Stylist and designer Aleali May has been “wearing Jordan sneakers since I was born,” she says.

The Los Angeles native remembers being a kid, watching her step-brother and cousins playing basketball in their Jordans. She was always outside with them, wearing her own pair from the boys’ line. There weren’t any women’s styles or sizes to choose from, so May would mix pieces from Jordan Brand’s collection with unique feminine touches. The blended look helped define her own style.

“Usually now when I wear sneakers, I pair them with Chanel to show that streetwear is luxury,” the 25-year-old says.

(Estevan Oriol/Courtesy of Jordan Brand)
(Estevan Oriol/Courtesy of Jordan Brand)

May’s unique style caught the attention of Jordan Brand. Last year, she became the first woman to collaborate with the apparel company on a design released in men’s and women’s sizing.

The Aleali May x Air Jordan 1 was released in late 2017, and it’s part of an endeavor by Jordan Brand to expand its women’s offerings. Jordan Brand’s Spring 2018 collection includes its first-ever women’s collection, the Season of Her, for which May styled the advertising campaign. This summer, the brand will release more styles for women.

The Aleali May x Air Jordan 1. (Courtesy of Jordan Brand)
The Aleali May x Air Jordan 1. (Courtesy of Jordan Brand)

Since Jordan Brand released its first sneaker in 1984, May is only one of countless women who have purchased the sneakers in men’s styles and sizing. Not everyone loved the look.

“When I started competing in basketball at 12, many brands did not offer shoes in women’s sizing,” Phoenix Mercury player Angel Robinson recalls. “Standing at nearly 6 feet tall and wearing size 11 women’s shoes, Jordan shoes and apparel made me look like a tomboy. That was not the image I wanted to be perceived as by my peers at that age.”

The Season of Her collection has expanded sneaker offerings for female consumers, something that has excited men and women.

Frank Kaminsky, who plays for the Michael Jordan-owned Charlotte Hornets, was one of the first players to hear about the collection.

“We have a Jordan Brand meeting every summer where Jordan Brand athletes get together to brainstorm,” Kaminsky explains. “Last summer we talked about all of the lines, and I knew the women’s collection would be a hit because my mom and sisters always want things in women’s sizes and colors.”

Aleali May's signature inside the shoe. (Courtesy of Jordan Brand)
Aleali May's signature inside the shoe. (Courtesy of Jordan Brand)

For Kaminsky, the collection marks a transitional moment for the brand.

“You see women’s fashion really taking off,” Kaminsky says. “Jordan Brand has been tailored around Michael Jordan for so long, but now it’s transitioning into the fashion world not just as a basketball brand, but as a fashion and iconic brand everyone can wear.”

NBA veteran and Miami Heat player Dwyane Wade, who has a shoe endorsement deal with Li-Ning, agrees: Jordan Brand understands “their fan base is bigger than just male athletes and males.”

Legendary designer Tinker Hatfield says the collection’s release is part of a greater social awakening.

Jordan Brand's Season of Her collection, styled by Aleali May. (Courtesy of Jordan Brand)
Jordan Brand's Season of Her collection, styled by Aleali May. (Courtesy of Jordan Brand)

“It’s very obvious that the world is waking up to the fact that women are as important — if not more important — than everybody else,” says Hatfield, who designed iconic Nike and Jordan Brand sneakers, from the Air Jordan 3 to the Air Jordan XX. “I’ve been recently designing shoes specifically for women, with no thought about men whatsoever, which is kind of cool. We just haven’t done a good job thinking about women in the first place.”

Given how much fashion plays a role in the NBA, we could even start to see men wearing pieces from Jordan Brand’s women’s collection.

“I think the men are going to be a little jealous and rock some of the shoes,” free agent Festus Ezeli says.

“Fashion was something guys really didn’t talk about until the NBA started its dress code,” Ezeli notesd. “Now, all of the sudden everyone in the NBA has their own stylist and is trying to outdo everyone. At the end of the day, this [women’s] collection is about sneakers. There are no boundaries in sneakers.”

Others hope the collection creates opportunities for women beyond fashion.

“To me, it’s like they’re finally getting to market,” says Ann Meyers Drysdale, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame member and vice president of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury. “There’s so much competition out there with brands and to me, this is Michael Jordan taking advantage of getting into the market and realizing it’s a money maker. I love that they are making the push to get their brand out there, but I hope that there are women in their office space making decisions on what needs to be worn and designed.”

Robinson, the WNBA player, echoes Meyers Drysdale’s sentiment, noting, “hopefully Jordan Brand will continue signing more athletes in all women’s sports soon.” Presently, Maya Moore is the only WNBA player signed to Jordan Brand. No current WNBA player has her own line of shoes.

Yet, most see the release of the Aleali May x Air Jordan 1 and Season of Her collection as a sign the industry is moving in the right direction in terms of reaching the needs of female consumers.

“When you think back to the first women to do something in their industries and what that has led to now, it’s monumental,” May says. “Sometimes the progress takes a while, but it is tight to see. Hopefully this will lead to more women having collaborations and getting respect in a male-dominated industry. Each step creates a bigger platform.”

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