It’s been 21 years since Reebok launched “It’s A Women’s World,” a gender-driven advertising campaign to celebrate women in the sneaker industry.
At the time of its release, the ad campaign disrupted stereotypes about women’s relationships to sneakers. Since then, pioneers like Jazerai Allen-Lord have created space in the sneaker industry for women to have roles in design, marketing, promotion, and strategy.
According to GlobeNewswire, the sneaker industry is valued around $79 billion.
Opportunities to break into the predominantly White male dominated industry are scant for women—especially young Black women, like Ashley Hamilton.
The Colleyville Heritage High School alum got her foot into the sneaker business through Yellowbrick. The online platform offers mentorship opportunities and college level courses for students interested in creative industries. Hamilton was drawn to platform’s Sneaker Essentials course; she was one of three students selected to participate in the launch of “Duality,” a limited edition sneaker made in partnership with Reebok and fashion retailer APB.
Hamilton was the marketing director on the three-person team. She is currently a marketing major at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The sneaker, which released on April 29 in-store at APB’s locations and its website, sparked a new creative interest in the college freshman. She aspires to design apparel and clothing for stars like the actor Ryan Destiny.
Hamilton spoke to D Magazine about her love of sneakers, pursuing a career in fashion, and advice for young Black creatives.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
D Magazine: Sneakers, like hair, are a form of self expression. It’s often said that our hair walks into a room before we do. Black women have pioneered trends in beauty and hair as well as sneakers. While you learned about the history of the sneaker industry and its influences, were you able to tie those pieces together?
Hamilton: Growing up in Texas, I stuck to a more conservative style. I felt a need to fit in with the trends. I had a very Westernized ideal of beauty. Being able to be a part of something like this has helped sneakers and fashion come to life in my heart and mind. Sneakers say something about who is wearing them.
Every morning, I look at style inspirations on how to style my braids. I always try to wear something Black-owned, whether big or small, because we are the culture. At the moment, I am wearing Blue The Great’s Air Jordan 1’s. What is your go-to sneaker?
Of recent, Air Force Ones.
Who do you look to for sneaker inspiration?
I love the way Beyoncé does it. Kylie Jenner. Those are the main two that come to mind.
I love how Beyoncé’s IVY PARK line adapts Adidas silhouettes and Amina Muaddi’s shoe designs at FENTY. Muaddi started her career in fashion at a fairly young age, similar to you. Do you have any advice for young creatives interested in opportunities like Yellowbrick?
No matter where you are in your journey, especially as a young Black creative, it’s important to spend time with yourself. Spend time coming up with those ides, spend time with yourself, find out who you are because that is something I wish I had done more before I went to college.
I have a drive and passion for the community, community service, and helping other people. That is why I went into marketing because it meshes my creativity with a connection to the consumer. I can send out a message that can make someone feel something and that is most important to me. This was an amazing opportunity because I felt like my voice was heard, which is something that doesn’t always happen.
I think sneakers can give somebody the confidence to speak up. I feel that comfort is not only in the shoe, but what the shoe represents.
What do your favorite sneakers mean to you?
Duality. I can wear them to business class where it’s a sign of a go-getter mentality. I can wear them on the weekends with my friends where I have this ability to just be myself.
As sneakers become more popular, the culture around them is shifting. On social media, we see the tweets about dirty white Air Force 1s and a loss of ownership in sneaker culture. These factors emphasize the importance of you being in a position to create and deliver authentic, culturally relevant marketing to consumers.
It’s incredibly important that you said that because something can be seen so negatively when a Black women does it but seen so positive when a White women does it. That’s why it’s important to see the juxtaposition between The Kardashians and Rihanna or different women artists that receive backlash for doing things that represent their ownership of self, style and beauty. Taking back that control seems so radical at time.
Young professionals like you are so needed. I hope the next entertainer who launches an apparel, clothing, or sneaker line employs young people like you, who attend an HBCU, to market their products. Who is the dream person you would work under?
I have always had a vision of becoming a big name fashion designer where I have the ability to dress someone for the Met Gala. Recently, I have developed a love for Ryan Destiny. Everything looks good on her. She wears it so well. It’s about the clothes but also the person who wears it.