Sneaker – Women face sexism in the Sneaker aisle – Females face discrimination
The co-founders of she.lace
The moment Kiah Welsh laid eyes on the sleek black leather Puma Coogi Clydes with a knit fabric stripe and 18-karat gold aglets, she knew she had to have them.
Welsh was well aware that scoring the first release, limited-edition kicks — a nod to rapper Notorious B.I.G. — would take luck; they were expected to sell quickly and generate lineups at sneaker shops.
But this Toronto sneaker collector also knew the chance that she would walk out of the store wearing these new kicks was twice as doubtful simply because she’s a woman.
That’s because, like most sought-after, limited-edition releases, the Coogi Clyde is only made in men’s sizes. Welsh wears a women’s size 8.5 (men’s size 7). She got the shoe, but in a men’s size 9. Men’s sizes are generally 1.5 to two sizes different than women’s.
“The (sales) guy told me to get two soles to stuff into my shoes to get it to fit, but it didn’t,” Welsh says. “Whenever I wear it, my foot is coming out of the shoe.”
Welsh, 27, who has a collection of more than 50 special-edition and regular kicks, (that generally cost between $100 to $200 a pair) sees this lack of smaller sizes as a slight against women by an industry that has entrenched sexism in the sneaker aisle.
Out of frustration, Welsh and two fellow sneakerheads, Jamila Husbands and Travis Pereira, founded she.lace, a women’s sneaker and art collective.
“We didn’t see ourselves reflected in the sneaker store,” Welsh said, so they created a blog and Instagram account where they post photos of women in their killer kicks at various locations around the city.
The trio has yet to launch a formal campaign directed at the sneaker industry, but Welsh says, “We are working up to that.”
The big sneaker makers — Adidas, Puma and Nike — did not respond to the Star’s requests for comment on this issue.
However, Elizabeth Semmelhack, a senior curator at the Bata Shoe Museum and the author of Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture, says women have been putting pressure on sneaker giants “for a long time,” but “they’ve been slow to respond.”
Semmelhack believes this lack of urgency comes from a reticence for change.
“The industry, wanting to make money, is holding back and seeing whether sneakers will become increasingly important in the average woman’s wardrobe.”
Meredydd Hardie, one of Toronto’s more prominent sneakerheads, who with her girlfriend owns around 100 pairs of sneakers, agrees it’s a struggle to find limited-edition sneakers that fit.
She is used to waking up at 3 a.m. — the only woman in queue — to nab a special release, only to find the smallest size is a men’s size 8, when she is looking for a women’s 7.5.
She’s noticed more women in line recently, but has not seen a jump in smaller sizes in all collections.
Hardie says Yeezys are one of the only sneakers available in women-friendly sizes (men’s size 4 to 13).
“It took us a full year of entering raffles before (my girlfriend) got a chance to buy a single pair of Yeezys,” says Hardie, of rapper Kanye West’s hit Adidas shoes. She scored a green-striped Yeezy Boost 350 V2 on release day that fit. They later nabbed the red-print and zebra editions of the shoe, but Hardie says raffles for most other shoes, including the famed Nike Air Jordans and Air Max shoes, typically don’t offer sizes that small.
That is not to say that sneaker companies have not made special collections for women. However, Welsh and Hardie both say these have been steeped in stereotypes — plastered in pink, adorned with bows or outfitted with wedge heels.
However, there are signs that the women are starting to be noticed.
Hardie says that, while roll out has been slow, she has noticed several brands with wider selections of colours for women, as well as a few offering smaller men’s sizes. She also notes that some kid’s shoes, which some women can wear, are being made from better quality materials.
Nike worked with famed shoe designer Tinker Hatfield’s protege, Tiffany Beers, to launch the $969, self-lacing, Back to the Future-esque HyperAdapt1.0 sneakers in 2016. While not available in women’s sizes, they’re considered unisex and the smallest size is 5.5 men’s. Before that, the company had Canadian designer Erin Cochrane, who has worked in Nike’s running and socks division, craft the Air Max 1 “The Six.” The black leather shoe with wide, white soles, released on Dec. 6, 2015, paid homage to Toronto with its purple liners, inspired by the aurora borealis, and waxed laces. It, too, was considered unisex and released in men’s sizes as small as 6, Hardie says.
That same year, Puma released the Fenty Creeper, designed with singer Rihanna, as a women’s-only shoe.
In a somewhat ironic reversal of roles, men were squeezing their feet into the women’s sizes.
“Men liked the design so much that they clamoured for it and it was quickly rolled out for men. The male consumer was not waiting so much,” Semmelhack says.
“This is not a sneakerhead concern, but a women’s concern,” she adds.