The Struggle of Being a Female Sneakerhead
Written for Complex
As a kid growing up in Toronto, I didn’t wear dresses and Mary Janes to school. I wore adidas joggers and red Nike Air Bakins or navy blue Uptempos. As long as I could outrun my classmates at recess, life was good. I beat my sneakers to the ground and looked forward to the start of every school year when I got to pick new ones. I quickly realized if I kept my sneakers in good condition, my rotation would accumulate. And so it began.
In 2002, I experienced my first “female sneakerhead” struggle. At the time, Vince Carter was the king of Toronto. So, naturally, when my dad took me sneaker shopping, I had my heart set on his first signature shoe: the VC Shox 1 in red. To my dismay, the red was only available in men’s sizes. I did what anyone other sneaker lover would do in a moment of desperation: I bought insoles, doubled up on socks and made my size 4.5 feet work with a men’s size 7. Eleven years later, they still don’t fit.
Sneaker culture has grown tremendously in recent years because of greater digital access to the culture. However, with sneakers being a male-dominated hobby, there’s a void for lady sneaker enthusiasts in the game.
Even insiders in the industry notice it. Sue Boyle, owner of New York's Rime, says there's a preconceived notion that companies have about female sneakerheads.
"There’s a lot of girls out there who wear sneakers for fashion and not just to go to the gym," Sue said. “The sneakerhead girl is looking, but she doesn’t know exactly where to go because most companies and stores are not catering to her.”
There’s a myth in society that generalizes guys and girls. A woman is associated with only being interested in ultra-feminine hobbies, which leaves her overlooked in the sneaker department.
Why should women be restricted to painful high heels when Lunarlon technology exists?
The most substantial roadblock for female sneakerheads is the lack of smaller sizes. Most exclusive releases are limited to men, restricting women from special editions, collaborations, and various colorways. Very few of this year’s coveted releases accommodated the interests of the fairer sex. Women are left to choose between the selections in their sizes or dabble into the boys section.
"Girls want the the actual product, not the 'shrink it and pink it' version," Sue said about the loyal female sneaker shoppers at her boutique. "When you buy the kids version, it doesn’t have the proper box and there’s always something that makes it less of the original. Why can’t it at least come in the same box?"
The female sneaker community has been petitioning for years to have more access to shoes in true women’s sizes, but have made little progress. It’s hard not to feel neglected when we see our male counterparts stunting on social media in sneakers we have no chance of getting. And while buying kids shoes is sometimes a viable solution, it lacks the technology and craftsmanship that an adult shoe would have because children’s feet don’t require as much support.
As an alternative solution to making men's sneakers available exactly the same for women, they provide us with our own colorways. Society assigns pink to females and blue to males, but this concept is rather outdated. Some women prefer red and blue, and some men actually like pink (think Killa Cam). Why should women's color ranges be limited to pinks, purples, and pastels? Female sneakerheads want the same colorways and makeups that every sneakerhead wants.
"With every release, we are seeing more ladies camping out to buy retro Jordans or asking if the new Foamposite is being made in a grade-school size," said Mickey Nassrin, lead buyer for Millennium Shoes in California. "Ladies want to be included in the culture and are building their own movement, they just spin the product differently than men."
Respect is also an issue for female sneakerheads. Women aren’t highly recognized in the sneaker community and are sometimes faced with unaccepting and unwelcoming members.
"She only wears Jordans," some of them say to me. Let's not forget there are many guys who also restrict themselves to one brand and Jordan is one of the few that consistently provides small sizes, although though the limited releases like Doernbechers still remain limited to men's sizes.
With all that said, being a female sneakerhead also has its advantages. For example, Jordan release dates are far less stressful due to the lack of competition. While the men’s sizes sell out in a matter of seconds, the youth sizes remain in stock for our choosing. There's also the fact that youth sizes are significantly less expensive.
Hopefully as the community continues to grow, brands take further action to accommodate all of its members. There are many female sneakerheads out there hoping for a change. If companies can produce small quantities for limited releases, surely they can do the same for the women's community. For example, Ronnie Fieg now sells his collections in as small as a size 5 and Jeremy Scott's adidas collections come as low as a 4.5. What's stopping corporations from doing the same on a larger level?
In the meantime, I’ll walk into Finish Line on December 21st when the mall opens, purchase my Gamma XIs for $100 less, and go home a happy camper.