Rime, an established New York-based sneaker boutique, decided to change things up for Puma and Rihanna’s most recent creeper launch. During the first three hours of the May 28th launch, only women were allowed to make purchases at both the Brooklyn and Manhattan locations. Having heard plenty from Rime’s female customers abut being shut out of the far and few between coveted women’s launches by male resellers, the store decided it was time to shake things up.
Women were thrilled about the idea and in the end a much bigger percentage of Rime’s female customers were able to bring home (and wear) a pair of Rihanna’s creepers.
The idea arose in part because the owner of Rime, Susan Boyle, is something of a unicorn, a woman who is a player on the sneaker culture scene, a rarity in an industry that’s intensely dominated by males. As popular as her store is with the guys, she’s known in the industry for cracking the code on creating a friendly space for female sneaker lovers.
“When a shoe comes out for ‘her,'” explains Boyle, “I want to make sure she actually has a chance to get them. Guys have the sneaker game down to a science. They know where, when, and how a release is happening and many will camp out to get them. With women, it’s different. There are the true sneaker fans that understand the shoe game and others who are still learning. We are just trying to even out the playing field and help ladies line up and feel comfortable doing so.”
The concept received some push back. Guys, argued that they, too, have to deal with lines and the plague of resellers. Plus, they argued, isn’t feminism about women wanting to be treated as equals? Said Boyle, “I got a little slack from some guys and customers, but I wasn’t trying to alienate anyone. I didn’t say that no guys could get the shoes. I did have pairs after 1:00 for guys if they wished to purchase a pair for themselves or their girlfriends. I just wanted to give women a head start, kind of like when tickets for a concert go on sale and American Express offers VIP tickets a few hours earlier.”
What Boyle says about sneaker culture is correct. As much as sneaker companies say they want to court the female customer and do indeed create some product for them, in truth the business of athletic footwear is still very much a male-dominated industry and the playing field is still intensely uneven, putting women at a clear disadvantage especially when it comes to buying popular limited edition product.
From the top down, all the major athletic footwear companies are run by men, and they hire mostly male designers. On top of that, the publications dedicated to limited edition product are almost always owned by and target males. All of these factors mean coveted designs made for women are rare, and when the occasional one does come along, right off the bat the news often doesn’t reach the female customer until after the fact.
Even retailers reflect the divide. While Foot Locker, whose primary customer is young men, lists upcoming launches on its site, Nordstrom on the other hand didn’t show Puma’s creeper until the moment they became officially available. A day before the launch, the online Nordstrom customer service staff didn’t even know if the store would stock the shoe.
The Real Puma Furry Sandal Buyer
New-York based beauty blogger Elin Papi illustrates the point perfectly; she heard about and wanted Puma x Rihanna’s furry slide, but on the day of the launch, she was occupied with taking her son to school and running other errands. She checked Nordstrom.com first, but the slippers were already sold out. She did some more searching and found a site that listed Opening Ceremony (which she never heard of) in SoHo, as carrying the shoe.
When she arrived, there was a line of mostly men, and while she at first was told the rules were one pair per customer, in the end she was able to take home two colors. In her review, you can see she not only adores the slides, but is excited about the prospect of wearing them.
Contrast Papi with T. Blake, a reseller who “copped a ton” of slides and went on to give a thumbs down on the shoe because of poor quality. Clearly, Blake doesn’t care about or get the appeal of the shoe, and despite his conclusion that the quality is horrible, for certain he will still take his triple mark up on them when he resells them.
The Pay Gap among Other Gaps is Real
And again, one can hear the push back, arguing women should have to pay markup prices just like men. Well, putting aside macro issues like the reality of wage inequality or the greater percentage of young women who are primary caretakers of their children, when it comes to limited edition athletic shoe launches, men allocate a bigger percent of their wardrobe budgets to higher-priced branded sneakers. This is in part because there’s more pressure for men to conform to narrower fashion standards (which we sincerely believe sucks for them), but also because they tend to be less savvy shoppers and as such are more inclined to stick to a handful of their favorite brands.
As such, buying on the resell market and playing a premium works better for men because there’s more money in their budgets dedicated to just purchasing sneakers. Leaving out any childcare expenses, women are divvying up any extra dollars they have between not just sneakers, but also the expectation they keep up with faster moving style and beauty trends as applied to sandals, heels, dresses, skirts, jeans, jackets, coats bras, panties, swimsuits, earrings, necklaces, rings, makeup, hair and nails. (Phew!) Sure, women can choose to not buy all that stuff, but doing so is a borderline political statement and not everyone is about that life. For the average guy, applying or not applying lipstick is a debate that need not ever be mulled. (And again, if you’re a guy who would like to wear lipstick and can’t, that is a sucky struggle, too.)
For ballers on a parental budget, one has to assume a request to buy a high priced sneaker whether at retail or on a resell site in most cases would go over better if the ask came from a son versus a daughter, in part because guys needing expensive shoes to fit in has become part of the culture, but also again because women have to scatter their resources much more widely.
Of course women can sidestep resellers by standing in line just like Papi did, though doing so takes a certain amount of moxy and for many, standing outside a sneaker store with a bunch of young men feels intimidating and unsafe. In the case of minors, while not all guys will get permission from parents to stand in a line, it’s guaranteed far fewer women will.
A Woman Can Dream….
Granted, the argument for creating women-only shopping hours has challenges. Not only for the flaws in attempting to predict shopping behaviors based on whether one is male or female, but also because major brands couldn’t/wouldn’t touch a policy built on discrimination (Thailand accepted).
Still, independent boutiques and even bigger chains who have tight relationships with their customers like Rime could manage it, whether with limited women-only shop hours, female friendly raffles and invite-only launch parties, along with changes in merchandise and staff behavior that without much effort can have the impact of making their stores feel less like the male equivalent of a nail salon.
And hopefully, too, sneaker companies have taken heed of what has occurred with Rihanna and see that there is a female customer ready to plunk down cash money on the right shoe. (Miss us on those weekly $150+ drops though!)
Boyle agrees, and says, “The female release was a great success. Women were happy to get their shoes and it was a different experience for them. I hope more stores will join in support of female sneaker collectors and women currently in the game. The game is changing and I feel stores should change with it. Being a women owner in a predominantly men’s world allows me to have a different perspective on the sneaker world, and hopefully I can be part of the change that is to come.”