If you’re like some of the staff at Jenkem, you might have dug the Nike SB Bruin that Lacey Baker helped design in 2018. But since it was marketed exclusively toward women, we couldn’t find any sizes that fit us well enough to skate in, which is a fitting twist on a predicament women have faced in skating for a long time.
Skate shoes made for women have much fewer style and color choices than skate shoes made for men. So women who want to take advantage of the varieties in men’s skate shoes generally have to make do with shoe sizes and shapes that may not fit them super well.
But what if, instead of hoping, stretching, or squeezing a shoe to fit you, skate shoes had universal sizes and design considerations from the get-go, and we could all skate any shoe we wanted?
women’s only nike bruin
That concept exists now, but the brand behind it might be the least expected name. Globe recently rebooted their once insanely popular CT-IV model, Chet Thomas’ meticulously designed pro model from 2000, as a unisex shoe—something that could be predictive of design trends down the line.
The CT-IV was easy to remake as a unisex shoe because it was always more about the technology than the aesthetic, meaning designers weren’t overly focused on adding “boys” or “girls” colors or details. But certain logistical reasons also influenced Globe to relaunch it as unisex.
“The truth is, it is twice as expensive to have two different lasts for one shoe model, i.e. a ‘women’s specific fit,’” said Herb George, Globe’s Creative Director. “While the CT-IV, or any Globe shoe, does not have a ‘women’s specific fit,’ we didn’t feel that should stop women or whoever wants to wear it from doing so. Thus, we offer the shoe in a size run that is accommodating to those with smaller feet regardless of sex.”
unisex ollie protection
Often, not enough thought goes into segmenting product into “men’s” and “women’s” sections in skateboarding. This is not just because it’s a relatively small industry, but because it’s also a straight white male-dominated landscape, especially in regards to brand ownership. Traditionally, making products for anyone outside the perceived, teenage boy demographic is an afterthought orchestrated by a white guy guessing what should be made. For products targeted at women, that results in a lot of pink materials with flowers, and generally not much care or nuance.
However, in the past few years, we’ve seen this start to change. In part because people without skate industry connections can launch and market their own brand through social media, and also because established companies are becoming more progressive and aware in general.
Today, an interesting split is emerging. Some independent brands make products that are unabashedly for their immediate audience, like Unity, while other brands employ an entirely different approach by offering unisex or non-gendered products, like Doyenne.
fabiana delfino skating a unisex-looking vans
Some skate shoes already do function as de facto unisex options. But the companies making them, like Vans, don’t choose to market them as such.
Zoe Mayers is an ex-employee of Washington DC’s now-shuttered Pitcrew Skate Shop. When she was growing up skating, she wore skate shoes that were the most easily accessible unisex-looking models. “I usually buy a simple Chuck Taylor, Blazer, or [Vans] Slip Ons, all of which are pretty ungendered as it is. So in my opinion, the unisex shoe is alive and well.”
If people like Mayers already gravitate toward certain shoes they see as ungendered, there must be room for more universally-sized models accessible to everyone.
Along with offering more gender neutral shoes, some footwear brands in skating have started to embrace their women riders as global ambassadors, rather than strictly rely on legacy male figures. It’s a shift that indicates even more profound improvements.
nora v.’s shoe, sold in unisex sizes
The other month, Nora Vasconcellos served on a United Nations group to talk about the future of clothing. Other panel members included a NASA astronaut, Dapper Dan the hip-hop stylist, and more people with influences way beyond skating.
You’d expect the UN to leverage “Tony Hawk” type figures for these types of discussions, especially with the launch of his recent clothing line. Instead, the UN and Adidas recognized what most of skating has known for a while, that Nora represents a rising change in skateboarding’s gender norms and does so in a unifying way.
Despite Nora identifying with her gender and being “feminine” in the heteronormative sense, she’s still managed to have mass appeal to the point where no one would think twice if they saw a guy riding a Nora deck, and that’s something worth acknowledging to a global audience.
Maybe a better example of a skate brand championing female figures with mass appeal is WKND, who frequently looks to Alexis Sablone to create graphics, animations, and artwork for their board series and videos.
Whether reducing and downplaying gender lines between skate products will be welcomed across the board remains to be seen. But to gauge some small reaction, we talked with a few women skaters in New York on what they think about ungendered skate shoes.
Sydney Tomer of the women’s crew Late Skate was in favor of seeing more unisex shoe designs. She suggested it would resonate with the younger generation’s increasing acceptance of gender fluidity, and promote inclusivity more broadly. “I think by designing for everyone rather than one gender or another, companies will more likely hit on what people actually like vs. the stereotype.”
“We should eliminate the separation, have one scale, and call it what it is: unisex.”
Yasmeen W., who wears shoes somewhere between a women’s size 10.5 and 11 (men’s size 9 equivalent), doesn’t really mind shopping for men’s sneakers. Although the potential for more ungendered designs or branding may not affect her as much as women who don’t find men’s shoes that fit them as easily, she said she loves the initiative and expressed a sentiment shared among all the women we spoke with.
“If their mission is to make the shoes more accessible to everyone, then they got the message and delivered,” she said. “Anything set to give inclusivity to a minority group in general will always in my eyes be a winner!”
Tomer’s fellow Late Skate-r Natalie Thomas said she was affected more directly by skate shoe size scales. Often, the only shoes she wants to actually skate in are men’s shoes, but because those models are too big, she can’t buy them from a skate shop and has to go online. It’s even more of a hassle if she’s trying to get a pair that same day.
“There’s not even a difference between men’s and women’s skate shoes,” Thomas said. “It should be one product available for everyone. We should eliminate the separation, have one scale, and call it what it is: unisex.”
enough with the all-pink everything
Skateboarding is becoming more inclusive, and making more ungendered shoes is a painless way to continue on that path. Having more ungendered or unisex shoe models may require shops to carry wider size ranges, but it would also give everyone more choices.
So if you ever feel like stepping outside the black upper/white bottom status quo into something more colorful, you should be able to. Or if you find yourself stuck choosing stereotypically “girlishly”-colored shoes, you should have an easier time finding shoes you actually want. And above all else, no one should be limited to these Globe über-chunkers as their only unisex shoe option.