- Words Liam Cattermole
Social media maven Jess Lawrence sits down to speak working with Jordan, finding sneaker bargains and her favourite love-themed sneakers.
Thanks to people like Jess Lawrence, the sneaker community is finally broadening its horizons. Historically, the industry has treated female kick collectors as an afterthought, but evidence suggests that the tides are turning. There’s still more to do. Acknowledging that representation issues run deeper than sizing, Jess knows all too well about the challenges facing female trainer obsessives.
Nevertheless, the collector, who has an impressive line-up of over 200 cleats, is playing a significant role in the industry’s reform. Working with Air Jordan, to widen female sneaker communities, Jess wants to facilitate finding more like-minded women in the male-dominated space.
The multifaceted model, collaborator and media navigator used to stock up on Air Jordans when visiting family in South Carolina. Possessing a basketball-mad background, the Londoner, like her mother, represented teams at county and regional level. For Jess though, the style was as important as playing, and the sport’s trendsetting ethos still runs through her work today.
Nowadays, trainer brands collaborate with some of fashion’s most prominent female figures. Both Martine Rose’s Nike Shox Mule and Wales Bonner’s adidas Sambas are completely sold out and reselling for quadruple their retail prices. However, more needs to be done to navigate parity within the sneaker space, which Jess is keen for brands to act on.
In the advent of Valentine’s Day, Jess’s working with eBay to show everyone how buying second hand sneakers can provide some much needed retail romance. We caught up with her to talk about working with Jordan, how to find a bargain and her favourite love-themed trainers.
Hey Jess! How are things? When did you realise that your love of sneakers went from a passion to a full-on obsession?
Hey guys – I’m good thank you for asking! This year is already flying by but I’m looking forward to what it has in store. I didn’t have a big revelation or moment where this happened, it’s been a slow process over the past 20-25 years or so. I come from a super sporty family, so naturally I was dressed in sneakers from a very young age. I played basketball for over 15 years, so how I wore and bought certain sneakers started on the basketball court and then developed later into fashion.
When I was younger, I used to concentrate on one silhouette, getting every colour I could find and running them into the ground, Converse Chuck Taylors come to mind. But, from around 2012/2013 I started seeing how others collected their sneakers and took care of them, which inspired me to then do the same.
You and your entire family are known basketball fanatics, can you remember the first Jordan that you ever owned? And why did they catch your eye?
I’ve been asked this question so many times and I still cannot remember! I would have been a small child and they would have been for on court purposes.
My first Jordans wouldn’t have been picked by me either. My dad, who would go home to the states more frequently than the rest of my family, bought back shoes and clothes for us. My dad is from South Carolina and had a successful basketball career, being drafted into the LA Clippers. My brother is a professional player who represented Great Britain in the Olympics, and my mum and I both played at county level. So, you can understand why the Jordan brand, basketball and sneakers have been a big part of my life.
Since 2022 you’ve actively worked with Nike’s Jordan line to open sneaker culture to women, exploring communities in different cities and their stories. How has the experience been for you and what more would you like to achieve with the brand?
It’s honestly been a dream come true. Initially, I was blown away by the fact that the Jordan brand even knew who I was, let alone the fact that they wanted to work with me.
I work with them to make what I love more accessible, and it’s not lost on my how amazing that is. Even now, after some time, I’m still humbled and grateful by the trust and opportunities they’ve shown in me to impact real change in our communities, and share the stories of amazing women trailblazing an industry that wasn’t created for them.
I’ve been in this industry for a while now, and it’s very important for a brand to genuinely care about impacting change and driving the culture forward in a more inclusive way. We have a long way to go but I’m really proud of the progress we have made.
What can other brands do to bring parity to the sneaker community? It’s an issue that you’ve notoriously spoken about, but have you seen the industry making enough changes?
I think it’s important to continue shouting about the spaces that need to be filled, until they are filled properly. A lot of change has happened within the sneaker community and some brands are putting in the work to spotlight, promote and support women. However, it’s not very far reaching and it can be quite superficial. Putting women sneaker heads on campaigns and on social media accounts is great, but real change needs to work up through every part of an organisation.
We still see sexism, discrimination and mistrust towards women in some spaces, especially online. Women have been saying to brands that they don’t want obvious gender signifiers and they want to be catered for in the main releases. What I’ve loved witnessing the most is women taking matters into their own hands, spotlighting each other, teaching others about the industry and creating a space to share our passion. However, it would be great to see brands and companies get behind these organisations and elevate them financially. We don’t need babysitting, but we do need support from the pre-existing industry to level the playing field.
For any girls that want to get into sneaker collecting but feel intimidated by the culture, or simply don’t know where to start, what would be your top tips?
My advice for women wanting to get into sneakers is always to start with the passion.
Like everything, the more it comes from a genuine place, the more happiness and success you will likely get from it. Do your research and really dive into the history so you’re equipped. It can be a tricky industry at times, but it’s the genuine love of sneakers and our community which pushes through every time.
In terms of sneaker buying, I would always recommend starting with classic silhouettes, like the Air Jordan 1, Air Force 1, Air Max 1, Converse Chuck Taylors or Old Skool Vans.
When it comes to getting previous releases, it’s best to shop pre-loved. I’ve really enjoyed working with eBay over the past few months to get the message across that online platforms and resellers are heroes when it comes to finding sneakers. I contributed to a curated edit, which has an array of rare and accessible sneakers from many brands.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to be a sneaker head; your collection should reflect your tastes and your style, and that’s more important than feeling the pressure to keep up with others.
Your personal style goes way beyond trainers, incorporating streetwear and high fashion into your fits. What do you look for when putting an outfit together?
I love getting dressed in the morning. For me it’s a very natural process. Whether it’s colour, tone, materials, or fitting a certain look, I can tell instantly if something works or not. When I put an outfit on, the colours coordinate and the style of each piece works, it gives me a fulfilling feeling. I’ve always been into vintage clothing and sourcing pre-loved items, so mixing those in with streetwear and luxury pieces keeps it fresh and exciting. I like to mix it up, some days are super casual in tracksuits and t-shirts, and on others I might wear more luxury and statement pieces.
My friend once said to me that he has different characters within his stying and that really resonated with me. You don’t have to have one set style and live within its parameters, you can have many and switch it up depending on how you feel.
A big and current issue in the fashion industry is sustainability. What can the sneaker community do to make the industry more sustainable as we battle with climate change, but keep the collector culture alive?
I think sustainability and sneaker buying can seem like a paradox. Our industry brings out new releases constantly, and we collect vast amounts of sneakers which seems wasteful to people outside the passion.
However, changes have been made in terms of the sourcing and production of materials, which is making the industry more sustainable. For us consumers, we can do our bit by recycling old trainers, gifting them on to people, and shopping pre-loved. We can also make an effort to not get lured into trend cycles and show love to our old sneakers. We, as consumers, can put pressure on brands to think and act more sustainability by backing up our own buying decisions.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, what’s your all-time favourite love-themed sneaker release?
That’s an easy question for me! The Strangelove Skateboards x Nike Dunk, which is in my eBay Valentine’s Day edit. Although I grew up playing basketball, I have always been drawn to skateboard culture so naturally dunks have been a long-time favourite, even before their recent hype treatment. These dunks are stunning. The materials are super luxe, with textured velvet and a vibrant swoosh. I’m obsessed!
Over the years, there’s been so many Valentine’s sneaker drops. Do you feel that the market is too saturated, or do you like the novelty of an annually released collection?
I think the sneaker market in general is over saturated, as most industries are these days. We live in a hyper-stimulated society, so naturally that applies to sneakers too. But I think there is something very beautiful and fun about the traditions we have as humans.
As a hopeless romantic, I think Valentine’s day is a great way to celebrate love, whether its self-love, friend love or romantic love, and Valentine’s sneakers are our way of celebrating the day. I personally don’t mind the new releases that come around each year as I think an annually released collection is something to look forward to.
To wrap up, if Jess Lawrence could release a collaboration with any trainer, what would it be and how would it look?
It would be an Air Jordan 1. The design would incorporate some silver or holographic details as that’s what I’m drawn to. I’d spend a lot of time diving into my family history to work on a design that really resonated with me as a person and the women of the industry.
The Jordan 1 might seem a bit cliche, as it’s a hugely popular silhouette, but I like to stay true to my own personal tastes rather than let what other people like change my opinion. The Jordan 1 is the most iconic sneaker for me, as it’s rooted in the history of the most successful Black athlete of all time and simultaneously shaped the sneaker collecting industry. I’m glad to see such a historic and important silhouette reaching new heights in the mainstream.