Allyson Felix is essentially the most embellished Olympian in observe and subject historical past. However a number of years in the past, she had an issue: She had no footwear to put on.
In 2019, she publicly reduce ties with Nike, her principal sponsor, when she asked the company for maternity protections and was stonewalled. A couple of months later, she signed a brand new sponsorship contract with women’s activewear label Athleta, which vowed to help her as each an athlete and a mom. However Athleta didn’t make sneakers. So what would she put on to her subsequent race? “We hated the concept she would go and provide free promoting for a model that didn’t wish to signal her,” says Wes Felix, Allyson’s supervisor and brother. “Sooner or later, I checked out her, and mentioned: ‘What if we constructed our personal shoe firm?’”
In order that’s what they did. In 2020, Allyson and Wes cofounded Saysh, which is designed to be a substitute for the male-oriented sneaker firms that drive the sports activities world. As she heads to the Tokyo Olympics, she is going to proudly put on spikes customized constructed for her by Saysh’s designers. And this September, the model will launch its first product, a $150 sneaker tailor-made to the distinct anatomy of a girl’s foot. It’s going to additionally launch an internet neighborhood that can give subscribers entry to exercises, digital content material, and probabilities to work together with different members, together with Allyson herself.
A household enterprise
At 35, Allyson is among the high observe and subject athletes on the earth, with six Olympic gold medals and 11 world championship titles to her title. For many of her profession, she’s saved her head down and centered on her sport, however over the previous two years she’s emerged as an outspoken advocate for women. She shared the story of her troublesome being pregnant to attract consideration to the struggles that Black mothers face in the health system, and simply final week she partnered with Athleta to launch a $200,000 childcare grant for moms who’re athletes. In some ways, Saysh is the subsequent step on this advocacy.
Wes believes it was Allyson’s expertise with Nike that drove her to the brink. “We began this firm from a spot of ache, hardship, and unhappiness,” he says. “All of it comes again to her feeling like she was thrown away, undervalued, and an afterthought, which broke her in numerous methods. I’m so glad that we’re bringing Saysh to the world, however I might by no means need Allyson to undergo that once more.”
Wes and Allyson have all the time been shut. As youngsters, they had been each athletic, in order that they usually spent hours on the observe working collectively. In school, Wes served as captain of the observe and subject staff on the College of Southern California, and for three and a half years after he graduated, he was an athlete sponsored by Nike. However he was all the time involved in changing into a sports activities agent or a supervisor. As Allyson’s star continued to rise, Wes believed he may assist her negotiate higher offers with company sponsors. So, when she was 22 and he was 25, he pitched the thought of changing into her agent for a 12 months, to see how they received alongside. “We come from a close-knit household with a dad who’s a protector,” Wes says. “He mentioned, it’s good to shield your sister. You guys have to work collectively in such a method the place you may look out for each other.”
Greater than a decade later, the 2 are nonetheless working collectively. And whereas different brokers might have cautioned Allyson towards slicing ties with an enormous like Nike, Wes says he was much more involved together with her happiness and well-being than together with her monetary success. “As an agent, I used to be informed that I might by no means once more do one other deal within the sport for serving to Allyson take this stand [against Nike],” he says. “However it was the precise factor to do.”
Designing a sneaker for women
Most sneakers available on the market aren’t particularly designed for women’s toes, say Saysh designers Tiffany Beers and Natalie Candrian, who left their jobs at Nike to work for Allyson. For a lot of the twentieth century, women weren’t allowed to take part in skilled sports activities, so shoe firms designed basketball and trainers primarily based on males’s toes. These grew to become the prototypes for the trendy athletic shoe. “Sports activities was a person’s world, and the sports activities footwear had been constructed for males,” Candrian says. “However it’s a much bigger drawback that persists immediately. The eye, cash, and sponsorships nonetheless are likely to go in direction of males.”
Even now, when scores of women put on sneakers day-after-day, Beers and Candrian have noticed that many shoe manufacturers create a single shoe mannequin designed for a person’s foot, then merely make smaller sizes for women. But, women’s toes are completely different from males’s. For one, the fats content material in women’s our bodies is distributed in a different way than it’s in males’s our bodies, so their toes should carry this weight in a different way. And anatomically, a girl’s heel tends to be narrower and her forefoot tends to be wider proportionally than the heel.
As they developed their introductory product, the Saysh One, the designers constructed it round women’s proportions. Additionally they created the next heel, which many women discover extra comfy. The top result’s designed to really feel like pulling on a snug pair of denims that match snugly and supply help in the precise locations. “Once we began this challenge, we mentioned, ‘Let’s faux males’s footwear don’t exist. Let’s faux shoe’s don’t exist,’” Beers says. “If a girl was going to construct a shoe for herself, what would she create?”
Aesthetically, they had been centered on creating an immediately recognizable look that would sooner or later be iconic. There are traces that traverse the size of the shoe and crisscross one another on the entrance. Candrian says the wrap costume was one in every of her inspirations. “The concepts of the traces crossing diagonally is a flattering visible,” she says. “The traces remind me of a observe.”
The shoe is accessible for preorder in three colours and can ship in September. It’s going to even be out there for sale in Athleta shops. And the staff already has a pipeline of different merchandise to roll out within the fall and winter, which incorporates different footwear and attire. However the aim for every little thing Saysh does is to create an area that’s completely centered on women’s wants. “The true imaginative and prescient is to create a neighborhood by women for women,” Wes says. “We are going to maintain going again to our neighborhood and asking them what they wish to see on the earth.”