Sole Mates: Jourdan Ash and the Nike Air Force 1

The journalist and True To Us founder speaks on her personal history with the Air Force 1, its cultural significance and more.

Footwear 
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Born in Detroit and raised in Harlem, Jourdan Ash has been immersed in sneaker culture for as long as she can remember. The journalist and founder of True to Us — an online platform that “[normalizes] Black and brown women as the foundation of the sneaker and streetwear industries” — grew up being dressed in Air Jordans by her mother, and then discovered Nike‘s Air Force 1 when she moved to Harlem, a place many would consider the capital of Western sneaker culture, as a young child.

Though the Air Force 1 is loved the world over, it’s held in especially high regard in Harlem. There, it’s often referred to as the “Uptown” due to Harlem’s geographic location in Manhattan. “Once I realized that people were looking at my kicks before they decided if they wanted to have a conversation with me or not, my whole life kind of shifted,” Ash reminisces with a smile. This discovery and the prominence of the Air Force 1 at cultural events like Harlem’s African American Day Parade hooked a young Ash, who got her first pair of Air Force 1s almost 20 years ago and hasn’t looked back since.

In the latest installment of HYPEBEAST‘s weekly Sole Mates series, Jourdan Ash discusses her favorite Air Force 1s, what she thinks about wearing “cooked” pairs as opposed to fresh ones, if she thinks sneaker culture has become more inclusive in the last few years and, of course, the million-dollar question: if she wears the Air Force 1 Mid. See the full conversation below.

HYPEBEAST: You were born in Detroit and raised in Harlem — two cities with rich sneaker culture. What was growing up in that atmosphere like, and how did it shape your taste in sneakers?

Jourdan Ash: We moved to Harlem from Detroit when I was six, and this was in the ‘90s. Michael Jordan was huge, so my mom always made sure I was “Jourdan in Jordans” [laughs]. I didn’t really think too much about my sneakers until I moved to Harlem and realized that everyone looks at your sneakers first, no matter if you’re a kid or an adult.

Once I realized that people were looking at my kicks before they decided if they wanted to have a conversation with me or not, my whole life kind of shifted. My father taught me that I needed to keep up appearances when I left the house because I was representing my entire household. He taught me how to clean my sneakers too, which was a huge moment for me.

Do you recall a specific moment when you were introduced to the Air Force 1, or was it always a part of your life?

The first time I wore a pair of Air Force 1s was when I went to the African American Day Parade in Harlem as a kid. Everyone always shows up in their best for that event — HBCUs bring their bands out and it’s an all-day celebration. Everywhere you looked, you’d see Air Force 1s, and not the pairs you’d wear for a run to the store: fresh pairs, rare pairs, bright colors. Seeing all those pairs and wearing my own pair of Forces for the first time … I’ll never forget that feeling.

“[The Air Force 1] is a uniform piece, one of the rare items that’s worn across all five [of New York's] boroughs.”

The Air Force 1 is an iconic shoe that’s popular all over the globe, but there’s always been something a little different about how it’s received in New York. Why is that?

It’s a uniform piece, one of the rare items that’s worn across all five boroughs. When I was growing up, people from Harlem and Brooklyn would go out of their way to be different from one another, but the one thing that brought us together was our love of the Uptown. I don’t know anyone from New York who doesn’t have at least one pair of Air Force 1s.

What Air Force 1s do you prefer? Are you partial to the classic all white and all black, or do you usually go for something with a little more color?

It’s a mix of both. I’ve really been into the Air Force 1 “Puerto Rico” recently, and I like the Air Force 1 Craft because the leather is really premium and doesn’t crease easily. I also recently bought the Air Force 1 “White Bag” because I love that rose on the midsole and how it’s inspired by bodega bags, but the quality on those isn’t all that great [laughs]. Another pair that’s special to me is the UNDEFEATED x Nike Air Force 1 “On Your Feet Kid,” which was brought back as a Dunk recently. They’re such a unique colorway, and always remind me of how people in Harlem will pull out their most exclusive pairs for any special occasion.

There’s also a wide spectrum of ways people like to wear their Air Force 1s: the classic style is a fresh pair, but recently you see a lot of folks out and about in intentionally thrashed pairs. Which end of the spectrum do you fall on?

I’ve got a trashed pair of Air Force 1s that I’d wear specifically for music festivals, because as a journalist I’d have to cover a lot of events of that nature. However, that’s not the kind of pair I’d wear out. It’s cool to have your little funky Air Force 1s you wear for gardening, a trip to the bodega, whatever, but if I’m out and about it’s a fresh pair. I respect either preference though.

“I’d like to see brands, retailers and media outlets say “hey, you like sneakers and want to work in sneakers? Here’s a way to do it with a science background, with an engineering background, with an art background.”

On that note, do you think sneaker culture has become more inclusive in the past few years? If so, what’s the biggest progression you’ve seen and what would you like to see happen next?

I think it’s taking baby steps in the right direction. I would love to see a lot more women’s exclusive drops in-store, bringing that in-person community aspect to the female and female-identifying sneaker community. I also think the gap between the careers that are available in sneakers and streetwear and the careers women think are available needs to be closed a bit more as well.

A lot of people seem to think the only way to get into [a career in sneakers] is to take the journalism route and hope you get the right break, or just work at a store the majority of your life. There are a lot of other careers in the world of sneakers that people who are already in the industry don’t share because they want to keep things for themselves. I’d like to see brands, retailers and media outlets say “hey, you like sneakers and want to work in sneakers? Here’s a way to do it with a science background, with an engineering background, with an art background.” There really are so many different ways to proceed.

And that’s what you try to push with your True To Us platform, correct?

Yes! True To Us is an online platform for black and brown women looking to be seen and heard in the sneaker and streetwear industry, and we’re hoping to create more IRL communities as well. I wanted to start it because it took me so long to find spaces for myself in this industry. I have friends from all different walks of life, and realized that I was having the same conversations with all of them — even though they were completely different groups of people — so I figured I’d do what I could to bring them all together.

Funny story: True To Us was actually born out of an edit test I was asked to do at a publication I was trying to get a job at. They wanted me to build an Instagram from scratch, so I started True to Us for that. I knew I was on to something, and decided I was going to keep it rolling no matter if I got that job or not. The support for it really started flooding through last year, which was awesome to see. Connecting people has always been my goal.

Circling back around to the Air Force 1, even before sneaker brands were making a conscious effort to reach savvy female consumers it was a shoe that was available in a bunch of really dope women’s makeups. Why do you think it’s always been so ahead of the curve?

It’s always been really inclusive. I feel like it’s such a timeless silhouette that even back when sneaker culture wasn’t as open as it is today [Nike] was willing to experiment with it more, create more variations, colors and size runs. It’s also the one sneaker that I’ve always been able to buy in whatever size I want — men’s, women’s, boys. It’s constructed the same from its smallest size to its biggest size, and I’ve never had an issue with finding a dope pair.

Last question: Air Force 1 Mids or nah?

[Laughs] No, never. Only the Air Force 1 High and Air Force 1 Low.

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