This piece appears as part of our initiative on Identity & Representation, a six-month long project highlighting different facets of identity and how they shape the practices, conventions, and conversations happening in the Highsnobiety world. Head here for the full series.
Sneaker and streetwear culture has long been considered a boys club. Sneaker stores used to be desolate places for women; retailers would often cover their walls with styles for men and provide a range of grade school kicks for boys, while the women’s section would look empty in comparison. But in recent years, sneaker brands have started to think outside the box marked US men’s size 11 and cater to women.
The return of ’90s streetwear trends has meant that more women than ever want a piece of the unboxing action. Puffer jackets, bucket hats, and old-school sneakers such as the Nike Air Max 97 have made a strong comeback. On the catwalk, high fashion brands have also tapped into this aesthetic, releasing their own retro-inspired silhouettes — think Louis Vuitton’s LV Archlight and the Balenciaga Triple S.
The result is that sneakers have trumped luxury handbags to become the new in-demand accessory, with celebrities such as Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid routinely spotted rocking limited edition kicks.
“I think a lot of brands are now developing their women’s line and making them stronger than ever, as they see the importance of the fast-growing female market,” explain Jade Yeung and Celia Solf of The Store in Berlin. “Years ago, the sneaker industry was male-dominated, but now there are a lot more girls on the scene, so there’s a need for cooler sneakers in women’s sizes, rather than catching the smaller end of men’s.”
To capitalize on this, sportswear brands have started unveiling a wider selection of women’s-only styles, many of which capture the attention of men, too. From the extra-chunky FILA Disruptor to Nike’s forward-thinking M2K Tekno and ’00s-style P-6000 silhouettes, women and men alike have been hankering after these women-focused offerings. But what’s prompted the change?
To a degree, it’s down to the strategic way in which women’s sneakers are currently designed and distributed, with more women-specific outlets popping up. Danish retailer Naked, for instance, abides by its tagline of “Supplying Girls With Sneakers.” This year, the company has already released two high profile collaborations with Nike and adidas Consortium, both of which also proved popular among male consumers.
“With the Naked x adidas Consortium Magmur Runner, it was almost like designing a men’s shoe but with a female consumer in mind,” Naked creative producer Emily Petersen explains. “Women have always wanted exactly what men want when it comes to sneakers — because what is a gender-based shoe anyway?”
The Naked x adidas Consortium Ultraboost from the “Waves” pack is Naked’s bestseller — and the majority of the stock was bought by men. The shoe is dipped in a pastel-mint shade, a hue perhaps more traditionally associated with women’s fashion. “Nowadays, universal appeal is more down to the silhouette than the color,” says Petersen.
There has been a shift away from stereotypical tropes across the fashion industry, with “unisex” becoming the go-to buzzword. From a luxury perspective, co-ed catwalks have become standard, while sportswear and streetwear brands have started to debut lines tailored to everyone, from Lacoste’s SS19 collection and accompanying unisex lookbook to Nike’s recent “Gender Neutral” campaign.