When Vashtie Kola became the first woman to design a Jordan sneaker in 2010 — 25 years after the dawn of the shoe’s revolutionary debut — it was a feat for a woman to break into the boys club that is streetwear. Fortunately, Aleali May, a style consultant, designer and model, continued to break down the gendered walls of the sneaker industry in 2017.
But for May, because “it’s taken this long” to bring another female voice into the forefront of the design process, pledging to “get this whole women’s market rolling,” has been crucial in her journey with the Jordan brand, she said on this week’s Glossy Podcast.
After working at RSVP Gallery, an upscale and streetwear retailer in Chicago owned by Virgil Abloh and Don C, May was offered the opportunity to make her own mark in Jordan history. And with that opportunity came the guiding question of storytelling.
With Air Jordan, “Every silhouette has its own story,” said May. As a force integral to both the ins and outs of the fashion industry, May’s unique perspective on the industry has continued to evolve, specifically concerning the peaks and troughs of the pandemic and its impact on inclusivity within the industry as a whole.
In terms of design, May continues to make her mark in the traditionally male-dominated sneaker industry. “The more seasoned I get in this, the more willing I am to try out new silhouettes,” she said.
And looking towards the future of streetwear and the fashion industry, “My whole focus is [to try] to include more women’s brands, more women’s ideas, more women’s products, and, of course, unisex as well,” said May.
Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
Growing up with Jordan
“Growing up, it’s always been around me and I grew up in South Central Los Angeles. All the girls around me had on Jordans and Air Forces and Air Maxes. Again they were wearing it with their Chanel, their Gucci bag and these are the first things that I’m seeing that helped inspire my personal style. Again, I’m a product of my environment. So of course, I’m like, ‘ Ooo I want the fresh Jordan’s shoe. I wanted something else, sunglasses to go with it or a Gucci belt’. And naturally, again, all the girls around me look like me. As you get older, this idea of when you become a woman, you have to wear X, Y and Z. Those sneakers you’ve got to get those up, girl. But the older that I’m getting, women, like myself too, [say], ‘No, I’m going to keep wearing this. What do you mean? This is my heritage, as well.’ The sneaker space, on a social media platform, definitely is getting bigger, definitely is growing, there are definitely women who are getting inspired all around the world. There may be a woman all the way on the other side of the world and feel, ‘Oh, I want to go and get some Jordans because she saw, someone over here wearing it, and it looked fresh to her. This is a space that’s growing.”
Equality in sneakers
“We are looking for equality. If you’re going to make the same shoes that Michael Jordan wore, how come we can’t have them in our size? Why does it stop? If a man wears a size five in women’s shoes, good luck ever finding that size in some silhouettes or colorways. It’s again [about] including us in it and also getting our perspective of it because the eyes of a woman [are] going to look different[ly at] a Jordan than a male’s perspective… It’s creating this open space for people to feel comfortable in being themselves. You don’t always have to wear heels. You can switch it up and still be sexy. You can still be super fresh. You can still be a tomboy and dance in it and have fun and live your life.”
On the prospect of her own brand
“That has slowly come with the evolution. At every step in my personal work, I’ve sat there for a little bit, marinated — you’ve got to marinate enough to get all the flavors, and then put it on the grill; it’s amazing — so that’s how I try to treat it. Patience, savoring up those specific times and then saying, ‘Okay, how do I elevate this.’ Even when I was styling, it was, ‘Wow, I’ve always loved design. I’ve always loved sneakers, this is a natural elevation, creating sneakers, boom.’ And then again, tapping into that, we created two collections with the Jordan brand. It came with merch as well as shoes. So again, [its] a part of the natural process of being a designer … I’m open to trying it. And, at the end of the day, I can say, I absolutely do not like doing this and will never do it again. But [we’ve] got to try it out in order to solidify [it]. But people always talk about, ‘Oh this slasher generation’. And honestly, this ‘slasher generation’ is nothing new. Artists were not only painters, they were [also] sculptors, they did ceramics. Again, it’s still under this fashion umbrella, exploring everything to do with style, clothing, fabrics and experiences.”