On Nov. 30, the A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan 3 sneaker will be honored as the Collaboration of the Year at the 35th annual FN Achievement Awards. Below is an article from the magazine’s Nov. 29 print issue featuring a conversation between two of its creators.
Throughout 2021, Jordan Brand and Whitaker Group delivered on promises to the Black community to help shape a better tomorrow, including grants for grassroots groups and programs to highlight minority designers.
From a product perspective, their shared values came through on the A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan 3, a luxury take on the iconic basketball that honors the strength and resilience of Black women. The choice of silhouette was fitting — it was the first Jordan sneaker that owner James Whitner’s mother bought him as a child.
The shoe, which released in April and again in June, is unlike anything done on the silhouette before, featuring hits of suede, a quilted satin lining and messages Whitner’s mother would say to him as a child (“All We Have Is Each Other” and “You Have to be Comfortable Walking Alone”).
Here, Whitner and Jordan Brand president Craig Williams talk about the origins and importance of their collaborative project.
HOW THEY MET
Craig Williams: “When I started at the brand and was talking with [Michael Jordan] and a number of folks within the industry, they were like, ‘You’ve got to check out Social Status, you’ve got to check out James.’ We met first during the [NBA] All-Star in Charlotte [in 2019].”
James Whitner: “But we really got a chance to break bread when we spent a day together in Atlanta — that was in 2019.”
CW: “It was a good conversation because we talked about business, we talked about community, we talked about life, and that’s how you forge relationships. But my first question was ‘Is it A Ma Maniére or A Ma Man-yay? Am I supposed to be French with it? It started there and then got more meaningful as the time went on.”
CRAFTING THE SNEAKER STORY
JW: “Before we started the AJ3 moment, something we discussed that was important to us was to use our voice to support the community and to not just tell one story. To do that, it was critical that the first story we tell was held in high regard. Something that’s very important to [the Black] community and to our business is women, so it was a no-brainer for us to go with an AJ3 made for women. It shocked the world a bit, but for us, it was par for the course.”
CW: “The [Air Jordan 3] silhouette is iconic, we all know its history, but when you can combine that with a story that is so powerful and meaningful for both one person and a million people, you have something that frankly should be saluted, should be celebrated. It also is something where the community goes, ‘I understand this, my mom means something to me, too,’ or ‘I had somebody who cared so much about me that they gave me more than they had.’ These things are universal for the Black community and in the communities where A Ma Maniére and Jordan are revered.”
WHAT MAKES IT STAND OUT
CW: “The messages in the pull tabs in the back.”
JW: “When you grow up in our neighborhoods, those are the things our moms say to us every day. Those are the things that you want the kid to walk away with because they’re also hearing those same messages every day.”
CW: “That element, combined with the aged look, is a perfect metaphor for the Black experience. Sometimes our moms don’t have a lot materially to give us, sometimes what they have to give is a bologna sandwich or a pillow for our head — and that’s great, but by the world’s standards, it’s meager. The aged look to the shoe is interesting because … all of those things that our moms deposited in us, from a Black experience perspective, are invaluable, they are priceless. It’s the combination of those things that is what’s beautiful to me.”
WHY IT MATTERS
JW: “Our [collaboration] dropped a little after [the trial of the murder of ] George Floyd, and a lot of people thought that this was reactive, but this was work that was being done when Craig started [in 2019]. We’ve known for years that we’ve had an aligned vision. Our projects have everything to do with our core value system. The AJ3 is a fruit of that labor.”
CW: “We’re not necessarily going to solve world hunger, but I’m confident world hunger won’t be solved without any action. We want to be a part of the solution versus just sitting here and acknowledging the problem. James has been an example of what that looks like in every community where he has businesses, and I promise you, the collective output of these efforts and so many more will be a positive contributor to the community.”
For 35 years, the annual FN Achievement Awards — often called the “Shoe Oscars” — have celebrated the style stars, best brand stories, ardent philanthropists, emerging talents and industry veterans. The 2021 event is supported by presenting sponsor Nordstrom, as well as Authentic Brands Group, FDRA, Informa, On and Wolverine Worldwide.