Before their postseason had started, two of the greatest sneakerheads in the WNBA scored a victory.
Dearica Hamby of the Las Vegas Aces and Satou Sabally of the Dallas Wings both received Melody Ehsani-designed Air Jordan 36 PEs (player exclusives), which are as difficult to obtain for collectors as championship rings.
According to Brendan Dunne, host of the talk show “Full Size Run,” which is about sneakers, “the Melody Ehsani Air Jordan 36 was a major thing because it’s incredibly hard to get people to care about performance basketball shoes these days.” However, she was able to temporarily restore that energy.
Ehsani, 42, wears stiletto nails in a variety of colours, long, dark hair with two blond tendrils, and a pair of sneakers virtually always. She also frequently sports a collection of gold bracelets and rings decorated with Persian cultural symbols. Before revealing her pregnancy on Instagram in July, she recently created tour apparel for her husband Flea and his band the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
She is also the CEO of her own streetwear company. She was also the primary designer of a pair of basketball performance sneakers while serving as the first creative director for Foot Locker’s women’s collections. It’s uncommon for women to be given the opportunity to “colour up” or choose fresh colorways for a big brand’s lifestyle offerings in the sneaker market.
Some top WNBA players, including Breanna Stewart (with Puma) and Candace Parker (with Adidas), have signature performance shoes. A few WNBA players have collaborated with sneaker industry heavyweights on player exclusives. Women who design basketball performance sneakers, a significant portion of the sneaker market and a field of design that has been essential to the mythology of sneaker culture, have received little attention from Nike and other footwear behemoths.
Nike refused to give specific figures on the number of women who have been in charge of basketball design, and the business is still embroiled in a class-action lawsuit alleging gender discrimination that was brought in 2018 by former employees who claimed that women were paid less than their male counterparts, were excluded from important positions at Nike, and were the targets of inappropriate behaviour by managers.
Retro Jordan launches continue to be a significant portion of the reseller market even though basketball performance shoes aren’t the sales sensation they once were.
And the mythos surrounding sneaker design is a booming industry. Popular coffee-table books about iconic sneakers and their marketing strategies have been published. Renowned designers deliver TED Talks that go viral and feature on podcasts and in documentaries on creativity. Major institutions have organised shows that feature sneakers as art to appeal to younger people.
When Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics donned her creation before Game 2 of the NBA Finals in June, Ehsani reminisced on her transition from high school athlete to NBA intern to designer. The bond between Tinker Hatfield, the Nike designer responsible for many legendary Air Jordans, and Michael Jordan was her ideal “dream,” Ehsani stated in a social media post. “I’ve been progressively working my way up to having the opportunity to work on a performance shoe,” she continued.
The majority of discussions regarding sneaker design begin with Hatfield and Jordan, whose 16 releases between 1993 and 2003 set the bar for how basketball performance might morph into a lifestyle. Hatfield produced basketball shoes decked out in unconventional materials that lured even the sports-averse to buy (many, many) pairs, often at Jordan’s request and even in opposition to Nike executives’ wishes.
It is a well-known fact that Hatfield used patent leather on the Jordan XIs because Jordan requested a shoe that was so exquisite that it could be worn with a tuxedo. At an awards ceremony in 1996, the R&B group Boyz II Men wore them with white tuxedos.
Fiona Adams, who served as the vice president for footwear design at Reebok from 1990 to 2000, perked up in 2021 when the Design Museum in London put together an exhibition to demonstrate how sneakers “have become cultural emblems of our era.”