For decades sneaker culture has been a male dominated space – but the rise of female creatives like Titi Finlay bursting onto the scene are proudly breaking the mould and becoming a driving force for change. We caught up with the Social Media manager to get her perspective on what brands need to do to be more gender inclusive and how she is using her platform and voice to champion a community of female sneakerheads.
// It would be great to start with a little overview of your background and career to date?
Yeah, so I’m Titi, and I’m Scottish but I live in London. I moved to London about seven or eight years ago no with not much of a plan, other than I wanted to work in fashion and sneakers and arts, and I moved here with no connections and no money. I really had to work my way up and started by working in restaurants for quite a few years until I finally got the courage to actually make a goal of working in the creative industries. Within a couple of years I was able to get myself a job at ASOS, where I started out, writing Instagram captions – believe it or not, that’s a job!
I then got a promotion to take care of all the sneaker content on ASOS’s social media channels, working with brands like Nike, New Balance, Adidas and Puma, So that was super fun, and my first step into the sneaker industry.
// When did your passion for sneakers begin?
I started getting really into the sneaker world just on a community level and collecting sneakers but working in the industry just completely accelerated my interest.
After working with ASOS, I got head hunted to run the social media at ‘Laced’ – that’s where I am now, and soon to be moving into a creative role working more on creative campaign content. On the side of all of that, in 2020 I started to really speak about women and sneakers and the kind of injustices that I feel there are in the industry from a community, sizing and a marketing point of view.
I have spoken about it through the means of sharing these really bold graphics which I didn’t realize would be relatable to so many people, and they went kind of crazy. They were more for others to be able to share and it kind of started a movement. Since then, I got the chance to work with Nike. I designed a sneaker with them last year, and I’ve also just done another little collaboration – it was quite a rebellious collaboration for Nike to do a campaign for more women and sneakers and gender-inclusive sneakers.
// Tell us more…
The concept was ‘Everyone’s Welcome’. The project had big slogans like ‘MAKE SNEAKERS GENDER NEUTRAL’.
On a personal level, when I got the call from Nike to take part in the project, it was the first time that I felt I had been recognised for my art and creative, rather than just the message that I’m pushing around inclusivity. Nike really wanted me to go in to do illustration and printmaking and designing. It was really nice to know that Nike value to my creative ability as well, and that they trusted me enough to bring me in on this project.
// How did you get involved in the sneaker scene and what do you love about it?
So I think initially when I first moved here, I was very much into streetwear and fashion rather than sneakers – but the two have very much gone hand in hand over the last few years. When I first moved to London, it was during the rise of of Supreme and Palace, and that whole ‘street culture’ was beginning – but I think that sneakers have gone hand-in-hand with street fashion and street culture so it was sort of a natural progression for me. As soon as I got my first pair of sneakers I was in awe and that made me realise my passion for sneakers.
// What’s your first or favourite pair of sneakers?
My first sneaker was an ‘Air Max 95’, it was a lovely off white, cream colourway. I got them when I was still working in restaurants and I’d saved up a bunch of money to buy myself this pair of sneakers, and it was like love at first sight!
Ever since then I started collecting and I’ve now got over 100 pairs.
My favourite pair of sneakers has got to be my ‘Air Max BW’ which was my most recent pickup. I’ve been trying to get a pair of their Air Max BW for about five years, and it’s a shoe that has only recently resurfaced. It’s a very rare, not really height pair that most people would want to buy, so there’s not really much of them on the resale market – it’s a very retro Air Max, so it’s already very hard for people to get their hands on them with a normal shoe size – but with a very small shoe size like I have, It’s completely impossible.
Recently I was able to get pair of the ‘Beijing Air Max BW’ which has a brown and black colourway. I got them shipped from Beijing to Hong Kong and then from Hong Kong to Singapore. I had to get a guy to buy them there and then send them to me. So the journey of this pair has been super special because I had to wait for so long to get them. They have definitely become my most prized pair!
// Why do you think the ‘sneaker’ has become a cultural symbol of our time?
I think sneakers are this great thing because they’re like an honourable piece of art almost.
They’re something that people can buy, they’re not out of reach, but they’re so impressive to a lot of people that it’s like having a sought after piece of art. What you wear says a little bit about who you are as a person, it’s the same with sneakers. If you’ve got sick pair of sneakers on, you’re obviously somebody who likes to dress nicely and look after yourself and it’s like a status symbol, and that’s why they’re such a collectable object.
// How do you think Sneaker culture is shaping fashion and lifestyle?
I think in the past few years especially in women’s fashion as all genders have kind of blurred and the norms of what women would wear have changed. For example when I was growing up, if you weren’t wearing heels and skinny jeans it was like you weren’t feminine. Whereas now, some of the most feminine women wear sneakers and sweatpants and they’ve made it look feminine. So I think it’s the shift in how people are dressing in general, they’re definitely moving towards comfort over dressing up.
// There was a Vogue article last year stating that women are virtually invisible in the sneaker industry. How does this resonate with you and what do you want to see change?
I was really happy that Vogue actually covered the topic – it just had such an impact and really made people think and realise that there is a real imbalance in sneaker culture favouring male shoppers. Since the article there has been such promising change, and I’ve had calls with Nike where I’m working with their design teams to give my input on their products. They want to hear our (female) opinions and they’re actually listening. They’re not just creating pink products that they think we will like. So it’s been so amazing to see the change that’s happening across all different brands, particularly Nike who are the most notorious I think for having over feminized female products.
// Are you familiar with the Metaverse and digital fashion? What do you think the role of Sneaker culture could play in the metaverse?
I mean, I’m very much researching and I’ve been kind of taking notes and listening about it for the last couple of years. And while I’m not a consumer of digital fashion or NFT’s, I still can’t quite get my head around the ‘why’. The Metaverse space is super interesting as it’s just adding another sort of element to how people consume sneakers. I don’t know if it’s hugely beneficial and I can’t see what the real benefit is of it.
I saw a really interesting interview between ‘Bimma Williams’ and ‘Tyler the creator’ for Converse. Tyler was literally saying “why are you buying a picture of a monkey in a Supreme hoodie, like what’s the point – go outside and do something real.” It was refreshing to hear him question this new space because there’s so many key players like ‘Gary V’ and people pushing the agenda for NFTs, but it’s nice to know that some people aren’t into that world. I’m definitely an old soul so I kind of don’t really want the digitisation of fashion to happen, but I do also like educating myself on it.
‘Bobby hundreds’ wrote article which was very much in favour of NFTs and he was comparing the movement of NFTs to what street culture, street wearing and sneakers was like back in the early 90s. There were only a few people collecting sneakers and now the mainstream have cottoned on. It’ll be interesting to see where we are in like 10 years time from now.
//Are there any females who inspire you?
Yeah, I think there’s some really powerful baller women who I look up to. And it’s usually for me women who have substance, talent and grit. Names that come to mind include ‘Paula Scher’ who’s a graphic designer for ‘Pentagram’ – she is so cool, she has done a lot of the album covers for the big 80s hits. And ‘Sarah Andelman’ who does ‘Just an idea’ she is just a thoroughbred creative who creates amazing work and is so respected within her industry.
// Can you give us a sneak peek of any upcoming future projects?
I don’t have anything that I can show you right now, but I can tell you a little bit about a project I have with Nike that’s coming up. It’s basically all around the theme of air for ‘Air max months’. So, yeah, I can’t really say too much but keep your eyes peeled, towards the end of March.
// Is there anything else you would like to see in the future of the sneaker industry and sneaker culture?
Just in general I would quite like to see more diversity and inclusivity. More passion turned into knowledge. I’d love to see more people like really delving into the materials, who the designer was, what the story was behind the shoe, what the history is in the archive of that shoe and just seeing even more passion and effort going into being a sneaker collector.
//What do you do to switch off or chill?
I literally love to cook. Most nights I switch my phone off and I don’t go on Instagram. I literally sit and watch episodes of Friends. I like comforting TV that I’ve seen a million times where I knew what to expect. I don’t really like watching anything new. I’m very much like an old soul, stuck in my ways. I just love listening to ‘Dad’ music like ‘Fleetwood Mac’ it’s basically what calms me down – Yeah, that’s kind of like why do I guess but it allows me to be innovative in my creative life as I am really chilled out in my personal life.
// What is the biggest advice you would give to new female creators?
My advice to other female creators is:
1. Utilise your social platforms to showcase your taste levels, talents and projects
2. Lean on your community, sometimes all it takes is a DM to someone you admire to completely change your situation
3. Be a grafter, work hard and be humble!
4. Always believe in yourself and know that anything is possible