Natalie White grew up on New York City basketball courts. Lately, she’s spent most of her time putting up shots at 96th Street and 1st Avenue, a stones throw from FDR Drive.
Since falling in love with the game at the age of 5, White, like many others, has been forced to hoop in kids shoes or ones made for a man’s foot — but she is out to change that.
The 23-year-old entrepreneur has launched Moolah Kicks, a brand made by female ballers, for female ballers.
“We’re seeing more and more that women are receptive to brands when they feel like their voices are heard. And right now with social media, it’s clear when a brand is authentic and when they’re not,” White told FN. “With Moolah, we want to make sure that the women’s basketball community is represented. Every detail of the product and of the brand is a reflection of women’s basketball, and that’s only possible because I played and because I’ve been in the community for so long.”
White’s drive to create Moolah — named as a nod to both street basketball culture and the financial opportunity needed in women’s sports — stemmed from frustrations brought about by the lack of women’s-specific performance shoes in the market. Because of this, female athletes are forced to wear either children’s or unisex sneakers, which aren’t designed with a woman’s foot in mind.
“[Unisex sizing] is less inclusive because you’re taking a men’s size and you’re saying ‘this is what it loosely converts to if you’re a woman.’ The inside of that sneaker is labeled unisex, but it is a man’s foot shape, and men and women have different foot shapes,” White said. “This has negative performance implications when girls have to play in children’s and men’s shoes, you start to see ankle, knee and leg injuries go through the roof because your body is supported.”
But Moolah wasn’t born out of frustrations alone. White, a Boston College graduate who managed the women’s varsity basketball team and played club basketball, made use of the access she had to athletic and medical professionals to fine tune her idea.
“I had access to the entire training staff at Boston College, and we had a million trainers, specialists, doctors there all the time. All I had to do was walk into athletics and say, ‘This is what I’m doing, can I interview you? Can we talk about how to make [the shoes]?'” White said. “Also, I talked to a bunch of different doctors, orthopedic surgeons. I even talked to a trainer at the New York Liberty about it to make sure all of the information I had was right.”
She continued, “But these differences are known. I’m not reinventing anything. I’m just taking the known women’s foot shape and applying that to a basketball form.”
The first footwear launch is the Moolah 1, a court-ready look engineered for the female athlete’s foot. The inaugural model was designed with a slim forefoot width, lifted arch, shallow lateral side and a supportive internal heel counter. To ensure it’s court-ready, the Moolah 1 was built with a multidirectional tread pattern for grip and lightweight synthetic mesh on the uppers.
Initial wear tests have given White confidence that she is on the right track.
“I had a college team wear one Moolah kick and one of the sneakers that they currently wear and all of them had a matching bruise on their big toe in their current shoe because when they plant their foot, it slides forward and hits,” White said. “And it’s not because the shoe is too big on them, it’s because that’s their size in men’s and their foot slides forward.”
To create the footwear, White worked with designer Sean Gayle, an industry vet with more than 20 years of experience at leading brands including Timberland and L.L. Bean. Also, Robert Woods has been tapped as the company’s lead development agent, and Moolah’s advisory board consists of Ryka CEO Sheri Poe, Jones & Vining CEO Jim Salzano and former Saucony CEO John Fisher.
And Moolah is entirely self-funded. White, who earned a degree in finance from Boston College and started the brand during her senior year, used the $25,000 she earned from investment banking last year — as well as her entire life savings — to get Moolah off the ground.
Next, Moolah will launch crowdfunding for the shoes on May 7 via Moolahkicks.com. White told FN that customers can expect to have their sneakers in hand before the winter basketball season in November.
During crowdfunding, the sneakers will cost $89, and when launched, the retail price will be $109.
White said Moolah will remain a DTC brand for the foreseeable future, however she isn’t ruling out wholesale opportunities with the right retail partners, naming Foot Locker and Dick’s Sporting Goods as ideal stockists.
Looking ahead, White said Moolah is already working on a traditional high-top sneaker as well as a low-top, and consumers can expect apparel and other merchandise featuring the brand’s logo soon.
White also said Moolah’s purpose extends beyond offering product made for female hoopers. Its mission is also to fight for gender equality.
That fight is represented in the design of the Moolah 1 shoebox. The packaging features a large blue portion and a far smaller section of yellow, which are nods to the average attendance of NCAA men’s games in 2019 — seen in blue — to the women’s games. Inside the box is a packed crowd around a basketball court, which is representative of a dream that women’s basketball games will have sold out stands at every level in the future.
“When there is a brand with a sole focus on women’s basketball, we’re taking away that idea that men’s basketball is the standard. With Moolah Kicks not having any focus on men, just focusing on women, it sends a strong message that women’s basketball is something to be celebrated in of itself,” White said.