January 29, 2023
Sole Mates: Jennifer Ford and the Nike AF 1

Jennifer Ford opened Houston sneaker boutique Premium Items virtually twenty years in the past, however the identical factor that excited her then nonetheless excites her now: constructing neighborhood by sneakers. “I can’t wait to see folks aside from me carrying our sneakers!” she says brightly as our name begins. “Our sneakers” are, in fact, the co-created Premium Items and Nike Air Drive 1 assortment, a duo of takes on the Air Drive 1 Low. Dubbed “Bella” and “Sophia” after Ford’s daughter and niece, the sneakers are each a salute to her household and a visible diary of her personal story. Earlier than Ford was a sneaker boutique proprietor, she labored in each company America and high-end retail — the latter of which bestowed her with a eager understanding of how sneakers and excessive style got here collectively (properly earlier than seemingly each excessive style home dipped into the sneaker market) and a love for jewellery, which is communicated on her Air Drive 1s.

Within the newest installment of Hypebeast’s Sole Mates, Jennifer Ford discusses all the above plus going abroad to purchase CO.JP and JD Sports activities-exclusive Air Drive 1s earlier than she acquired an official Nike account, what makes Houston’s sneaker neighborhood distinctive, her favourite options of Premium Items’ collaborative design and the place she’d wish to see sneaker tradition go subsequent.

Hypebeast: What acquired you into sneakers?

Jennifer Ford: I’ve had an affinity for sneakers since I used to be just a little woman. I grew up carrying Air Jordans, not less than in junior excessive and highschool once I may get my dad and mom to pay for them [laughs]. Once I went off to school, I switched to Air Maxes. I grew to like them as properly, and would put on them into the bottom.

We’re spotlighting the Air Drive 1 to your Sole Mates, but it surely sounds prefer it didn’t enter the image till just a little afterward — not less than till after the Jordans and the Air Max. What introduced you round to it?

Again within the day, the Air Drive 1 didn’t really feel like probably the most inviting model for feminine sneakerheads, not less than in my private expertise. The colours that had been obtainable in my dimension again then didn’t actually do it for me both, so I didn’t have a lot of a relationship with the Air Drive 1 till I opened Premium Items, the place they instantly turned considered one of our greatest sellers. Once we first opened and I didn’t have a Nike account [Editor’s Note: In the 2000’s, Nike would often wait to give a boutique retailer an account to ensure that the boutique had staying power], I’d go abroad and purchase CO.JP or JD Sports activities-exclusive colorways and convey them again to Houston. We turned referred to as a retailer that all the time had unique Air Drive 1s, and it actually helped develop and maintain the enterprise.

After all, I needed to cease doing that when I really acquired an official Nike account, however the Air Drive 1 continued to be considered one of our greatest sellers and nonetheless is to today. Between that historical past and me having the ability to design one as much as my model and luxury specs, it’s close to and expensive to my coronary heart now.

“I’d put on a pair of Air Maxes in [to my corporate job], swap to heels at work then instantly swap out afterward.”

Earlier than you opened Premium Items, you had been working in high-end retail and jewellery within the early ‘00s — properly earlier than each excessive style home needed to be a sneaker titan. Did you see a standard thread between the 2 worlds then?

I undoubtedly did, but it surely began from a sensible standpoint. I used to be working for a serious firm in New York they usually’d actually require us to put on a swimsuit prime, pantyhose and a skirt. I lived in Brooklyn and labored in Midtown, so there was no method I’d go all the best way into the workplace carrying heels. I’d put on a pair of Air Maxes in, swap to heels at work, then instantly swap out afterward. I grew to like the combination of various seems, after which I met Clarence [Nathan, Premium Goods Brooklyn founder], who confirmed me there was much more of a fusion that may very well be had: we’d go hunt for uncommon sneakers on the weekends after which he’d put on them casually with slacks and a shirt method earlier than that cross-over was commonplace. That mixing of aesthetics actually impressed me once I opened my enterprise.

You moved again to Houston and opened your individual Premium Items in 2004. How totally different was the sport again then, particularly as one of many first sneaker boutiques that was making a definite effort to enchantment to ladies?

It was robust at first, however I knew there have been different folks — and different ladies — like me who needed entry to extra than simply the usual sneakers you could possibly discover in any metropolis. We acquired on NikeTalk and started selling the shop, and it simply unfold like wildfire. Guys would are available in with their girlfriends to get Air Drive 1s or Jordans, and we made certain that we’d all the time have an prolonged dimension run so there’d be one thing for each of them. Even one thing so simple as prolonged sizing wasn’t frequent on the time, however my crew and I’d try this and likewise make sure that we had been ordering ladies’s sneakers as a substitute of simply children’ sneakers that match ladies. Girls don’t desire a children Air Max 95 with no forefoot Air. They need the true factor, identical to the blokes do. We all the time made certain we had a correct choice, and that focus to element constructed a variety of belief with our neighborhood.

So it was all about constructing these relationships and carving out an area for these ladies to really feel seen?

Precisely. We used to have a sales space on the H-City Sneaker Summit [a long-running sneaker convention] and I’d fairly actually be the one girl within the constructing. I used to be like “we undoubtedly want some extra feminine power in right here,” so one 12 months I really paid fashions to come back hang around at our sales space and rock their favourite sneakers. That began a domino impact, and in a number of years, there have been a ton of girls, each sneakerheads and simply individuals who needed someplace cool to hang around, exhibiting up. It was all natural.

The Houston sneaker neighborhood looks like a really welcoming one.

It completely is. We wish to present our neighborhood with premium merchandise in a wonderful surroundings. They don’t must go to New York or LA — we’ve acquired the whole lot they want proper right here. All of the sneaker store house owners are buddies. There’s lots to go round for all of us and we’re completely happy to share it. Travis Scott’s retailer opened up lower than a block away from us, and though some enterprise house owners may really feel like their territory is being infringed on, we predict one thing like that’s nice. It’s simply extra site visitors and extra consideration on our block!

“It’s each sneaker lover’s dream to design their very own sneakers.”

Talking of “extra consideration,” you guys are creating fairly a buzz along with your upcoming Air Drive 1 collab. What was the sensation like whenever you acquired that decision from Nike?

I used to be like “Come on now. This can be a joke, proper?” It’s each sneaker lover’s dream to design their very own sneakers. That’s why they made NikeID: so you’ll be able to really feel such as you’re doing one thing, even when your designs may be tragic [laughs].

Making a nasty pair of sneakers or two on ID was a proper of passage. Right here, you had the entire firm open to you although — far more than customized colour choices. Do you know what you needed to do immediately, or was there some trial and error concerned?

I had all these concepts, and I couldn’t sleep the night time earlier than my first design assembly with Nike. Clarence was like “Jen, belief your self. Simply be true to your model.” I thought of my household and my favourite garments, after which the inspiration got here collectively fairly rapidly. I went into the assembly with a reasonably agency concept of what I needed, which was good since you don’t get too many possibilities at fixing a pattern if one thing’s off.

How did you carry your love of knickknack to the sneakers?

I used to be excited about jewellery that felt luxurious and distinctive however was nonetheless accessible and reasonably priced, and that lead me to seed beads. So many alternative cultures have a historical past with seed bead jewellery and I’ve a variety of seed bead jewellery that I really like, so it appeared like an ideal strategy to carry some distinctive aptitude to the look in addition to distinction the quilted and tumbled leathers we used.

What’s your favourite element on the sneakers?

The 2 little stars on every quarter panel. They’re a nod to my daughter Sophia and my niece Bella, each of whose final title is Starling — my maiden title.

The sneakers are named after your daughters as properly. Do they symbolize them by the design in addition to the title?

Sure, every colorway is a nod to their backgrounds. The “Sophia” has tan and black accents to symbolize my daughter’s cultural heritage, and the “Bella” is full cream to symbolize my niece’s magnificence and innocence.

Did you may have a favourite a part of the design course of?

The sensation I’d get proper earlier than opening the pattern field. You’re nervous and excited on the identical time. Apart from that, the buddies I met alongside the best way. The design crew at Nike is wonderful, and the relationships I established throughout this course of had been actually significant ones.

“I simply came upon that I’m the one Black feminine Nike and Jordan Model boutique account holder … which is loopy.”

A key theme from the marketing campaign video that accompanied the sneakers was a saying: “the subsequent step is yours.” What subsequent steps would you wish to see sneaker tradition take?

I’d like to see extra folks like me. I simply came upon that I’m the one Black feminine Nike and Jordan Model boutique account holder. Clarence is the one Black Nike/Jordan boutique account holder in New York Metropolis, which is loopy.

Wow.

That’s onerous to imagine, isn’t it? That’s a big a part of why we got here up with that “the subsequent step is yours” tagline. I believe the sneaker business, or any main business, might be intimidating to folks they usually must see somebody who seems like them succeeding in that business to imagine they will too. Irrespective of if it’s in sneakers or elsewhere, you’ve acquired to have the religion to take that step and I needed to do my half to assist encourage that religion.

Final query: why are sneakers vital to you?
I really like how sneakers don’t have a face, age or a gender. They’re for anyone and all people. Now we have repeat clients at Premium Items who’re of their 70s and nonetheless need the brand new Jordans identical to the youngsters do. Sneakers create dialog and transcend so many issues. Plus, they’re wearable artwork. Why not placed on one thing that appears good, feels good and brings you power?


The Premium Items x Nike Air Drive 1 assortment will launch in-store and on-line at Premium Items January 20. Every pair’s MSRP is ready at $150 USD.

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