Olivia Kim, Yoon Ahn, Aleali May - you probably know these names, but you may not have heard of these 10 female designers. For our WMNS series, which takes a closer look at the sneaker scene, specifically at the role and possibilities of women, we want to introduce you to ten female designers and creatives in the world of sneakers. Each designer has her own story and philosophy, which may inspire you, dear community!
Charlotte Lee: Designer of the New Balance 327
In 2020 Charlotte Lee designed the New Balance 327, a completely new silhouette whose success surprised both the designer and the brand. Lee drew inspiration from the archives of the American sneaker brand and created an entirely new model.
Lee hails from the UK and began her career at New Balance as an intern in late 2014. Less than a year later she joined the company full time and in 2018 she started working for NB 327.
“As soon as I shared my designs with the team we knew this shoe had to be launched differently. This model looked like it belonged on the runway and who better to launch it with than Casablanca? They loved the model and it worked perfectly with their collection.”Charlotte Lee interviewed by Sole Savy
Sarah Sabino: Senior Footwear Designer for adidas
The designer mixes her artistic background with her love of sneakers in her designs. Her career began at Converse, but now at adidas she is instrumental in major collaborations such as Pharrell, Yeezy and Ivy Park.
Her path to sneaker design was rather unusual, which is why she hopes to inspire and encourage the next generations of footwear designers to follow her example. The impossible shall become possible!
Judy Close is the designer of the Reebok Shaq Attaq
Basketball and sneakers go together like peas and carrots. The Shaq Attaq, Reebok's first signature basketball shoe in collaboration with Shaquille O'Neal, was designed by none other than Jody Close. Neither the basketball player nor the designer had anticipated the success of the Shaq Attaq before its release.
In 1987, she began working at Reebok, first helping other designers and then moving into working on training shoes. As part of the agreement between Shaquille O'Neal and Reebok, the basketball player was given his own sneaker line. With only four months until the start of the season, the challenge was handed over to Judy Close. Together with her team and input from O'Neal, she delivered the Shaq Attaq in time for O'Neal to wear it on his professional debut.
"The best advice I can give is to just stay persistent and step up. If you don’t think the product or company is moving in the right direction, step up and make your voice heard. Believe in yourself and know that you’re worthy of speaking up."Judy Close in an interview with Solecollector
Marni Gerber, Designer of the Nike Air Swoopes
Marni Gerber started her career in the sneaker scene at the same time as Judy Close, by designing the first ever basketball shoe for women.
When the Women's National Basketball Association was launched under the NBA umbrella in the summer of 1997, it was obvious that Sheryl Swoopes would be the first player to officially join the newly formed female counterpart professional league. Long known as "Women's Jordan", Swoopes was the woman who, much like Michael Jordan, showered her opponents with points by the dozen while gracefully embodying the league's competitiveness.
So it was only logical that she became the first woman to get her own signature shoe. It was a groundbreaking moment in the sports industry, literally following in the footsteps of the Air Jordan franchise. In order to meet all of Sheryl's performance needs and incorporate her own sense of style, the Air Swoopes was to be designed by a woman as well: Marni Gerber. Sheryl debuted her first sneaker during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
The shoe featured an eye-catching blocked Velcro closure that provided a secure fit for Swoopes' explosiveness and drives, while also giving the sneaker an iconic look.
Chitose Abe: Designer of the Nike x Sacai Blazer Mid, the LD Waffle and the VaporWaffle
Perhaps most of you already know this Japanese woman. She was born on 9 November 1965 in the small town of Gifu and when she was a girl, her mother introduced her to textiles and fabrics because she worked as a seamstress. After graduating, she found a job at the clothing company World Co Ltd, but after just one year she moved to the fashion brand Comme des Garçon. After eight years at the woman-owned label CDG, she then landed a job as a pattern maker at Junya Watanabe for two years. Another two years later, she took maternity leave.
Encouraged by her husband and because she couldn't keep her feet still, she started her own label Sacai from home. Although the designer learned from the best, it took a while for Sacai to catch on with the international audience.
The brand finally took the cake in Paris in 2018 when it unveiled its futuristic collaboration with Nike on the LD Waffle Racer. The silhouette was sold out within seconds and now you have to pay horrendous prices at the resell.
Georgina James is Director of Women's Footwear at Nike
While growing up in the UK, Georgina James was always interested in fashion. This was, of course, the reason why she studied both fashion and shoe design at Cordwainers College of Art and Design. Before Nike, she designed shoes for brands like Kangol, Lacoste and JD Sports.
But it was her passion for sports and working on functional products that helped her gain a foothold at Nike. She remembers exactly her first pair of Nike sneakers, for which she had to save up for a long time. It was the Air Max BW in white and grey. She says, "I remember putting them on and feeling like I was amazing and I could accomplish anything."
She herself calls the Reimagined Launch in 2018 one of her career highlights:
"You get the feeling when you're designing that you're really empowering women to do sport and helping to change their lives. That gives you a sense of achievement and being proud about what you're doing, and really believing in the reason behind what you're doing."Georgina James in an interview with Fashionista
Rox Brown, the Designer of the Air Jordan 1 High Rox Brown and the Nike Air Force 1 High Jester
Brown has over 90,000 followers on Instagram and is known for her eccentric personal style. She got her start in the fashion industry years ago at the Billionaire Boys Club boutique in SoHo, where she took a job at VFILES in 2013. In an interview with Elle, she shared that she literally walked into the shop with no resume and left with a job. During her time at VFILES, she held the title of Director of VIP Services.
Most recently, she has been lauded as a catalyst for the amazing rise of rapper Lil Yachty. Her web show "What Rox!" offers a fresh, outspoken perspective on hip-hop, style and street culture, and her personal aesthetic has made her a personality in her own right.
"I wasn’t scared to move forward, because I was inspired. Everyone has a passion, and I feel like we’re already programmed to do certain things.
It can turn into something if you’re allowed to feed that passion. So, I decided to feed mine. And I did."Rox Brown in an interview with Air Jordan
She designed the WMNS Air Jordan I Retro High Premium and the Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG in 'Black/Metallic Gold'.
Tiffany Beers: Nike Senior Innovator and Design Contributor on the Nike Air Mag and Nike HyperAdapt 1.0
Tiffany Beers is a trained engineer and lead innovator at Nike. The American works in the company's vaunted innovation kitchen, so named because Bill Bowerman, one of Nike's founders, used a waffle iron in a kitchen to develop the 'waffle sole'. Her office, on the other hand, is littered with prototypes and drawings of projects considered so important to Nike's future that journalists who refuse to sign non-disclosure agreements are denied entry.
On her latest design, a self-binding shoe, she says: "The motor fit, it pulls everything at once, which is very different from how laces work, which pull everything incrementally." The idea goes back to Tinker Hatfield and Mark Parker. They wanted to create the shoe from 1989's "Back to the Future Part II", which Marty McFly puts on in the seemingly unimaginable year 2015 without tying the laces himself.
In 2005, they decided to take up the project again and brought Beers, who was brand new to Nike, on board. "Back to the Future" fans had to make do with a limited edition of the futuristic shoe called Nike Mag. The HyperAdapt shoe now recognises the foot through sensors inside the shoe and you can activate a mechanism to tighten the laces. This was a flagship shoe for the company that evoked both nostalgia and a desire for something new.
Kelsey Amy, the Jordan Brand Color Designer of the College and Professional-Player Exclusives
Kelsey Amy's first job at Nike wasn't as a designer. When she interned with the company in 2013, she didn't even know that her current position as senior colour designer for the Jordan Brand's sports and promotional products existed. But after working in marketing for the brand for a few months and getting to know life in Portland, Amy was bitten by the Swoosh bug.
Although she returned home, she decided that she wanted to return and work at Nike soon. This determination brought her to where she is today. She designs exclusive colorways for Jordan Brand athletes like Russell Westbrook and Jayson Tatum, as well as promotional pairs for universities and special events.
Over the past seven years at Jordan Brand, Amy has not only designed some of the brand's rarest pairs, but has also made it her mission to pass on her knowledge and experience to other women looking to make their way in the industry.
“More doors are going to continue to open for women. And I think it’s necessary for us to charge through them full force as opposed to maybe knocking and waiting for an answer.”Kelsey Amy in an Interview with Complex
Ashley Comeaux: Former Nike Designer of the Nike Air Haurache Ultra
'Have you hugged your foot today?' throws the 1992 Nike Air Huarache advertisement into the room. It's meant to articulate Tinker Hatfield's idea of minimalist functionality. The constant evolution of today's Nike Air Huarache silhouettes, including the new Nike Air Huarache Ultra, build on this defining design philosophy: 'Less is more'.
The Nike Air Haurache Ultra stands unmistakably for comfort, flexibility, fit and easy on and off. All of this necessitates a lightweight shoe that still 'hugs' the foot. Elements like the bootie construction, heel stabiliser and heel of the iconic 1991 Haurache are retained, while Ashley Comeaux reinterprets the exoskeleton-like features.
"We wanted to reimagine the Huarache in a fresh and modern way for the way our female consumer maneuvers today. [...] You get the shape of the original saddle and added Nike technology with the next generation Flywire lacing system. It’s simple and clean, yet the DNA of Huarache is still there."Nike footwear designer Ashley Comeaux of the Nike Air Huarache Ultra.