These 5 women are building the future of sneaker culture for her

While the demand for sneakers has grown tremendously over the years, satisfying women in sneakers has been a slow and steady process. Sure, there have been more releases exclusive to the female sneaker shopper than ever before, but there’s more that could be done. While gaming enthusiasts are pushing for inclusivity, sneaker retail companies are playing a vital role in bridging the gap between customer demands and the brands themselves.

Luckily, there is a small but mighty group of women-owned sneaker stores that are paving the way for a brighter future in sneaker culture. Not only do they foster relationships and create opportunities that have probably never existed before, but they also build community and invest in a customer base that will only grow in years to come.

In May, Nike hosted a panel at its Los Angeles headquarters as part of its Future 50 For Her event that discussed sneaker culture for her with the business owners and experts who know it best. “These women are agents of change, they are catalysts. They’re making waves in the sneaker space,” said moderator Karie Conner, vice president/general manager of North America Kids’ Business. “They go out of their way to be driving forces within the communities.” Read on to find out more.

Sally Aguirre of Sallys Shoes (El Monte, CA)

An OG in the sneaker industry with family roots in shoe sales, Sally Aguirre opened her boutique in 1988 at the age of 27. “A business down the street that was owned by men saw me opening a shoe store and they would come up to me and be like, ‘Oh no, you won’t have a sneaker account; you’re not going to have a Nike account,” she recalls. “But they’re gone and I’m still here.”

Her favorite sneakers: Air Jordan 11 Retro and Nike Air Max 90

What excites him most about sneaker culture“What excites me the most is the unknowing, the mystery. What are they going to design next? For me, it’s intriguing – something different, materials, textures, styles. It’s the unknown.”

For aspiring sneaker business owners: “I had a client come in the other day and she was like, ‘Hey Sally, how can I open a business? I have X dollars.’ And I said, “Make sure you have your financial stability to back up if you fall and make sure you have that passion for it.” It’s about believing in yourself and moving forward. We can do it. That’s how we got these beautiful ladies here.

Abby Albino of Makeway (Toronto, Canada)

In 2020, Abby Albino turned her love of sneakers and the NBA into a business by opening Makeway, Canada’s first and only sneaker boutique for (and entirely run and funded by) women. “To be able to work in basketball and have sneakers be a part of my life, both professionally career-wise and also passionately as well, has been awesome,” she says.

Her favorite sneakers: Nike Penny and P-6000

What excites him most about sneaker culture“The sneaker industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and that’s why there aren’t a lot of women in HQ. In the future, the more women who can impact culture, the more opportunities there will be. We always say Makeway is the first, but it’s definitely not the last women’s-only sneaker shop in Canada. So we’re very excited about building the Canadian women’s athletic shoe industry. »

For aspiring sneaker business owners: “The first thing we did before we even opened our doors was create think tanks about the pain points of being a woman in the sneaker industry as a consumer. We literally went through the list and we just said, ‘We’re going to fix this. We can fix this.’ Showing something new, fresh and innovative in the retail space has been very helpful in building the community and listening is definitely the priority.

I also think it’s really important to make sure women walk into our space and see themselves in all of our products. We love sharing our floor space with our big suppliers like Nike, but also providing opportunities for local women, especially at BIPOC. When we bring in a new supplier, we want to make sure our women can actually see themselves in those products. »

Beth Birkett of Union and Bephie’s Beauty Supply (Los Angeles, CA)

After getting involved in the sneaker and streetwear scene in the 90s as co-owner of Union Los Angeles, Beth Birkett went solo with Bephie’s Beauty Supply in 2020. “How can we empower ourselves by creating a diversified market? Birkett asks. “I really hope to inspire other women, especially black and brown women, to enter the creative world and create, whether it’s shoes, clothes or whatever. That’s really important and it really helps to move forward, not just the culture, but the world.

Her favorite sneakers: Nike Huarache and Union collaboration with Cortez, set to drop later in 2022

What excites him most about sneaker culture“What excites me the most is to see who the new leaders are going to be. It’s been really difficult for everyone for the last two years, financially; it’s been difficult for people to work and to keep their jobs. It’s the same with owning a business — it’s a lot of pressure, it’s a lot of stress. But I’m excited for the future. Once we get over this hump, I’m looking forward to see the rest.

For aspiring sneaker business owners: “It’s good to have mentorship. It’s like, when you’re having financial problems or even just problems that only women can relate to, being able to call someone like you Jennifer, or Abby, or Sally, and being like, hey, I live that, can you give advice or just be able to let off steam even. Your community is really important.

Jennifer Ford of Premium Goods (Houston, TX)

After living in New York, Jennifer Ford opened Premium Goods in Houston in 2004 – a store she said was long overdue in such a big Texas city. “The access that people had to sneakers in New York felt totally necessary to me in Houston,” Ford says. “Over the years I’ve seen a lot, but more recently the consumer who comes to the store is motivated, inspired and excited.”

His favorite basketball: Air Jordan 4

What excites him most about sneaker culture“I’m excited about what he’s becoming. Sneakers are now commonplace. A pair of sneakers can get you into the clubs; you can exchange it for other products. People who didn’t necessarily know where they stood, in corporate America, have found careers and businesses and a place in this world through sneakers and design. It just opens the doors to a lot of things that we didn’t know existed before.

For aspiring sneaker business owners: “This trip has not been easy for us. We don’t go to banks to get such easy loans to run our businesses. So the way we stay alive is through our community. It’s important for us to be able to give back to them, and they give back to us. It is essential to support women’s businesses because we are the leaders of tomorrow. If young women and women entrepreneurs don’t see people like us, they don’t believe they can do the same.

Julie Houge of Wish Atlanta (Atlanta, Georgia)

Julie Houge followed in her mother’s footsteps in retail, a buyer for Davidson’s before she became Macy’s, becoming a partner and CEO of Wish Atlanta. “I was always into shoes and clothes, but my love for sneakers started in sports,” says Houge. “I also started my career in sports with the Atlanta Hawks, so I got to experience the storytelling firsthand and I think that transformed my journey into what I do for Wish.”

Her favorite sneakers: Air Jordan 1 and Nike Blazer

What excites him most about sneaker culture“What’s really exciting to me is the innovation and creativity that’s going on, not just from the design of the sneakers, but all the way to the way they go to store. We have to fight technology, and then there are new ways to get it into the hands of the community you serve. Not only are we seeing new things coming from the design side, but we’re also seeing a new understanding of how to bring them out.

On how to support small sneaker businesses: “Partnering with a brand like Nike is so special to us. They’ve seen us evolve and grow with the trials and tribulations of being a business, but they’ve been a partner in all of that growth. So they’re advisors, mentorships, questions, just navigating the landscape of this business together has been really great.

Disclosure: Nike provided travel and accommodation to attend and cover Nike Future 50 For Her.

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