Foot Locker recently named Melody Ehsani the Creative Director of its women’s business, but what exactly does that mean?

According to Ehasni, she will be designing capsule collections for the sneaker retailer and curating a selection of Nike and Jordan products—since she’s partnered with Nike, she’s not able to work with competing brands. But for Ehsani, who started her eponymous women’s streetwear and accessories brand Melody Ehsani in 2007, her main goal is to make cool product more accessible to everyone—as part of Women’s History Month, Ehsani dropped her signature sweatsuit on Complex Shop in an exclusive cobalt blue colorway. 

“It’s really important for me to democratize cool product,” says Ehsani over the phone. “Just because right now, as it stands, when I work with brands, we’ll do a release, and especially in the sneaker world, it’ll be a limited release, and most of the shoes end up being resold at crazy prices. And it never really gets into the hands of my customer, or my girls. I’ve always priced my things in a way, because there’s a certain community that I like to serve and that I would serve for free if I could. And so I feel like Foot Locker will help me provide that level of product, but to a wider audience where I can actually reach a lot of different girls.”

Ehsani, who says she’s been in talks with Foot Locker about this position for a year, says there will be Melody Ehsani x Foot Locker pop-up shops and their locations will be determined by a digital crowd-sourcing program that will take consumer feedback into consideration. Foot Locker says these pop-ups will open a week in advance of the capsule being available, so the city can shop the experience before it’s dropped globally.

Ehsani has built up the credentials needed to take on this role, which is a completely new position for Foot Locker. She’s worked on sneaker collaborations with Reebok and Nike, and maintained a store on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles—one of the few, if not only, stores catering to women on the streetwear strip—over the past 10 years. 

Here, Ehsani speaks about what’s missing in the women’s sneaker market, what it’s been like working with a new investor for her own line, and if she will ever get back to making heels. 

Is this something you ever imagined for yourself, or something you even thought about?
It wasn’t something that I hadn’t thought about completely, just because I’ve always been so busy with my own business and trying to build it that I had never really had the freedom, or even mental space, to think about it, but it’s not like it was completely out of my wheelhouse. I figured that at some point I would probably move into a role like this. I just didn’t know that this is what it would look like, or that it would happen now.

I know that sneakers play a big part of your history and are something that you’ve always been into. So what’s your history with Foot Locker?
I was a mall kid. I’ve been working since I was 13. I started working in the mall when I was 15 and all my friends worked in the mall. That was my community back then. So, I knew everybody that worked at Foot Locker. That’s where we got all our shoes back then. So yeah, it’s always been in the backdrop of my upbringing just being an ‘80s kid and growing up in the mall. That’s where we used to hang out, in the mall.

What’s the first thing you’d like to do as Creative Director of Foot Locker Women’s? What’s your main mission, or goal within the position?
Yeah. There’s a lot of things that I can talk about, but I think overall, personally, it’s really important for me to democratize cool product. Just because right now, as it stands, when I work with brands, we’ll do a release, and especially in the sneaker world, it’ll be a limited release. And most of the shoes end up being resold at crazy prices. And it never really gets into the hands of my customer, or my girls. I’ve always priced my things in a way, because there’s a certain community that I like to serve and that I would serve for free if I could. And so I feel like Foot Locker will help me provide that level of product, but to a wider audience where I can actually reach a lot of different girls.

Things are clearly getting better now, but I feel like there’s always been a disconnect in the way in which sneaker brands speak to women. What are some lapses that you’ve seen and how do you want to improve that at Foot Locker?  
I think that there are a lot of things. There’s such a wide scale, but for me, the biggest thing that comes to mind is when there is no energy behind something, or not enough energy behind something, it never really seems to be authentic. And so I think at a lot of these bigger companies, they haven’t devoted enough time, or energy, or resources to really growing their women’s department.

 So at a big sneaker company, you can’t have one or two people working on the entire women’s division. There should be a team there. And I don’t think that a lot of the bigger companies have made solid investments into their women’s side of the business. So it still very much feels like an afterthought, or the product feels like an afterthought. The marketing feels like an afterthought. It just feels like you can tell that there’s like one or two people there that are pushing for this, or that they didn’t have a budget necessarily. Unless they’re working with a celebrity, or with a big name, but that’s still not filtering down into the mass market. It’s still like an exclusive, higher level, higher tier thing.

 You’ve been working on your brand for a long time and been solely dedicated to that and really developed a really clear, authentic voice. How do you think you’re going to differentiate that from what you do for Foot Locker? Or do you think you’ll keep the same type of approach?
Yeah. I can’t really split myself into two different people. I think that the DNA of what I do is always going to be the same. We’ve been messing around with price points and seeing how much better we can make them. What is the best quality we can get and still have things be affordable for kids, for even a wider market than what I’m able to serve?

Sometimes people view “creative director” as a vanity title, but it seems like you’re involved in the pricing and what’s being sold and how it’ll be marketed to women. Is that correct?
Yeah. What’s great about Foot Locker is that they actually have built a team around this, so it won’t be just me. I just get to lead the ship so to speak. But there are a lot of people in the room. I’m probably the dumbest person in the room, which is where I like to be, to be honest. There’s a lot of people there that are super smart that have a lot more experience than me in a lot of areas that I hope to heavily rely on to help navigate those kinds of things.

I want to talk a little about your brand.  Around the start of the pandemic, you announced that you had received investment. How’s that going for you?
It’s been good. It’s really interesting. It’s navigating a whole new set of skills, which has its challenges, just because I don’t have any experience or formal training in business. And so, it’s learning a lot of new things. So, it’s been challenging in that way, but the pandemic has been helpful because I’ve actually had the time and energy to be able to keep up with it more than I would have if I had had a bunch of other things on my plate. But I think that the main reason why I took on the investor really was just to be more free. Before I took that on, I was wearing every single hat in the business. I was overseeing everything and I didn’t particularly enjoy, or feel like I was the best person to do that in all the areas.

And so now I have somebody who’s really experienced with numbers and can do data. And they’re nerds about data, which makes me really happy, because we can take that bet on. And it frees me up to be able to do other things that I enjoy more, like doing a podcast, or just using my voice in other ways, or even being able to take on a position like the one at Foot Locker. Whereas before, I was so tied up in all the different aspects of running my business that I didn’t have the mental space to take on anything new.

 Yeah, for sure. And I know sadly the New York store closed, it seems like due to the pandemic. Do you think it’ll come back at some point?
I don’t know. I hope so. I don’t know. It’s really tricky. I think retail is going to be changed forever. So I’m just navigating what’s happening and keeping as close an ear to the market as I can, just to figure out how things are going to be moving forward.

How’s the Fairfax store?
The Fairfax store has been closed since March of last year. So, we’re planning on reopening, hopefully in March again. We’re just feeling it out to see how safe people feel. And we’ve also had to reorganize our company just because we lost so many people because of the pandemic. A lot of my staff girls were a lot younger, so they moved back to their hometown, so we’ll see.

You’ve told so many really beautiful stories with your brand and with certain product collabs, but are there any other stories that you’re really dying to tell through product? What’s top of mind for you, for your brand? What do you want to do next?
Storytelling is really my favorite thing. I feel I’m so inspired by people, and cultures, and everything. So there’s always some story that I want to tell. Right before the pandemic the main messaging that we were getting across was inner space is the real frontier. Because so many people are so obsessed with diving deep into the ocean, and trying to get to space, and discover all these things when we haven’t even really gone into ourselves and discovered not just who we are, but what we are. It’s like, I really feel like we are the real frontier of what there is to be discovered. There’s so much about us that we haven’t discovered yet. And I think that that’s so important, especially in times like these. This last year has been so difficult on so many levels. And if you’re not able to go inside yourself and really find a sense of who you are, and what you are, and why you’re here and what your role is, it can be really despondent and hard.

So I think the overall umbrella of my mission has always been empowerment. And I feel like this is just a new language or the new area that I really want to focus on, especially for women when it comes to, how do we empower ourselves? None of us come from the Golden Era. We’ve all come from, excuse my language, but we’ve all come from pretty shitty histories and we’ve inherited them. Most of us, we weren’t around for all the shit that’s gone on for generations and generations. And so how do we transform what we’ve inherited? Because that’s our responsibility. So just empowerment, overall.

And then going deep into all the different stories of how I can encourage people, or how this person has inspired people. And it’s just my everyday. I can go on and on about filling your toolbox with things that just allow you to remember who you are so you can get through.

Well, that connects really nicely with the quote that was on the Jordan 1 that you designed, which I thought was very powerful and a very good gut check for women and everybody. But how’s the Nike partnership going? Can you say anything about different pieces?
Well, the partnership is going well. It’s cool because at my role in Foot Locker, I’ll be focused exclusively on Nike and Jordan product, just because it’s a conflict of interest for me to do any other kinds of product. But thankfully, that’s the majority of their business at Foot Locker. So there’s some beautiful synergy that’s happening between the three of us there. 

Why do you think there are so few women’s focused streetwear brands?
I saw this question and I wonder this often. I really do, because I just feel like I’m like the auntie that’s waiting for people to come up. I’m not sure, but I imagine it’s pretty challenging to get in this space, especially for women. And just the existence of fast fashion makes it so difficult. I’m even discouraged sometimes. I’m like, “Why would somebody come and pay $48 for my hoodie when they can go get it at Zara for nothing?”

It’s like, you could get a whole outfit for the same price. So, I don’t know. I really don’t know, but I’m hoping and praying that more come up because I think that it’s not even about women creating brands for women. It’s just about women having brands even if you’re creating stuff for men. Just the existence of having more of a female gaze in the market is so important. And a female voice, because I feel like that’s really what we’re missing the most in streetwear. So much of it is about a voice. And I feel like we need more women’s voices. 

And one last thing, this is just a little bonus question. I know you started out with heels, shoes, not sneakers, and I’m sure you still like heels even though no one’s wearing them now, but have you thought about going back to that at some point?
Yeah, I have. I’ve just been waiting to be inspired in that direction and I haven’t yet. There’s actually so many beautiful heels, but they’re all $1,000 dollars, which I don’t understand. So I do think that there’s a big need for well-designed heels at a certain price point that aren’t Steve Madden. There’s such a huge gap between Steve Madden and then, like, Bottega Veneta.