TO ANYONE LOOKING FOR SNEAKERS INSPIRED BY WOMEN, BUT MADE FOR EVERYONE
To anyone looking for sneakers inspired by women, but made for everyone,
You will love Titi Finlay. She is a Scotland-born, London-based Social Platforms Manager of the sneaker reseller marketplace Laced. In a world of knowledgeable and at times intimidating forces in the sneaker industry, Titi is kind and down to earth. She's designed her own Nike Air Max 90 and she can rattle off names of the designers for different shoes as quickly as she can talk about what she did that day. For someone working in a widely male-dominated space, we anticipated someone with their guard up, perhaps a little more jaded. Instead, Titi talked openly about her experiences, her changing style, and even laughed about her 2010 bohemian phase you can find in the depths of her IG. In a culture where everyone’s favorite persona is to be mysterious and stoic, Titi is welcoming and cheerful. She knows she wasn’t born with her knowledge of sneakers, and is committed to continue learning about the industry she is in.
Titi was eager to share her knowledge and love for sneakers with us and she carries the same contagious and inviting excitement across her platforms. But don’t let her cheerful demeanor fool you, she is crystal clear about the lack of representation women face in the sneaker industry. Titi reminds everyone that women are not a special-interest group, we are over half the population and we are not satisfied just because you made that one silhouette in a pastel color-way.
We were pumped to learn about the people that are responsible for some of our favorite sneaker silhouettes, how they originated, and what kind of uphill battles they had to go through to create them. Between Titi’s depth of knowledge, commitment to inclusivity, and joyful nature, we hope to see more forces like her in the streetwear industry.
STREET GRANDMA: How did you get started in the sneaker industry?
Titi: When I moved to London I had zero connections. I worked in restaurants for 2 years until I decided I needed to do something to make a career in creative work. So I offered myself as an intern for Katherine Ormerod, an editorial director, who mentored me and put me on to other internships at Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. Eventually I started working for ASOS creating their sneaker content. I did a show for them called Sneakers in 60 Seconds where I would talk about sneakers every week.
What is your all time favorite shoe and why?
That’s tough. If I had to pick one shoe to wear for the rest of my life, it would probably be the Air Force 1 because it’s completely timeless. Anyone can wear it regardless of their style. As far as design and history appreciation, probably the Air Max family, especially the silhouettes that Tinker Hatfield designed. He completely revolutionized sneakers. There had never been a visible air bubble before his Air Max 1. Nike even tried to get him fired over it because they were worried it would ruin the brand. But it was an instant hit and changed sneaker design forever.
Is there a specific sneaker that sparked your love of them?
When I was a kid and teenager, I was really into skate shoes and heels. While everyone else decorated their shelves with posters, pictures, or books, I displayed all my shoes. But my appreciation of the design and history of sneakers really started when I moved to London. I remember seeing the Air Max 95 in an off-white and cream colorway. At the time I was working in restaurants and hardly had any money but I saved up for what felt like ages, went to JD sports, and bought that pair of shoes. After that, I was just obsessed.
Titi and her painting of a Pro Green Dunk High
How did that shoe make you feel? Did it make you feel differently than more traditionally “feminine” shoes?
The feeling of buying a pair of sneakers and the whole experience of it - opening the box and unwrapping it, there’s nothing that compares to it. Particularly the Air Max 95 because it’s quite jarring. It’s so chunky and has such a unique design. I definitely have more of a design appreciation for sneakers than a pair of heels because there is more of an aspect of longevity. High heels, they tend to go in and out of style. Whereas sneakers, like the Air Max 95, have been cool since 1995.
When did you start to define your style?
My style really changed after moving to London when I was 21. When I bought that pair of sneakers, it sort of defined the direction my style was going and I was like, okay, this is actually me. I started to learn that I don’t think I'm a very feminine person and now my style is quite unisex. I love oversized blazers, hoodies, and t-shirts. I am all about chic, timeless basics with an occasional splash of color.
What are your thoughts on how brands design shoes specifically for women?
There is definitely a disconnect that is happening, they still “pink it and shrink it.” A lot of the women’s exclusives look like what they think women would want. I know several people at Nike who work on product design but only one woman - she does the color design for the current Dunks coming out. The majority of product designers are men. I have confidence brands will bring on more women designers, and I've had some conversations where they're looking to get insight from the female community which is very promising.
In 2020, Titi was chosen as one of the 20 London creatives to concept and co-create their own sneaker with Nike. With a soft spot for retro runners, she went with the Air Max 90. The colorway took inspiration from "Watermelon" and "Spruce" colorways, previously only released in men's sizes.
Can you talk about the message that comes across when brands “pink it and shrink it?”
It's setting a bad example. They’re assuming that if they make something pastel, women will buy it. The one that really got me going was when they made the women's Dunk Disrupt. The Dunk is such a classic silhouette and its popularity and high resale value proves that people aren’t looking for changes. It's perfect as it is. Then they decided to make a women's version of it, a chunkier shoe in pastel colors instead of giving the female consumer what we really want - size inclusivity.
It seems like it’s a shot in the dark.
Exactly. There is a lack of storytelling or context when it comes to color-ways for women. They might come out with an Easter pastel dunk, with pinks, purples, and yellows because that’s what they think will keep the female consumer happy. Seems more like appeasement rather than genuine design. It isn’t satisfying for those who are particularly into the heritage of a silhouette or color-way of a new release.
"When the Jordan 4 Sail Women’s came out, there was a huge uproar from the male sneaker community because it was a women’s exclusive. As a result, they agreed to do a run of men’s sizing. However, when the Jordan 5 Sail was released in only men’s sizing and the women’s community really wanted the shoe, nothing was done - they didn’t even acknowledge it."
Can you talk about what it’s like being a woman in this industry?
When it comes to the first generation of sneakerheads, they’re almost all 40-50 year old, white men. When I’d go to brand events, it’s this group of men that are in charge. I felt judged for being interested in sneakers - like I was ruining their little club.
When did you decide to be more vocal about how they designed women’s exclusives and the lack of proper sizing?
What made me naturally speak out about everything was the amount of releases that were coming out. I would go on the Nike SNKRS App and realize on the day I’d wake up at 8:00 AM, that they didn’t even make my size (UK4; US 6.5). But more specifically, when the Jordan 4 Sail Women’s came out, there was a huge uproar from the male sneaker community because it was a women’s exclusive. As a result, they agreed to do a run of men’s sizing. However, when the Jordan 5 Sail was released in only men’s sizing and the women’s community really wanted the shoe, nothing was done - they didn’t even acknowledge it.
You mentioned you felt judged, like you were ruining an exclusive club. Can you talk a bit about gate-keeping in the sneaker world?
Most of it is from people online. The internet is full of trolls and judgement, but when it comes to women, the comments are always sexist. When my female friends post their sneaker collection in Hypebeast or something, the comments are always like “What a rich little girl”, “Her daddy paid for them”, or “Her boyfriend bought them for her.”
What do you say to people who say, “Why don’t you just buy children’s or grade school (GS) sizes?”
Because the quality is shit compared to the adult sizes. Half the time they don’t actually release a GS version. There’s just so many misconceptions.
As somebody who works in social media, how do you deal with the negativity, particularly the sexism?
Anything that I put on social media, I always think 3 times before I post. I am really trying to make sure everything that I do feels positive. As far as dealing with trolls, I don’t respond to them. When the High Snobiety article came out, there were so many trolls and sexist comments. I just try to rise above that because I am actually able to prove people wrong quite quickly. I know my stuff. In this industry, knowledge is power and that is the most important thing. If you have knowledge, you can easily shut condescending and sexist people down.
Do you typically experience gatekeeping mostly from men in the industry?
Well, a lot of the male community is actually very supportive. My first mentor in the sneaker world was Morgan Weekes who has worked for Sneaker Freaker and collaborated with huge brands. He’s who you’d think would be the archetypal sneakerhead but he never once gate kept. There is gatekeeping from female sneakerheads who have been around since day one, like back in the 90’s. They’ve had to fight even harder to be there, and now that the female community is starting to get recognition, there is this mentality of like, “well why didn’t I get this support when I was starting out?” Ultimately, you have to give people the benefit of the doubt and just respect their passion.
Aside from Nike, what other brands are exciting to you?
I love New Balance because it’s a timeless all-American brand. I love the classic dad-shoe silhouettes designed by Steven Smith. Reebok is also becoming really, really interesting to me again. I’ve always loved their basketball shoes, like the Shaqnosis, but now they’ve got Evan Belforti as one of their footwear designers and he’s come out with the Premiere Road Modern and I think it’s so cool. It’s chunky and reminds me of a more underrated Balenciaga Track Sneaker. There’s a lot of exciting things coming from Reebok and it seems like they’re going to be taking a very high fashion kind of route.
Sneakers have become incredibly competitive and exclusive, almost thriving on the idea of being better than someone else. How do you feel about this?
I'm conflicted about the competitiveness, because sneaker culture was bred from being competitive in itself. I think back to the 80s in New York, where there would be basketball games in the street but people were also in competition with whoever had the coolest Pumas or had the fattest laces. Same with football matches in Europe, at games it would be a show-off between who had the coolest Adidas sneakers. The spirit of competition is important in sneaker culture, but when it gets to the point where you're like tearing others down, or overconsumption, that’s when I think of it as a problem. When it comes to my own platform on social media, I try to make sure everything is spoken from an educational standpoint. First and foremost, I am trying to get people to appreciate the history and design of the shoe.
Follow Titi's journey on Instagram @ttfinlay.
This interview has been edited and condensed.