In the 1980s, with the arrival of Michael Jordan’s Air Jordan’s Nike launched “sneaker culture”. From fitness shoe to street-chic accessory, the rise of sneaker culture mirrors one of the greatest creations influenced by pop culture, music, and sports. Predicted to reach $220.2 billion in value by 2020 (Weinswig, 2016), the obsession for sneakers is thriving. But majority of women feel excluded. Female “sneakerheads”, the term largely used to describe a person who glorifies, collects, sells and/or trades sneakers as a form of a hobby, have become a driving force behind the rapidly growing market. Until now, the sneakerhead scene has been intensely male dominated.
In 2017, Bloomberg, a data and media company, conducted a study that proves women make up more than 85% of consumer purchases in the United States (Lewis, n.d.). Most women, when shopping, consider the product they pick up before purchasing. This may include longevity, quality, and price. Women ultimately make smart purchases, ones that include special discounts and offers so they feel they are buying with a good purpose and, good bargain. Just Ask a Woman: Cracking the Code of What Women Want and How They Buy (Quinlan, 2003) explains why women prefer a purchase that is sustainable and useful while men buy the first thing that they feel will work for them. When many women become bored, stressed, or even when they are feeling great, they shop. Ebates, a member rebate site, conducted a recent survey that proves 66% of American adults and 75% of teens agree shopping makes them feel better, and is a good cure for boredom (Bain, 2016).
Women make up multiple markets as they hold several positions in society. Women are primary care-givers for children and elderly, partners, relatives, in-laws, and colleagues. In general, women shop on behalf of others (Brennan, 2013). Often women take charge in gift giving. Women take care of the searching, shopping, preparing, wrapping, and giving of gifts. When given satisfying service women consumers tell friends, family, and others, which brings in more business for retailers (Brennan, 2013). Women also make up 74.9% of household shopping (MRI’s survey of the American consumers, 2011). Ultimately, women control most of the shopping, as they understand what they are buying and why.
In October of 1997 the National Organization for Women and the Ms. Foundation for Women exploited Nike, the American retailer, of labor abuse. In a letter to Nike’s chairman, Philip Knight, both organizations spoke on how Nike advertisements targeting women relay images of encouragement and motivation but the women making the shoes are treated unfairly and poorly (Greenhouse, 1997). The women presented in the ads do not reflect the treatment in the factories. Nike’s questionable labor practices may suggest that Nike did not support women.
Some may argue that Nike has created better lives for people through its job offerings, which is true, but it has also destroyed lives through its abuse. According to Nike’s human resources Chief Monique Matheson, Nike has vowed to address its gender pay gaps and cultural inequity problems (April 4, 2018). Nike’s gender opportunity gap is a representation of their biased corporate culture. Putting more women in powerful positions would drive Nike’s women advertising and product development to be more inclusive. Not only this, but it would give women a chance to prove they are just as important in sports and sneaker culture as men.
Just a few years prior to Nike’s labor exploitation, it was reported that Nike spent more than $138 million on ads, but only 15% of that amount was targeted at women consumers (Enrico, 1995). Nike believed women’s advertising would compromise their sports image which is why most went to target teen-boys and men (Grow, 2006). Nike’s women’s campaigns influenced women to become more empowered and entitled but did not include product emphasis on sneakers. In early 2009, Nike summoned gendered rivalry through its integrated recruitment campaign. Ads showed men and women running with the captions “One more thing for men to rule” and “Ladies first. Men second.” The Men vs. Women Challenge suggests an indirect call for gender power. Nike has continuously made men more superior through its marketing and product development therefore making them the largest targeted audience.
While it is undeniable there are enormous contrasts in the ways sneakers are made for, and showcased to, men and women, some women agree it is not the intention of the brand to exclude women from sneaker culture. The founder and CEO of NYC-based streetwear apparel brand Married to the Mob spoke with Paper magazine (October 2, 2015), saying “… Adidas, Nike, Reebok and Puma understand now. They’re starting to put more marketing money and more energy behind women’s …” (Weiss, 2015). This may indicate that brands are realizing women generate majority of profits.
Sports endorsements show that sports more strongly influence the exclusion of women from sneaker culture. According to Forbes.com “Nike spends $2 billion a year on marketing, spending lavishly on endorsements for super star athletes and celebrities” (Goldman, 2012). In 1996, Nike introduced its first women’s sneaker designed for a female athlete, Sheryl Swoopes. The creation of this shoe gave other female athletes the feeling of belonging to the sports industry. This sparked a movement among other sports sneaker companies and by 1999 six signature sneakers honoring female athletes were on the market (Gaillot, 2016). Now, in today’s market, there are zero shoes named after female athletes. Top male athletes Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin, all have no championship titles, have signature sneakers.
Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator at Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum says “I think this has to do with our society’s complicated relationship with the ideas and femininity and athleticism” (Bobila, 2015). In an industry mostly driven by sports and music, where men are largely looked after, women are left behind. In a Nike women’s focus group on April 13, 2018, Ariana Rodriguez says “for so long men reigned superior to women, that still remains true in the sneaker industry.” A group of seven women came together and agreed typically, female sneakers are dressed in “girly” colors such as pink and purple and accented with glitter and such things. The few sneakers created for women do not reflect the wants and needs of most women.
“Women’s participation in sneaker culture is not-yet-resolved-issue,” said Semmelhack. Matt Powell of The NPD Group estimated women’s sneakerhead market at $200 million, a number that would be significantly larger if sneaker companies recognized the demand for women’s specified products. Powell specifies women’s sneaker sales in the US have not grown due to lack of women’s specified products (Powell, 2014). Athletic companies cannot ignore 51% of the world’s population as potential consumers. Whether it’s female shopping habits or
their impact on society and sports, female sneakerheads prove to be a valuable market.
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