Abby Albino and Shelby Weaver are tired of seeing lines of men at women’s-only sneaker releases.
Having just a corner in a streetwear and sneaker store dedicated to women is not enough for them, so they took things into their own hands and created Makeway. Opening this weekend at Stackt Market in Toronto (and online on Monday), it’ll be the only standalone women’s sneaker and streetwear boutique in Canada.
“As a female sneakerhead, I always felt like I was trying to fit into a community that just wasn't made for me,” says Weaver, co-founder of Makeway. “I just got tired of womens’ products and experiences being an afterthought. I think the women's market deserves so much more.”
For years, the streetwear and sneaker community has been largely catered towards men. The first Jordan Brand sneaker created specifically for women was released in 1998, a full 13 years after Nike started selling the Air Jordan 1. No current WNBA player has their own signature shoe, despite sneaker culture thriving within the community. Since then, brands have progressed at a slow jog behind the women’s sneaker market and have yet to fully catch up.
Sales in the women’s sneaker market grew five times more than the men’s market from 2016 to 2017. Despite this growth, women are still struggling to find exclusive releases in their sizes and the decision-makers at streetwear brands are mostly men. Brands like Supreme, Palace, and Adidas’ Yeezys, for example, still only offer mens sneaker styles. Albino wants to change this by carving a space “for womxn, by womxn” in the community.
“How can you celebrate female members in the sneakerhead community when you just don't have the product or the allocation there inventory-wise?” explains Albino. “So, we really wanted to just have this space that was strictly for us to truly celebrate the culture.”
Makeway will make shopping easier for female streetwear enthusiasts by bringing everything under one roof. Albino and Weaver will curate a store filled with streetwear and sneakers in women’s sizes. Weaver says it’ll also be “a place that actually feels like the right fit” for brands to showcase women’s collections and releases. Puma, Reebok, and Converse are just a few of the big-name brands you'll find at the boutique.
The co-founders are equipped with the experience and connections for success. Weaver is the owner of Mack House, a sneaker customization studio in Toronto that’s also located at Stackt Market. She’s also making way for women on the court as the Director of Basketball Advancement for the Toronto Raptors. Albino is a marketing and PR pro who has led community engagement strategies for Nike Toronto, Footlocker, and the MLSE.
“How can you celebrate female members in the sneakerhead community when you just don't have the product or the allocation there inventory-wise?” - Abby Albino, Makeway co-founder
Meredydd Hardie, one of Toronto’s top sneaker bloggers, says Canada is in need of a place like Makeway. For so long, female streetwear lovers have had to go on missions to find sneakers. Hardie buys almost all of her shoes from the U.S. because access to women’s sizes and specific colourways remains limited in Canada. This means she has to pay extra in duties, however StockX recently opened its first authentication centre in Toronto, which may help reduce those fees. She also has to know her shoe size in every variation (women’s, men’s, and kid’s), which is something that men usually don’t think about.
“It's so frustrating when you get so few things that you really want ... and then just go to a lineup and see all these dudes,” says Hardie. “You know they're not buying it for themselves, their friends, or their girlfriends. They're buying it to sell it.”
Ensuring products actually get into the hands of women is one of Makeway’s top priorities. It’s still in the planning stages, but Weaver and Albino are considering restricting raffles to women only.
There’s also a lot of thought going into the layout of the space. Hardie explains how women immediately enter male environments anytime they want access to streetwear or sneakers. This means something as simple as shelving that’s built for men, which makes products hard to reach for women. Albino and Weaver are taking the smallest details like this into account.
“Everything we do is very purposeful,” says Albino.
Another important purpose for the boutique is showcasing local, women-owned brands. You’ll find jewelry from Cuchara and Body Ammo; press-on nails from Naked Beauty Bar; candles and incense from Cams Lit Candles; and pints of Ruru Baked ice cream. Luanne Ronquillo, founder of the Toronto ice cream shop, is looking forward to being in a space that celebrates fashion and culture.
“I'm excited that two people with really good taste in women’s streetwear are going to be doing the curation process,” says Ronquillo. “So, they're not just going to buy, you know, the latest pink Nike that comes out.”
Both co-founders are certified sneakerheads, with Albino’s obsession stemming from ’90s NBA culture. Her favourite players (besides MJ, of course) were Grant Hill and Penny Hardaway, who both had their own sneakers that she absolutely had to cop. Weaver, on the other hand, grew up as a basketball player who figured out how to transition her style on the court into something cool and comfortable off the court.
Edilou Canedo and Chloe Li-Chapman of Cuchara, a jewelry company based in Toronto, are excited to engage in this inclusive environment Albino and Weaver are creating.
“It’s more than just a retail storefront,” says Canedo. “It's like a community where like-minded women can come together and just share our experiences.”
Going beyond retail and putting an emphasis on community building is top-of-mind for Albino and Weaver. Both women are heavily involved with community organizations in Toronto and they plan on giving back through programming and collaborations. They’re currently brainstorming ways to use the power of sneaker raffles for a higher purpose and to do some good in the process.
Ultimately, Makeway is a product of positive progress in the women’s streetwear industry, specifically in the U.S. Brands like Kith Women, influencers like Aleali May, and designers like Melody Ehsani walked, so women can run (in Jordan 1s).
“I believe that the market brands realized that they were leaving money on the table,” says Hardie.
Nike started taking the women’s sneaker market seriously in 2018, introducing Unlaced, their online women’s sneakers destination. This is just one example of how brands are paying more attention to women. Hardie adds that other brands are also doing extended sizing in sneakers.
The positive feedback Makeway has received from brands is also evidence of the value seen in the women’s streetwear market. But what’s most important for Weaver and Albino is what women think. Their Instagram has already been flooded with enthusiastic messages of support.
“Ultimately, we want to serve the female community and we want to serve the women of not just our city, but our country,” says Weaver. “And to hear that ‘Yes, finally, this is what I've been waiting for, like, I can't wait for this!’ It really is the absolute core and purpose of what we're doing.”