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How Conquering Shyness in High School Inspired Aleali May’s Nostalgia-Fueled Jordan Collection

Aleali May reveals a lot about herself through collaboration. And her latest effort with Jordan Brand is no different.

Before month’s end, May — the first woman with a Jordan Brand women’s footwear and apparel collaboration — will deliver a new collection, inspired by her ability to conquer shyness while on the Inglewood High School drill team in California.

And, of course, footwear is included. For this line — scheduled for an April 22 release — May opted to give the Air Jordan 1 Zoom Comfort a new look.

With the release just 10 days away, May offered details on the story behind the collection and revealed what excites her the most about women wearing her sneakers.

Why is it important to you to tell such a personal story?

“I grew up in south central Los Angeles, the Crenshaw area, and basically I went to elementary school, but I did extracurricular activities. I feel like having those getaway moments are very inspirational and it takes you away. I had this amazing coach, her name was Shanora, she was my drill team coach at the time, and she would let me and another girl practice with her high school girls. Her girls went to school at Inglewood High, which is very close to the Crenshaw district, and being an elementary girl and practicing with the big girls I was like, ‘Wow, how am I going to do this?’ There’s a level of confidence you have to have every day that you to practice, like, ‘OK, I’m going to be just as sharp as them.’ I’ve always been a shy girl, and Shanora always made sure that I was good, and even that moment of, ‘Wow, she picked me,’ is something I think all girls can relate to where you feel like you must have done something to be chosen. Those moments in a girl’s life are very important, even past elementary school, and that is one of the highlights that I wanted to do for a shoe. We have the royal blue on the shoe, and that is a representation of the colors from my elementary school, and then we have this pine green, which is Inglewood High’s color. I wanted to show that story of here I am, a young girl, soaking everything in like a sponge, enjoying every day being around this group of girls and we’re all uplifting each other. But then also it’s having this older woman be like, ‘You can do this.’  The crazy part is she still teaches at both schools and has her own dance teams outside of that — and they win trophies. I think that works so well with the Jordan heritage because of the definitive moments, that moment of not giving up, never being defeated and if I keep going I can inspire the next generation. This is a way for me to say thank you, because it is a particular time in my life that goes with me wherever I go, whether it’s Paris Fashion Week or home with my family.”

Aleali May Air Jordan 1 Zoom Comfort
Aleali May in selections from her spring ’21 collection with Jordan Brand, including the Air Jordan 1 Zoom Comfort.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Jordan Brand

Why did you choose to reimagine the Air Jordan 1 Zoom Comfort?

“I think we can all agree that sometimes [Air Jordan] 1s all day, every day, aren’t the most comfortable. But the Jordan team presented me the Zoom Comfort, I tried it on and was like, ‘What is this?’ It was so soft and I was bending over trying to crease it. But it was a great challenge for me to take on because I don’t necessarily feel like people gravitate toward the newer shoes. It was a good challenge for me to say, ‘OK, you’ve done two great [Air Jordan] 1s, let’s see if you can revisit this with that new technology while still having some of the old school appeal.’ I love OG Jordans, so we went for that high collar,  and then we did a sail bottom to play on that aspect of vintage, and then we had a few hints from the first collab that I did with them like the chenille and the satin. We also applied this tumbled leather, which honestly when I felt I was like, ‘What is this butter leather? This is some new age s**t that I ain’t used to.’ It doesn’t hurt and it bends and moves with your feet, so I was like, ‘OK, yeah, I’m down for the cause.’ And thinking about this drill team aspect, they’re moving, they’re going, so they need a shoe that moves with them. Also, sometimes I’m on 12-hour styling shoot days, and we’re starting to get older, we’ve got to protect the sciatic nerve, so it’s like, ‘What is something that I can look fly in but still be very comfortable?’ This is a really good way to start.”

Aleali May Air Jordan 1 Zoom Comfort
Aleali May x Air Jordan 1 Zoom Comfort for spring ’21.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Jordan Brand

What was the sampling process like?

“They would send me the samples and we would go over it through Zoom. I don’t think there are any flaws on these shoes. They are so good, and I feel like we were able to get it right very quickly, probably within three times. Then, it was just like adding certain hits on it just to make sure everything is great.”

You’re the first woman with a Jordan Brand footwear and apparel collaboration. Where does this rank in your list of accomplishments?

“I didn’t even think about that line until you said it. When I created my first [Air Jordan] 1, I was like, ‘OK, if this is going to be one-and-done, I’ve got to go super hard for L.A.’ I try to approach every collection like when I’m done, this next girl is going to have a lot of things to work with in the vault of Jordan Women’s, she’s going to have a lot of stories to inspire her. So it’s definitely huge. And I feel really excited for the apparel we did, and I’m excited to see how other girls are going to style it. At the end of the day, I am a fashion girl, and what really makes me the most excited is when I see how the girls put together their ‘fits. It also shows that there’s different eyes when it comes to women and streetwear. Not every single woman in this space dresses the same. That needs to be shown, this idea that there’s different types of girls and you can’t really put us in a box.”

Do you feel pressure to top what you have done when going into new projects?

“Yes, I do, but I do it because I love it and I like a challenge. I like to look at a silhouette and be like, ‘OK, what are you going to do with this?’ I’m very open now when it comes to designing because the sky is the limit, and technology has got way better. I approach every project with the same type of love and I always try to think about what’s going to be my story, what’s going to be most authentic to myself and just trust that there are a lot of girls out there who feel the same way. [I think] we’ve been doing a pretty good job.”

Aleali May Air Jordan 1 Zoom Comfort
Aleali May’s spring ’21 collection for Jordan Brand.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Jordan Brand

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