Gendered Language in the Sneaker Industry: Will It Change?

The days of shopping in gendered sections are slowly starting to be behind us.

Men's section. Women's section. Both gender categories live on separate walls in the sneaker stores, usually facing each other. Online, they’re seen next to each other on the navigation bar or drop-down menu. This distinction has always been in place, and it’s created underlying divisiveness between the genders—making room for exclusion. As we shift towards a more gender inclusive society, will the male-dominated sneaker industry adapt?

With the rise of Gen Z and Gen Alpha, two generations that are known for their outspokenness and taking action on contentious topics, we’re seeing an uptick in creative self-expression that exists without bounds.

The use of pronouns and living outside the lines of stereotypical gender roles is something millennials and the younger generation are taking the reins of. The push for inclusivity is a major driving point for this group and it’s now become a benchmark on whether a brand gets support or not. That needle is being pushed slowly but surely. But while we see the lines blur within fashion, we have ways to go when it comes to the sneaker industry. 

For women, shopping outside of their gender category within sneakers has been the norm for quite some time due to women’s design releases not being limited and scarce. “I have a brother that I’m close with and I grew up always stealing his clothes to wear to school,” says Lauren Ferreira, a New York-based image consultant and stylist. “I am a cis woman but when I would wear his clothes I felt way more comfortable and like I was granted this permission to be comfortable. When I started my career in fashion at 17, I was immediately drawn to menswear and streetwear. I saw this world of freedom and I wanted that and was drawn to that. I didn’t need to shrink my body to fit into these tight pink clothes; I wore baggy men’s pants and I felt hotter and more confident than ever.” Labels have never stopped women from exploring outside of their gender category, and the same applies to those who identify as non-binary or queer. 

I don’t really care for gender when it comes to what I choose to wear or buy,” says Mariana Lorenzo aka Mar/Maremoto. “Gender categories are the last thing I think about while I’m shopping.” The Mexico City illustrator and Nike Air Max Accelerator participant is known for her drawings that nod to femininity, encouraging women to embrace their sexuality and step out of societal norms. Like Ferreira, Maremoto is no stranger to shopping for pieces in the men’s section, often wearing button-down shirts from her dad’s closet.

“In recent years, sneaker brands have focused their efforts in creating a more inclusive industry, marketing towards her, but Maremoto says it’s not enough. “At first, I felt a little bit uncomfortable because there’s not only his and hers. There’s so much more in between and outside of those categories that for me, makes no sense.”

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It’s important to take notes of the needs of certain groups or categories of people, but is there a need to divide them into men or women? It also begs the question: as much as brands are prioritizing visibility for women, what are brands missing when it comes to including all gender orientations? “Ideally, the goal is to include everyone,” says Samia Grand-Pierre, co-founder of The Snobette. “The dialogue of gender determination is a big one that goes way beyond fashion. However, I believe that brands will have to figure out how to address the spectrum of gender identities, and have people on their teams who reflect that.”

The more representation we see at the top, we’ll start to change trickling down. In the wake of the social justice unrest in the past year, companies like Nike have pledged to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce by 2025. But while we’re anticipating big brands to lead the change towards a more inclusive sneaker industry, some believe it will take a different type of energy to be the catalyst of this movement.

With all of the innovation, new ways of thinking, and democratization of resources and production, I think it's coming sooner than we think.” 

- Sean Damien Tucker, a Brand Marketing Consultant.

“I feel that a smaller, more agile, and connected company/organization/retailer will spark this change, forcing the old guard of corporate giants to re-examine their dated models and approaches.” Those days of only shopping in our gendered sections are slowly starting to be behind us. We believe there’s a world where gender categories in sneaker stores no longer exist. “If we fully evolve as a people, I think it’s possible,” says Grand-Pierre. “On the other side of that, I have to say that gender in itself is present in nature. I think that what we have to push to change are the connotations, stereotypes, expectations of gender we created as a society that constrain who we are in our purest most natural selves.”

“As a society [we] have evolved past the binary genders and are waiting for everything around us to catch up (politics, clothing, beauty, etc.).”

“Objects don’t have gender and people are no longer shopping within the gender binary. Stop forcing people into these boxes and forcing them to pick a side of the store,” says Ferreira.

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SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

We say less focus on gender, and more focus on the celebration of style, perhaps fit specifications as a way to speak to today’s ever-evolving consumer in a two-way dialogue.

We have the opportunity to take control and shift the perception of gender neutrality within sneakers. Speak up, be an advocate for equality across genders. This is how we're able to change our society. 

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Where Do We Go From Here?

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