When the Seattle storm striker Breanna Stewart dons a pair of female-designed shoes, she feels “a bit more powerful”. For a 27-year-old player with two WNBA championships under her belt, that’s saying something.
Stewart hopes to partner with eBay to unveil its Trailblazers Collection of footwear designed for women will help shine a light on women’s contributions to sneaker culture, while snagging more iconic sneaker deals from WNBA athletes like the one she signed with Puma in 2021. “There’s a lot of talent in our league,” Stewart says, and it’s “really underrepresented.”
In fact, Stewart is one of only 10 WNBA players to ever have a signature shoe offering – a mass-marketed personal shoe design, not to be confused with player-exclusive designs worn only by athletes – and the first in over a decade. Contrast that with the NBA, where enough athletes had signature shoe deals in the 2021 season for the media to make. Top 10 lists. It’s “something I definitely don’t take for granted,” says Stewart.
So why, exactly, are sneakers so important? Signature shoe deals earn money for players who have them, earning top players tens of millions of dollars a year. For WNBA players, whose six-figure salaries pale in comparison to the multimillion-dollar shares of NBA stars, sponsorships and other corporate deals mean the difference between living like the average Amazon programmer and live like the top athletes they so clearly are.
But it’s about more than money. “Sneakers play a huge role in the world of basketball,” says Stewart. “We are seeing more and more what people are wearing.” Increasingly, players are using shoes to ‘spark conversation’, like LeBron James’s “equality” sneakers or the “vote as soon as possible” Stewart shoes, who is known for her activism on and off the pitch, wore during the 2018 mid-terms.
The increased focus on athletes’ fashion choices makes the divide between how brands (and by extension, the general public) treat the NBA and the WNBA all the more apparent. But “attitudes toward women’s basketball are definitely changing,” Stewart says. Take for example eBay’s big push to promote women’s sneakers. And the The growing popularity of the WNBA—2021 was the league most watched season since 2008.
And Stewart’s own design, which is currently estimated to be released in mid-summer. “It’s our industry,” Stewart said. “Yeah, these are designed by a woman… We’re finally here.”