Streetwear, a notorious boys’ club, is spending more time in the spotlight of mainstream fashion as heavyweight Supreme rises to billion-dollar brand status and retailers like Bergdorf Goodman carry inventory from Kith. But is women’s streetwear rising along with it? In this series, we’ll ask women inside streetwear to weigh in on the current standing and potential for their category.
Aleali May received a crash course in streetwear in 2011, when she went to work at Chicago-based RSVP Gallery during college. Opened by streetwear greats Don C and Virgil Abloh, the concept store opened her eyes to streetwear culture and inspired her to start a personal style blog, showcasing her preferred combination of streetwear and luxury fashions.
As the blog grew in popularity, bolstered by RSVP Gallery’s cult following, May’s Instagram following also soared — and brands took notice. Now with more than 200,000 followers, the 25-year-old May has several partnerships under her belt. Most notably, she collaborated with the Jordan Brand on an Air Jordan sneaker that dropped last month. It made her the second woman ever to team with the brand, and the first to partner on styles for men and children.
Fresh from a trip to Hong Kong, where she was working with Moncler, May discussed how the Jordan collaboration came to be, what streetwear’s future holds for women and why the sneaker resale market, as it stands, is here to stay.
Are more women working in streetwear since you started working in the industry?
When I started at RSVP, a women’s presence wasn’t as visible as the men’s — but I’ve always had supportive men around me, saying there should be more women. This year has been the most progressive; ever since Nike’s “The Force is Female” campaign and Cortez campaign [featuring Bella Hadid], and you have Cardi B — [streetwear] is gradually opening up.
How did you get into streetwear?
I’ve always been a tomboy and spent my money on Stussy, and my uncle used to buy me Jordans. My first job was at Pacsun — there were hip-hop tees and Nikes, and skateboard stuff. And I hung out on Fairfax. It just came naturally to me. I started on Tumblr when I was in high school. My biggest inspiration was Pharrell — and Kanye, too. They started this look that was streetwear mixed with designer brands, mixed with hip-hop, mixed with skate.
Did any women inspire you?
There were Vashtie [Kola] and Don C’s wife [Kristen Noel Crawley] and [Joon] Ambush. And I used to be online looking at [women-led] Married to the Mob and Hellz Bellz, and Dimepiece. These women inspired my “I can be a tomboy if I want, but I can be a girly girl” aesthetic.
What did it take to get your career off the ground?
I was in my third year of college in Chicago, and something inspired me to go back to LA. I moved home, and two weeks later, I styled Kendrick [Lamar], and then it all happened.
Your social media following blew up, and brands wanted to work with you?
At the time, bloggers were fairly new, and “influencers” weren’t even a thing, but I started being given all of these opportunities. It’s still crazy to me. I just got back from Hong Kong, and the whole time, my photographer and I were like, “Wow! This is actually life!” Growing up, I thought my job would be sitting at a desk, paying off my college education, not really doing what I like. A whole creative space has opened up, and it’s really exciting.
Do you have an Instagram strategy?
I post about projects I’m working on and things I like. I always take pictures of Jordans and Chanel bags together, because I feel like this type of girl is still very new to everyone other than girls in streetwear. I do the same sort of thing on my blog: I mix recaps of fashion week with outfit posts. I’m kind of giving you a sense of what the culture is, but from a woman’s perspective: How does she exist in this space?
Do you shop the women’s lines streetwear brands have launched?
When I walk into a store, I look at both sides. I look for certain things in certain departments, though: I know the men’s side has more structured pants and heavier jackets, and I know women’s will have intimates and two-pieces. It also depends on what fit I’m going for. But usually, it’s just: I’m going for a streetwear look. What would make a dope outfit?
How did your Air Jordan collab come to be?
It was a year-long process — basically, something I was sitting on, and I was sworn to secrecy. Frank Cooker from the Air Jordan brand reached out to me — it wasn’t even about a collaboration, at first. It was just: “We see that you wear Jordans, and we want to recognize you.” So they started sending me Jordans, and the relationship grew from there.
What was the response when the shoe finally dropped?
I kept hearing, “Yo, I can’t believe you have grown-ass men sleeping outside for your shoe.” It was super dope; I used to wait in line for shoes! Then see men wearing it as much as women, that was sick. I just wanted my design to be universal; whether you are a guy or a girl, and whether or not you know this is my collaboration, I wanted you to look at the shoe and be like, “This is fresh. I could wear this every day.”
Do you see the sneaker resale market as problematic for the industry?
A lot of people don’t like it, but — like it or hate it — it’s going to be a part of this culture; it has to exist. Eminem came out with a “friends and family” Jordan [in 2015] — it was for his friends and family, so it was free. But for resale, it was $30,000. Because there is the internet, there is the resale game. There are people who will pay a lot of money for these products. Even the original selling price is high for many of them: the Adidas NMD goes for as much as $250.
What do Supreme’s recent funding and Louis Vuitton collaboration mean for the space?
In my eyes, Supreme has always been supreme. I always tell people that streetwear is also luxury; when people are lining up and spending their dollars, that’s for a luxury. When the Supreme and Louis Vuitton collaboration launched, Supreme went from being a luxury brand to being on the same level as Louis Vuitton. Two brands that were far apart came together, and it made people look at luxury in a new way.
If you had to predict, where will streetwear be in five years?
Brands like Supreme aren’t going to go anywhere, because they established foundations long before these big collaborations. And women are going to be more included — no, they’re going to be at the forefront.