though not known or acknowledged is the idea of “perception buying” of a product which is highly prevalent nowadays. Perception buying is how what is highly in demand or relevant in the eyes of a select group of consumers - in this case men - is considered an appropriate purchase; and what is not of the same standard and is created by a brand lesser known to the this group, is shamed and disregarded, leading to anyone who buys or wears those pairs being questioned of their legitimacy as a sneakerhead.
This raises various questions as to why this is such an acceptable practice in the community, eventually leading to one simple statement - “it’s less about judging what you like, than it’s about how you celebrate a piece that you would wear”. The idea that a product needs to be perceived as “acceptable” to be a sneakerhead is a dated argument because much like anyone, if you are intrigued by the concept and backstory of a sneaker, you can claim the term of being a sneakerhead and resultantly make this industry all the more inclusive.
In that regard, certain known brands that are making a much needed effort are PUMA and New Balance, by positioning women at the centre of the creative initiative as well as making a statement through sneakers with their recent collaborations. Nike, too has been making great strides with their initiative Nike by you along with workshops and programmes. Another thrilling news this year was the introduction of a full-size run by Converse and Adidas along with Reebok and their iconic collaborations with female celebrities.
Not only that, last year we also saw an immense amount of women receiving recognition in the industry with the release of Lucky Green Air Jordan 1 by Keely Alexis - an ex-Jordan Brand footwear colour designer, Aleali May’s Air Jordan 1 (Black and Grey colourway) which were initially released in 2017 but made a much needed comeback in 2020, Sophia Chang - a New York-born illustrator and designer collaborating with various brands from Puma to New Balance, Yoon Ahn’s Ambush Dunk release and many more.
With that being said, it was still disheartening to bear witness to the overshadowing of a lot of creations/work of female sneaker designers by the majority market running amuck for the hyped “male oriented” sneakers. Therefore, what begs to be asked is whether the casual ignorance of the effort and interest of a female/queer sneaker designer/enthusiast is a market strategy or just plain disregard?
Let’s bring focus to our country now. India suffers from higher levels of indifference among the varied genders but what is bizarre is that women in India are excelling far more in this industry than men.
To name a few - Meenakshi Singh and Bhavisha Dave, co-founders of Capsul - a multifaceted multi brand store carrying out sales from brands like Pleasures, Thrasher Magazine, China Town Market etc., Avni Aneja the co-founder of this very portal and SIX5SIX - a streetwear and sportswear brand, Shivani Boruah - a sneakerhead and pioneer pushing for inclusivity in the community with her efforts, Naavika Nandal - designer at VegNonVeg, and one of our very own Sandy Kaur who created her own ‘Nike by you’ Air Max 95 named “Air Sandy” that aimed to tackle the underlying gatekeeping that is prevalent in the industry but tagged it as a Revolt sneaker, which in all its true sense, it was.
These are only a few examples of women in our country who are challenging the streamlined ideas attached to female/queer sneakerheads - there are many more of these women who exist and who are changing the dialogue about inclusion of women in the industry but the ripple effect of this conversation needs to become a wave in today’s day and age.
In my point of view, these changes need to include not only the representation of genders and varied races in the industry but are also required to reiterate what “feminine” means in a sneaker design sense and to “embrace the queer culture” as a part of this community.
The dire need of accessibility to this industry should not only be limited in terms of copping a pair of sneakers but also in terms of creational/artistic aspect applicable across all individuals - the collaborations carried out with female or queer individuals should be given their due credit and should be equated with the same level of enthusiasm and hype.
Last but not the least, it is also imperative to diminish gatekeeping culture and open a way for people to respect the culture and community for their intrigue and their creation even when lacking foundation or knowledge.
The standard notion of women/queer folks who operate within the sneaker/streetwear community or are simply interested in the craft, is either sexualised as them being pin-ups or tomboys, or the fact that accessibility to only “overtly girly” and generic sneakers now seems to be crumbling as a concept.
The stark reality of this community is not an easy pill to gulp down but what we are witnessing nowadays is that the playing field is opening up a little more for and by women/queer sneaker enthusiasts themselves. We are required to set the tone of this issue by voicing our opinions vehemently and to support women/queer individuals who are making the effort in actuality.
The focus of this article is to bring to light not only the issues this micro community faces but to highlight the need for equality and representation at every level in the sneaker sphere - as consumers and allies to celebrate sneaker loving women/queer folks - and most importantly to keep this conversation going.