Female Sneakerheads Will Change the Game (Again) in 2016

Ten years ago, I signed an online petition for brands to include smaller sizes for women. I don’t know what even happened with that or if it was real…and while it does sound a bit silly, the need was there and I wasn’t alone. Back then, we didn’t have Instagram or Twitter or even as many blogs to look to for inspiration or to connect with other female sneakerheads. Back then, wearing sneakers also meant being a tomboy. Back then, wearing sneakers was either seen as childish or lazy. Today, I say: bye.

Today, it is no longer uncommon to see women wearing sneakers outside of the gym or sports. The sneaker is no longer a scapegoat for lazy dressing, and instead speaks as a fashion statement. What once was a segregated community of women discussing kicks and posting #wdywt photos has expanded into a larger mainstream demographic and into the #ootd realm. Sneakers are no longer seen as solely for sport but also for fashion, parallel to what is also happening on the men’s side.

As the female sneaker community continues to grow, brands are finally taking notice. Jordan Brand is exploring a women’s line; Nike is including small sizes in more (not all) releases; Ronnie Fieg has been putting out small sizes and is working on a women’s collection; and blogs are spotlighting sportswear/streetswear style geared towards women.

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I’ve been sitting on this topic for a while now, and the question has been especially prevalent these days as I meet more and more people in the industry. I won’t tell my exhausted sob story about all the sneakers I couldn’t get because of my small shoe size (which, by the way I don’t think is that small – 5Y which converts to a 6.5 women’s). I will, however, talk about how the bright light at the end of the tunnel.

The culture is shifting and women are finally being recognized within the community. And this is where 2016 changes everything.

For starters, last week I attended the opening of Community54’s first women’s (and kids) focused store in Toronto, an extension of their West Queen West (Toronto) and Alphabet City (NYC) locations.

“We spend a lot of time getting yelled at by our girlfriends/moms/sisters/friends about the lack of representation for women’s sneakers,” co-owner Daymon Green says with a laugh. “We wanted to be ahead of the game so now is the time.”

Technology has made the sneaker community more accessible and interest is growing from a number of sources: runners/performance enthusiasts diving into sportswear; fashion girls looking to their favorite blogs for inspiration. And the aesthetic is different now. We are moving away from the “sneakerhead” types toward more style-centered types. Green adds, “It’s less tomboy, less super sneakerhead. More mashup of high/low designer mixed with street culture.”

We are finding more balanced personalities who can provide both sneaker and style insight. Women are exploring retro models not just of Jordans, but also Nike, adidas, PUMA, Reebok, Saucony, Vans, and Asics–and they’re styling them. This generation of female sneaker consumers (I wouldn’t go as far as to call them “sneakerheads”) marries the form and function of sneakers and style–myself included (shameless plug).

In 2016, it will be less about your favorite female sneakerheads and more about style and the community as a whole. We’re looking to Internet “celebrities” like designer and Illustrator Sophia Chang, who dropped a collection with PUMA last summer; photographer Christina Paik, who consistently puts up street style inspiration; YesJulz, who is always seen rocking heat and is tight with Ronnie Fieg and LeBron James…and then there’s Kylie Jenner, who may not exactly fit under “sneakerhead” but her influence can’t be denied as she opens sneaker culture (and pretty much anything she touches) to her millions of followers.

The mash-up of high/low, sporty and girly, and sneakerhead and stylist makes up this generation of the female sneaker demographic. There really is something for everyone. Women who never wore sneakers before are even wearing them out to the club. Green points out, “As long as your outfit is tight, you’re good.”

Brands are also reaching outside of professional athletes and pushing campaigns around celebrities and personalities. PUMA recently teamed up with Rihanna and adidas has had a longstanding relationship with Rita Ora. Nike hasn’t picked up a celebrity endorsement (yet?) but Vashtie’s collaborated with Jordan Brand many years ago. Additionally, these brands, along with many others, seed popular Internet personalities.

This past year, we saw sneaker collaborations between brands and designers transition into high-end luxury brands participating in the culture with their own interpretations of sneakers. From Chanel to Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Celine, Christian Louboutin, Balenciaga, and more–the sneaker world transcends mainstream culture into couture.

2016 is bringing change. I can feel it. It’s no longer just about the shoes, it’s about the aesthetic–and that is what will continue the growth of the female sneaker community. As of now, the women’s market isn’t extreme enough to attract campouts for releases, but there also haven’t been any limited/quickstrike women’s releases yet. Let’s see what happens when Yeezy Boosts trickle into the smaller size categories.

Women are no strangers to lining up for releases and one quick Google search for the Balmain x H&M release or any sample sale ever can testify to that. Will women start lining up for shoes? With the way this community is booming, it’s likely the next step.

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