Titi Finlay: Champion for Female Sneakerheads
Sneaker culture has been male-dominated for years, but creatives like Titi Finlay are the driving force behind breaking barriers.
The social media manager & creative consultant burst into the industry from the bottom with determination and drive powering her forward ― now, she brings her unique perspective to the stories of major brands like Nike and channels like Laced. She's not done shattering walls, tho ― today, she uses her platform as a means to champion female sneakerheads and cultivate a community of women who live for the culture.
We got an exclusive portrait of Titi wearing a fresh pair of Clarks Originals x Sporty & Rich, which redesigned the Wallabee silhouette on a limited-edition colorway collection with a mix of leather and suede. Soft as butter — Titi's words.
We chatted about her determined beginnings, unique experience as a woman in sneakers, how the industry can propel toward inclusivity, and more. Tap to watch or scroll to read the full exclusive.
How you initially break into your field as a social media manager and creative consultant for major brands?
There's two sides to it ― getting into social media, and getting into sneakers. On the social media side, I didn't study for that industry, I studied fine art at university. So, I didn't really have a relevant degree, other than being a creative. When I moved to London, I actually was working in restaurants for a couple years, just wondering "How do I get into this industry that I want to be in, but with no connections, no experience." Somehow, I basically reached out to this influencer that I really respected who was a fashion journalist at the time. She took me under her wing, I told her, "I'll work for free, I'll intern for free. I just really wanna learn this industry, media as a whole." So, she took me on, and basically let me help her from a journalist perspective.
I would help transcribe interviews, go in and help on shoots, and everything else. Of course, I had no money at this point, so it was very stressful. I did that for a while and then that led to a few internships at Harper's Bazaar, and the Sunday Times Style, which is a big newspaper here in London. From that, I started to like realize a new path ― at first I wanted to be a fashion journalist, for the streetwear and sneakers scene. I wanted to go down the journalism route, but then as I got into the industry more and more, I realized social media was taking over. Everyone I know who wanted to be a journalist is now a social media manager, it's kind of the way that things have gone.
I basically just took loads of opportunities, anytime someone needed some help. Even if it wasn't paid, I just kept taking any opportunity that would be of interest to me. Through that, I ended up eventually getting a job at ASOS. I started out writing the captions for their Instagram ― I can't believe that's even a job, but it is. I was basically a copywriter, and then through ASOS I had an opportunity to be promoted and my boss knew at this point that I was obsessed with sneakers. My boss said, "Well, we have like an opening for someone to take over the sneaker content on ASOS' social media, so you should be up for it." And I thought, "Yeah, it's my dream!", so I instantly started looking after all the sneaker content. That's when I started to work with Nike, and Puma, and Reebok, and loads of other sneaker brands through ASOS, because obviously we would surface a lot of their releases on our platform. I would act like a gatekeeper for the ASOS social media channels and help consult on the campaigns we were doing and.
From there, I was headhunted to manage social media for Laced, which is what I'm doing now. I do a lot of freelance consulting and work with brands on the side as well. As soon as I stepped into sneaker culture, that's when things really took off and brands wanted to work with me.
You were involved in Nike's Cultivator program, which seeks to amplify the voices of emerging creatives ― what do you think will be the long-term impact of initiatives like this on the sneaker industry?
There's a lot of good things that will come out of that ― I think tapping into people who are creatives, but not necessarily designers by trade is a good way of thinking outside the box and getting completely different designs that you wouldn't get from a traditional designer. I also think it's a nice way of telling different stories of the people who are in the sneaker world. I would say there's so many levels to being a sneakerhead, and some people just like looking at sneakers but they don't collect them. Some people are avid collectors. What I noticed in my group of people that did the Nike Cultivator program was that there were DJs, there was artists, there were all types of creatives, and everybody liked sneakers, but at different levels. I think it was nice that they told so many different stories.
Right now we are in a time when, especially with the female sneaker community, there's a lot of gatekeeping and expectations to be this certain sneakerhead stereotype. Whereas with the program, it was a nice way of telling stories of people who don't necessarily have to fit a stereotype to enjoy sneakers ― it was nice to have that representation. Overall, I think it's also great to show that everyone in that program were just regular people ― we're not famous designers, or famous athletes, or whatever. So, I think it's an inspiration to younger people who want to get into the industry, to know that you don't have to be from a certain background. Anyone has a chance at doing it.
What are the challenges of being a woman with a passion for sneakers, and how do you think the industry can work towards resolving them?
The biggest frustration for me, which I've spoken about at great length, is sizing, because I have a really small shoe size and there's so many pairs that I miss out on. Not just current pairs, but I have a real obsession with vintage runners. For example, the BW Persian Violet is supposed to come out this year as a retro version, and I just can't get a hold of them my size. They only ever came in men's sizes, so that kind of side of things is really frustrating.
Last year there was a whole thing about the Off-White sneakers that came out ― first they had the Jordan 4 Sail, which was a woman's exclusive, and because there was so much demand from the male community, they decided to extend the sizes to men. Whereas a couple months later, the Jordan 5 Sail came out and it was a men's shoe that women really wanted, but they never did the same for women, so many people missed out.
There's still that unfair kind of inequality, as far as sizing ― but also it comes down to the industry itself. Brands need to work on the whole sizing issue because they know now ― I think up until very recently, maybe in the last year or so, they didn't quite realize how many consumers there are for those sizes. Now they need to start figuring out ways to be inclusive, because obviously it's not as simple as just adding new sizes. They have to consider foot shapes and everything, and aspects like profits. I feel like there's a challenge there that they need to face up to and really change things from that perspective.
I also think retailers and media have a responsibility as well when it comes to sneaker launches and storytelling, they need to be representing women ― and not just one type of woman. The Hypebae kind of girl is basically the only girl that gets represented, whereas there's so many different stories to tell from people of all ages, all backgrounds. There's a little bit of a way to go, but ultimately I think it's all about representation and including women as much as possible.
Why do you think that the female sneaker community is stronger than ever?
I think it definitely boils down to the fact that all women have an understanding of what it feels like to be left out and not be able to participate. A lot of us came into this when it was a very male-dominated scene ― I think Instagram has been amazing platform for changing that, because it's brought this community of female sneakerheads together that was previously missing. There wasn't a channel to have these conversations or meet these people or whatever.
Women all face the same struggles in this industry, we all just want to be part of it ― the same as guys do. I think that's why it's stronger, especially with Instagram ― that's where the community of women who know what it feels like is, so we're all super supportive of each other, and we're all working toward this common goal of just being able to be a part of it in the same way as men.
What's your perspective on the importance of creating durable sneakers, with lasting materials like leather?
It's already very much underway, I'm hoping that more brands are thinking about this. Obviously, Nike has their Move to Zero campaign that they are pushing forward right now. It's so important, because as sneakerheads, we collect so many sneakers.
I personally only buy sneakers I know I'm gonna keep forever and that I really love. Once I stop wearing them, I'll keep them as a special sort of like souvenir.
But, there's a type of consumer that will buy like a pair of Air Force 1s, for example, and wear them until they're completely beat up without taking care of them, and then throw them out. Ultimately, I think it comes from education ― people still don't really know the effects that has on the environment and how there's lots of different ways that you can prolong the life of your sneakers. Even just through cleaning them ― for example, I work with a brand called Liquidproof, which creates eco-friendly cleaning solutions and protectors, and nourishers for your leather and suedes and everything.
The public doesn't really know of a lot of things like that, they don't really know how to take care of their stuff. It's definitely an education thing, that's what a lot of people are lacking in that space.
Your suede-studded design for Nike, the Air Max 90 'Power to the Female' was a game changer ― tell us about your experience working as a woman in a high-profile position, sharing your vision for a brand that carries a lot of masculine energy.
The shoe was a celebration of female sneaker culture, and I wanted the story behind the shoe to be that it was designed by a woman, but for everyone ― that was my main goal for the project.
I thought that size inclusivity is something that a male designer may not consider ― I don't want to assume that, but I wanted to like show that a shoe I designed could be worn by all genders. That's something I face as a frustration myself, and as far as working in the industry, I work with an all-male team at Laced, for example. I'm very lucky to have never actually faced issues with that team in particular, they're all like so supportive. I also wanna shout out all the men who are in the sneaker space that are championing women. There are so many of them who have our backs and they're like, "Yes! Yeah, we want this for you guys as well. We want inclusivity across the board."
There are a lot of men like that, to give credit where credit is due, it's really good to have that. The only like real male negativity I've faced in this space is from uninformed people in the comments, trolls and stuff. For example, we had a Highsnobiety article that went live a couple of weeks ago and that kicked off a lot of like male commenters saying the usual stuff that they just don't understand. They say the same things all the time, like "Oh, you can buy children shoes, so why are you complaining? It's cheaper.", and stuff like that. They just don't get it, and it can be a tedious, tiring thing. I don't respond, I can't be bothered, I don't wanna entertain that in my headspace. Other than that, I've been very lucky to work in a male-dominated space with really supportive guys.
I just don't entertain negativity in my headspace ― if someone's being a dick, I don't even notice it, 'cause I got bigger things to worry about. There's a detail I included on the tongue, I wrote "spirit" and "drive" on each shoe ― because I think spirit and drive were the two qualities that got me to the space I'm in right now. I think you just need to have a bit of a tunnel vision and just keep going, keep enjoying your passion regardless of the obstacles that you face. This design was a celebration of that, I hoped that it would kick off a bit of a conversation with females in this space and celebrate them. For part of my campaign, I had some of my favorite girls in the community come on IGTV ― I just wanted to showcase and celebrate them.
Can you drop some brand names that have caught your attention with gender inclusive designs and products?
As far as brands that I buy into, one I really love is PANGAIA. They're all sustainable everything looks consistent between their men's and women's products. Their clothes are high-quality and basically genderless. I also think credit needs to be given to Yeezy, because I've noticed they kind of go under the radar. As you can see, I'm a Nike girl over Yeezy, but Nike will have specific size sets for different shoes, whereas Yeezy creates every size for every single one of their silhouettes, which is a really amazing thing to do. That's the direction I think Nike should be heading, if Yeezy can do it, then I hope that they can too.
There's also great platforms that are starting to champion these things. Common Ace is a great example of that, actually ― I know you've interviewed them. As far as more clothing brands, Stüssy and Carhartt are also good ones, because even though they do have some women's products, all their products are pretty androgynous. They don't use the ultra-feminine "shrink it, pink it" kind of vibes.
The future looks bright and inclusive thanks to game-changers like Titi.
Get close with more creatives evolving their industries at our [metcha originals].