(Lead image via Jordan Brand, SBW, Lilith NYC, Undefeated, adidas, and Merrell)
In a billion dollar industry that’s only growing year-by-year, it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on behind the scenes. New silhouettes, colorways, and technology appear almost out of thin air, leaving us to question, “Who’s doing all of this?”
In recent years, the art of the collab and celebrity creative directors have made it easy to follow the careers of the people that are pulling the strings. Names like Virgil Abloh, Kanye West, and even Salehe Bembury come to mind – but how about Yoon Ahn, Aleali May, Chitose Abe, and more.
Think about Rebecca Chang, Titi Finlay, Jackie Munroe, Asha Harper, Charlotte Lee, and more.
If these names aren’t on your radar, they very well should be, as these are some of the leading ladies in the sneaker industry that are designing all your favorite colorways, silhouettes, and even apparel.
The sneaker industry is still very much a boys club, but Julia Lebosse is here to shine light on the women that are working behind the scenes. Lebosse’s self-made blog, Sneakers by Women, is a platform that highlights the femmes designing, directing, and developing the industry.
Julia Lebosse is a 20-year-old Fashion Buying and Marketing student studying at De Montfort University in the United Kingdom. Hailing from the land of “trainers,” Lebosse grew up rather shy and used sneakers as a form of self expression. Her passion for trainers started out simple, but she always made sure to keep them clean and go for something bright.
However, it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that Lebosse got the chance to really explore her fascination with sneakers. As the ongoing quarantine left her in lockdown, Lebosse found herself spending hours online looking at sneakers and unraveling footwear’s extensive history.
It wasn’t long until Lebosse noticed something was missing.
“Where’s the women?”
“I want to work in this industry, but I’m not seeing me,” Lebosse said. “That’s exactly why I started speaking up and why I started Sneakers by Women. There are definitely women like me who are working within the industry, designing all these shoes that people love and are hyping up so much, yet no one knows about them. I kept thinking, wherever these women are, someone needs to feature them.”
Even with all her endless hours of internet surfing, Lebosse found it difficult to encounter representation and inspiring stories of upcoming women within sneakers.
“At first it was quite hard to find — it still is,” Lebosse said. “Like not just Yoon from Ambush or Aleali May, but articles really talking about the woman who designed the shoes and things like that.”
With limited information available online, Lebosse decided to create the Sneakers By Women Instagram so she could share knowledge and interact with the community. The Instagram account not only helped put Lebosse’s plan for representation into motion, but it also helped Lebosse to get connected with women who wanted their stories to be heard.
“Normally I’m someone who really plans things,” Lebosse said. “But with this I was like, why not just start the account and start featuring the woman I find online. Then from there, people would start to reach out to me. It was really just a lot of Instagram DMs and networking.”
As Lebosse began to take matters into her own hands, she realized that women weren’t only contributing to the creative process, but to the business aspects as well.
“I feel like every day I discover so many different roles,” Lebosse said. “There’s so many different positions that people just don’t talk about, and they’re the ones literally making the shoe happen. Without them, a design can’t be turned into an actual product. You don’t have to be some amazing designer, someone who’s really popular, or anything like that. You can do other roles within the industry like marketing and things like that. They’re such crucial roles. It takes a whole team to make a sneaker, market the sneaker, and really make it sell. It’s amazing how many different people are involved in one shoe.”
Exploring the sneaker workflow inspired Lebosse to create a special highlight on her blog that lists open job opportunities for aspiring professionals that are wanting to break into the sneaker industry. Lebosse breaks down the elusive walls of the sportswear giants to help women and femmes visualize a potential career path for themselves.
“It’s important to get women in the industry and for them to be able to know what’s out there,” Lebosse said. “I feel like a lot of women aren’t really exposed to the roles [that exist] and I think it’s important to highlight that. A lot of people have found roles through [my posts] as well.”
Lebosse herself is a Nike girl, with the Jacquemus x Nike Air Humara LX in her daily rotation. New Balance is another favorite, but in terms of representation, Lebosse admits that Nike, and its sister company Jordan Brand, take the W.
“Nike and Jordan are just really killing it,” Lebosse said. “They’re really focusing on women collaborations. Nike London does a lot of workshops and they invite women within the sneaker industry to host them. They’re really engaging and do things for the community.”
While many women have influenced Lebosse’s career, Aleali May was a pivotal moment for the blogger’s introduction to sneakers. Lebosse felt like she could see herself in Aleali May and finally felt connected to the sneaker world.
“I never really expected myself to be like some crazy designer, but seeing Aleali May, seeing someone of color like you – you’re just like, ‘Yeah, that’s possible,’” Lebosse said. “[She] didn’t come from much either, she just worked really hard. It shows that there’s so many different people that can have a collab. I feel like [more opportunities are] definitely opening up a lot more as well. You see a lot more smaller artists having collaborations and not just mainline celebrities. I see a lot more people like me and that’s really inspiring.”
Although Lebosse has realized that her passion lies with storytelling, she still has dreams of collaborating with a brand to design her own sneaker someday.
“At first I wanted to be a footwear designer,” Lebosse said. “But creating Sneakers By Women helped me realize that I am creative in the sense of storytelling and social media, but not so much in the design sense. I’d still love to do a collaboration and work with an amazing team that would pull it all together. So that’s definitely a goal – a big goal.”
The response to Sneakers By Women has been nothing short of outstanding. The account boasts more than 12k followers and has been recognized as an esteemed voice within the women’s sneaker space.
“It grew really fast which was amazing,” Lebosse said. “With quarantine, lots of people were online, but a lot of people felt that there was a need for this too. I got a lot of messages that were like, ‘This was so needed,’ and that just fueled me even more. [It inspired me] to really help push this message of highlighting women, and also highlighting people behind-the-scenes that don’t normally get the credit for their work.”
Up until now, Lebosse had been a one-woman show running SBW all on her own. Recently Lebosse brought on Kristen Barwick, another women in the sneaker industry who is a Junior Footwear Designer for ECCO Shoes. Barwick will assist Lebosse with day-to-day content and discovery for SBW. Her addition to the team is a critical step in Lebosse’s plans for expansion.
“At first I wanted to grow [Sneakers by Women] as much as possible,” Lebosse said. “But I think keeping the integrity of it and keeping it small is actually something I’d like to do. I don’t want the message to get diluted because I’m trying to make money out of it. I just want to bring storytelling and representation to the forefront.”
As for what’s next for Julia Lebosse and Sneakers by Women, she plans on having in-person events soon. She wants to make a space for women to network offline, but also just to connect on a genuine basis and create community with one another. Through solidarity and friendship, Lebosse hopes that women around the world will be able to see how valuable they are to the sneaker industry.
“Women bring a lot,” Lebosse said. “We brighten up the sneaker industry with color and flair. It takes balance and having both men and women to make it more fun and interesting. There are so many empowering women within the sneaker industry and it’s amazing to be apart of the community.”