In celebration of Black History Month, it’s only right to recognize what’s become more than a trend in the footwear industry:
Black women have taken over.
And we’re not just talking about women’s-exclusive sneaker releases. At the helm of global sportswear companies, such as Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Puma, Converse and more, are Black women — athletes, designers, executives and creative minds — shaping the culture of the business.
The foundation was paved in the ’90s by the early icons of the WNBA, carried on through the 2010s by artists pushing fashion like Rihanna, style icons carving a new path such as Teyana Taylor and a sports legend breaking barriers in Maya Moore.
The continued impact of Black women has never been more noticeable than now. From the O.G., who 25 years ago became the first woman in sports history to get her own signature sneaker — a series still relevant today in Retro form — to the Queen joining Adidas for the biggest female partnership in the history of Three Stripes. The GOAT in women’s sports has her own building at Nike’s headquarters, while her older sister, who once signed the then-richest endorsement deal by a female athlete, is wrapping up her career as the face of a classic brand. And when Puma and Converse sought a return to relevancy in basketball, each brand’s plan involved signing a WNBA point guard.
These are The Undefeated’s top female figures in footwear. Whether stars in sport, music or fashion, they double as designers, trend leaders and spokespeople for major brands. But, most importantly, they’re all Black women.
Aleali May / jordan BRand
Aleali May never hesitates to shout out Uncle G — her father’s brother, whom she credits for sparking her passion for sneakers. During her childhood in South Central Los Angeles, every time Uncle G got new kicks, he made sure to get a pair for his niece, too. Years later, after starting in the fashion industry working for Don C and Virgil Abloh’s RSVP Gallery in Chicago, May got her own Air Jordan, as the first woman in Jordan Brand history to design a unisex sneaker.
Her milestone extended a path set by Vashtie Kola, the brand’s first female collaborator, who designed a ladies-exclusive Air Jordan 2 in 2010. May’s “Satin Shadow” Air Jordan 1, released in 2017, paid homage to home, inspired by the corduroy slippers her dad used to wear from the swap meets at LA’s Slauson Super Mall.
“The Satin Shadow was not only a win for Los Angeles,” said May at Sneaker Con in 2019. “It was a win for women, in general, to show that we can exist in a male-dominated space and make a shoe that both men and women love.”
The 28-year-old May, a model, stylist and sneaker designer with nearly 500,000 followers on Instagram, now has a trio of Air Jordans to her name and another coming soon. In 2018, she teamed up with WNBA star and Jordan Brand athlete Maya Moore for the design of the “Court Lux” Air Jordan 1, before dropping her “Millennial Pink” Air Jordan 6 in 2019. May has already taken to Instagram to show off her latest collab — a blue and green edition of the Air Jordan 1 High CMFT — expected to officially arrive sometime in 2021. A girl from South Central who became one of the faces of the Jordan Brand, May is puttin’ on for all women alike.
“We’ve always been sneakerheads,” May told The Undefeated in 2018, “but we’re starting to get noticed, and it’s only the beginning.”
Natasha Cloud / Converse
In 2020, Washington Mystics point guard Natasha Cloud became the first woman to sign an endorsement deal with Converse since the brand’s return to basketball in 2018 after nearly a decade away from the sport. Yet the week Converse had planned to officially…