As a writer on sneakers – sneaker culture, the history, possibilities and the promise of sneakers – London-based Nav Gill has the distinction of being one of the most distinct and most precise voices in an over-saturated landscape. She, or her work at least, is not always the loudest – not driven by concepts of virality, controversy, or the building of a personal brand – but is one of those that tends to linger longest. Her writing, and her conversation, on the topic is informed, informative, and entertaining – it reveals, quickly and earnestly, a true passion that is led by opinion and balanced, if not tempered, by an intimidating knowledge.
When it was announced that Gill would be releasing a book on the subject, a project four years in the making and with a focus on women in the industry, it was a sure thing that the book in question would follow the same pattern: well-researched, well put-together, well-argued, and with insight from many of the biggest names working in the sneaker sphere today (and many which will, sooner or later, grab onto that accolade).
Given the chance to ask her a few questions – about the book, about her work, and about the sneaker industry as a whole, the release of She Kicks, published by Studio96, provided an entry point. From there, we put question to her on sustainability, the unique perspective of women in sneakers, and how those two points might cross in the immediate future of the industry.
We used to work together at a sneaker-centric media platform that I won’t mention here. But what I can say is that this was your book to write and no one else’s: your love of sneakers is well documented. Your knowledge on that subject, and quite a few others, is pretty much unassailable. But did you learn anything new putting this book together?
I learned just how hard it is to put a book together! When we first started this project, we holed ourselves away in a small town outside Amsterdam and constructed the outline and plan for what would eventually become this book. We had huge ambitions and even more passion and were so excited to be working on something we fully believed in… and then we realised we knew nothing about publishing, knew nobody that worked in the industry and didn’t really know how to make it a reality. It was frustrating because we knew it was a great idea and something there would be an appetite for but we just didn’t know how to actually get it published.
I learnt a lot about collaboration and compromise, and the logistics of getting something on the scale to come to life. I also learned a lot of great stories; we had so much great insight from women featured in the book so it was really great to hear the real stories about how some of those projects came together, because no matter how much you research you often don’t hear the true accounts what it took to get some of these groundbreaking releases to see the light of day.
What makes the women of the sneaker world such an interesting subject? Is it just that they’re under-appreciated and under-discussed by comparison, or is it that they bring a different perspective to the male-dominated landscape of the industry and the commentariat?
I think it’s both. Women and their contributions to the industry are rarely discussed so it offers a really fresh outlook to fans and consumers because these stories aren’t the same ones we’re always seeing out there. And it’s also really interesting to hear their perspective on this male-dominated industry because so often we only see and hear one half of it, and their experiences and insights have driven the culture forward on a huge level, but they just haven’t really been given that many opportunities to share it.
You were working on this for, I think, four years – I know you weren’t doing it full time, but how did you spend that time; was it mostly research – what kept you invested?
It was really hard keeping the momentum going after working on this project for so long, but honestly after every interview, my motivation was boosted to an all-time high. Getting face time with legends in the industry and hearing their stories and learning more about their work was what kept me fired up, kept me determined to try and share their work in the best way I knew how to others who would love it to, and it also got me excited for all the interviews and stories yet to come.
This bit sounds a cliché, but after our interview with Andrea Perez, then the Global VP and GM at Jordan Women’s, she thanked us for working on a project like this and said “Heroes matter; and those heroes can be your mom, it can be the story of someone that left your town, it can be the story of someone in a book. So this book you’re writing is going to be in the hands of girls somewhere that may end up being the CEO of Nike one day” and hearing that kind of feedback from some of the most respected people in the sneaker world was really such a massive motivation to power through.
Speaking of the future: sustainability in the sneaker world is an issue. I think we can both – and all – agree on that. Given that you spoke to such a wide range of people and given that there’s need for reform across the board, from materials to production to marketing, did you pick up on anything interesting in that regard while writing the book?
Of course, the sneaker industry is constantly — and rapidly — evolving, and so a really important element of this book is looking at ways that the industry is ‘future proofing’ itself. We explored how web3 is impacting the sneaker industry, as well as the rise of independent, female-led brands – but another element that was important to highlight was sustainability in sneakers.
With the plethora of new drops and the unwavering desire for many sneaker heads to always have the most-hyped releases, the sneaker industry is pretty guilty of contributing to overconsumption. But there are a lot of designers producing interesting work that’s still extremely desirable and pretty unique, but genuinely addresses concerns around waste in sneaker production, like Helen Kirkum, Ancuta Sarca, and design duo Peterson Stoop.
In that vein, are there any brands or designers you feel deserve highlighting with regard to their ethics or their environmental practices – anything under the radar that we ought to be watching out for?
One designer, mentioned above, who I think is doing some really interesting stuff is Ancuta Sarca. We do see a lot of upcycling and resoling in the name of sustainability in the sneaker space, but Ancuta’s work really subverts the meaning of sneakers and transforms them into something else entirely – whilst also allowing us to immediately identify the sneaker within the shoe. Her hybrid heels are made from dead stock materials and reclaimed products and she’s constantly exploring ways to make her business model even more sustainable with each collection.
“She Kicks: Female Disruptors in the Sneaker World” is available now, published by and directly from Studio96. Images courtesy of Nav Gill and Studio96.