With major brands like Nike and Adidas collaborating with artists such as Travis Scott and Pharell Williams, and having designers like Tinker Hatfield, who is the author of silhouettes like the Nike Air Max One and the Air Jordan 3 or Kanye West’s Yeezy Adidas, the sneaker industry has been raking in the dough. And while Nike has had women like fashion influencer Aleali May and Nordstroms vice president of creative projects Olivia Kim create their own versions of well known silhouettes such as May’s Air Jordan One or Kim’s Air Forces, Nia Spencer, a 21 year old Brooklyn native who just got the chance to create her own Nike Air Max 95, believes women are constantly left in the background. Nia explains how important it is for her as a black woman to make a name for herself in an industry that she feels needs to finally hand over the reigns. I’m your host Imani Seda and this is Sneaker Shawties.
In black slacks, a black crewneck and a black varsity jacket Nia’s volt OFF-WHITE air force one’s quickly catch my attention as we walk to Georgetown Cupcakes which is only a few blocks from her new job at OFF-WHITE. When we enter the shop even though its eight o’clock at night the smell of freshly baked cakes welcome us along with very enthusiastic employees .
After purchasing cupcakes and tea, Nia lets me know that while she loves sneakers, she is not a sneakerhead.
“I would not call myself a sneakerhead cause i don’t know about the history of sneakers. And when I say I like sneakers to someone, someone always asks me oh but do you really know about and I’m like not really I just like what I like I don’t really call myself a sneakerhead. People who don’t know me would call me a sneakerhead and associate me as a sneakerhead-“
“Like if they just saw your instagram they would be like-“
“They would be like oh she’s a sneakerhead. I personally don’t call myself that to protect myself from the question that comes after which is knowing about the history about sneakers and why this was made the way it is and stuff like that.”
While Nia might not like to call herself a sneakerhead based on technicalities , she’s loved shoes ever since her mom bought her a pink pair of cowboy boots.
“I would sleep with them. That was like my love for shoes. That was my love for fashion . I think I was like seven and my mom couldn’t get me out of them.”
Besides those pink boots, the only other shoes she used to wear were sneakers and she explains that her father wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My dad would never let me buy anything that was light up, anything that was lit up, sketches were not allowed. I was only able to do air force ones and Stan Smiths and Jordans and stuff like that.”
While her dad made sure she was laced with the coolest sneakers, he isn’t the only one who’s contributed to her love for kicks
“I have 5 brothers so they more or less are like “yo this sneaker is about to come out” and i was like oh okay I want a pair too. And when my sneaker collection started to grow, I was like oh I never want to stop.”
With almost twenty thousand followers on instagram and thousands of likes on photos showcasing her best sneaker style, the Nike by you Cultivator page slid into her DM’s asking her along with thirty five others to co create a shoe with them.
” I thought it was fake. I was like I don’t know what this is they are trying to trick me or whatever but they were like can you apply.”
“Was it a random person?”
” It was their instagram but I was like I don’t know. This doesn’t make sense to me but I was like whatever let me just apply. So I sent in this thing and they got back to me and was like oh you made it in and I was like okay. I still didn’t believe it. I actually told a friend about it and she was really that’s like a big deal. She was freaking out and I was like I don’t know why she’s freaking out this is obviously not real but it ended up being real. “
She explains that everything was actually done on the computer. All the creators had to do was accept an invitation, add their own photos and blurbs as to what inspired the shoe they designed, pick from four different silhouettes and choose their colors.
“So my sneaker, the theme was identity about who the people help me be who I am. The colors don’t have anything to do with that but my best friend she wears the air max 95, that’s her favorite sneaker and she’s my best friend. I’ve known her for 20 years. She doesn’t know this but I made the sneaker that she would wear and she wears them everyday.”
While her shoes we’re priced higher than she liked and therefore didn’t sell as many pairs as the other creatives, she says she received a lot of great feedback and her parents bought two pairs each. This whole process she says, has actually gotten her wanting to design more shoes for Nike.
“My goal for 2020-2023 is to have my own air force one with Nike and have it release. Like Olivia Kim just did 5 different silhouettes and I think she’s the creative collaborations at nordstroms. I don’t really know who she was. I think it’s obtainable. She got a jordan four, two air force ones. The Jordan 4’s I have them. Now seeing her do that, I just have to figure out who I am and how the world is going to see me so I can be like to nike yo I want to make an air force one.”
She doesn’t just want to be a sneaker designer she tells me, she also wants to inspire people.
” I want to be an inspiration for young black girls. I don’t know what that is, like I don’t know exactly what my path where it will take me but me personally I don’t know a lot of black women in fashion especially in the sneaker industry”.
Just as she’s been inspired by women such as Olivia Kim, she’d like to be that for someone else.
“I want my child to know that anything is possible for her in any area because she knows there’s another women doing it. I’m in fashion, I don’t really know where i am in fashion but i want to create a path for a little black girl to be like okay shes doing that. Just the way I looked at Olivia Kim, she’s doing this. Hopefully one day I can make my own air force one or I can do this. I want a little girl to see me and be like I can do this you know give them hope because there’s no hope.”
She explains that when it comes to women in the sneaker world, we should be able to create more sneakers. She believes that women need to make their own seats at the table.
“I feel like for the girls that are actually into it and love it I feel like it should be heightened. I feel like we need to speak more about it, talk more about it because it’s a man’s world and sneaker culture is a mans world but it is also a women’s world and I feel like we could do it better.”
Her hope for the future is more equality.
“I feel like it should be equal. It’s always men that are highlighted and women need to be too. Sometimes if its a women’s shoe its super girly. I’m not trying to wear pink all the time. The world thinks we want pink glitter. I really do love my bred fours and they are black red and grey. We are just as human as men.”
Nia wants the same as many other female sneakerheads like Lauren Cardenas wants, the same shoes and opportunities in this industry that men have. But while there might be bumps and blocks in her road, Nia’s ultimate goal is to design for Nike and inspire women just like she has been. Thank you for listening to Sneaker Shawties where female sneaker enthusiast tell their stories and opinions. Tune in to episode three where Danielle Leguillou an aspiring stylist who has gotten the attention from thousands of people because of her super cozy sneaker fits talks to us about what her journeys been like helping style for sneaker companies such as KITH. This is your host Imani Seda.