Before Michael Jordan became arguably the greatest basketball player of all-time, or signed with Nike to become one of the brand’s most iconic athlete prior to launching his own Jordan Brand subsidiary, he was just a junior shooting guard at the University of North Carolina who sometimes roomed with then-freshman Kenny Smith on the road.
After he left UNC for the NBA and signed with Nike, Jordan went back to his college stomping grounds with boxes of Jordan gear he was handing out to his former teammates before playing pick-up with them. And when he noticed Smith wasn’t grabbing anything, he asked him why.
“I’m not going wear your name on my butt!” Smith said. Some 10 or 15 years later, Smith ran into Jordan again, and happened to be wearing a pair of his signature shoes. Jordan, never one to forget a slight, couldn’t help but tweak his former teammate a bit.
“‘I thought you said you’d never wear my name on your butt?'” Smith laughed as he recalled the ever-competitive Jordan’s rebuke during a Q&A session at the Future of Flight event in Los Angeles.
Smith isn’t the only one who came around. Jordan, the first to create his own signature brand on a widespread scale, has succeeded by building a distinctly different style than Nike, with a focus on shoes and apparel that can be worn both on and off the court.
And in 2018, women can get in on the culture surrounding the brand without having to figure out which size they wear in men’s shoes. Jordan Brand launched it’s first-ever dedicated female line of shoes, dubbed “Season of Her,” at the “Future of Flight” event on the CBS lot in L.A.; during which assembled media received a look at all of the brand’s spring collections.
Larry Miller, president of Jordan Brand, said he’d been “getting killed over the years by women” who wanted their own line, while reminding that the company did try as much 10-12 years ago. Miller surmised it failed because they didn’t have distribution methods as strong as they do now, nor a line with a dedicated team of mostly women focused on crafting the perfect shoe for her like they do now.
After learning from that setback, Miller and other Jordan Brand executives believe that fixing those two problems, as well as basketball sneakers becoming fashionable and women getting more interested in wearing Jordans than they were in the past, have made 2018 the perfect time to launch a line just for women.
“There were women who loved our brand and wanted to be connected with our brand but we weren’t really doing anything to return that love,” Miller said. “I think now we’re at a point where we feel comfortable that we can not only do women’s products, but do them the right way.
“Having the ability to give something back to that female consumer and service her, we’re excited about it. I think it’s one of the best things that we’ve got going into the future.”
For Aleali May, the fashion consultant for the “Season of Her” line, the quest to build the perfect Jordan for women was a personal one.
“As a young girl you know you’ve always had like your brothers or your cousins playing and they had the new 7’s and you’re like, ‘Ah man, I want a pair. where can I get those?’ Now, years later, we’re finally seeing something that’s for us,” May said.
“With this women’s launch it’s really great because we have our own colorways, something that that the guys can get jealous of.”
Spike Lee, who was at the event for a panel discussion, was jealous enough that when he picked up a pair for his wife, he grabbed the same shoe for himself, too.
That wasn’t a surprise to Andrew Perez, vice president and general manager for the women’s and kids lines at Jordan Brand. Perez wore the distinctive, bright-red suede Jordan Retro 8 Valentine’s Day edition sneakers as she fielded questions from reporters.
She said she had never received more compliments from guys on her shoes than she did that day. Still, there are no current plans to make some of the more popular women’s exclusives available in men’s sizes as well. If they want some, they’ll have to find out what their women’s size is in a role reversal of the past several decades.
“When we talk to women, it’s like, ‘You know what, I want some things that are just what he has, just give it to me in my size,'” Perez said. “But then they say, ‘But I also want some things that are special for me.'”
While those shoes will remain just for women for now, they were designed with similar principles to all of the men’s gear. Perez said two key focuses on design were making sure the shoes were “distinctly Jordan” while still “undeniably for her.”
The shoes aren’t built for playing, however, which actually continues a Jordan Brand commitment to taking basketball culture away from the court in the same way as the patent leather Jordans and other products from the brand.
It’s that same mindset that was partially behind Jordan Brand’s choice to make the jerseys for the 2018 NBA All-Star game in Los Angeles black and white. The move away from the East vs. West format allowed designers to play with the design more than in years past, using the current Nike jersey Dri-Fit technology as a “chasis” with a Jordan Brand patch instead of a Nike one.
“It’s just uniquely Jordan. It’s clean, it’s confident, and then talking to consumers around the world, black and white is one of the most sought after colors in terms of wearable,” said Jordan Brand vice president of marketing Brian O’Connor.
“So it becomes a much more accessible jersey that you personally can wear on the court but you can wear it off the court as well.”
That versatility is why Jordan looks poised to continue to get both converts like Smith and new customers alike to keep wearing his name on their jerseys, hats, shoes, and yes, butts. It’s also why Don C, iconic sportswear designer and Jordan Brand collaborator, said he would place Jordan “right below God” in terms of innovators in the industry.
“He’s the sneaker God because before Mike, basketball shoes were used to play basketball in,” C said. “Mike is the one who transcended that, he made basketball culture a subculture of civilization on a super-global scale.”
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