Jazerai Allen-Lord is one of the coolest moms you will ever meet. She’s so cool that even her two teenage sons are often surprised and impressed by who she knows. Obviously, most teenagers want nothing to do with their parents, but when your mother is a sneakerhead (this title is really a thing) coming out with her own shoe via Reebok (September 1), there’s only one question to be answered: How much more legit can you get?
There’s more. A lot more. Trust, you want Jazerai on your squad. I don’t even know when Jazerai got on my radar but we found each other on social media, which was probably inevitable given that we’re female sneakerheads. The sneaker community for women isn’t as small as big brands seem to think, yet they insist on making all the fire kicks in only men’s sizes and that is a problem—a representation problem that female sneaker enthusiasts come together to lament often.
Jazerai is never afraid to speak about that problem, and uses her large platform, and the work that she does as a creative strategist, via Crush & Lovely (a marketing agency), to amplify the need for diversity in the sneaker world, not just in terms of women’s sizes and styles, but also the need for more Black and Brown faces calling shots. Lord is the type to say it like she means, whether in actual meetings with these brands, on social media, or even at panels, where she feels even experts are often afraid to speak up.
“The thing with a panel is that a lot of times the brand sponsors a panel or the person on the panel is sponsored, and they don’t tell the truth or they don’t want to talk about it because they don’t want to lose their money or whatever,” Jazerai told MadameNoire. “And so, I was like, the real conversations that create the type of change we need to see don’t happen on the panel, they happen at the bar after everybody leaves the panel, and I want to create those types of environments for women to be able to come and talk about it and say, ‘I’m tired of this s–t,’ we don’t have to wait for our employers to make change. We can make individual commitments to each other to make change.”
The San Diego native, who currently lives in the NYC area, got a serendipitous start in the game. Her love of sneakers is so deep she got married in a pair of Nike SB Dunk De La Soul’s (still a highly coveted shoe). Her wedding photos went viral, and caught the eye of one of the top websites for sneaker news at the time.
“The owner of Kicks on Fire AOL Instant Messaged me one day and was like,’I want a girl,’ Jazerai recalls. “There are very few females in this game. I don’t think he knew what he was going to get when he got me. I don’t think he was prepared, but he was like, ‘I’m rocking with it.’”
Jazerai said she got the creative freedom needed to write about the sneaker world from the perspective of a woman who is tired of bright pink, glitter and sparkles being the only offerings in women’s sizes. From there, brands began calling and to this day, Jazerai has an impressive resume under her belt, from working with New Balance for a New York City Marathon installation, to launching Run DMC’s Adidas Boutique. She is also filming a series for Quibi where she will be a recurring character on a show related to sneaker culture. That’s all I’m allowed to tell you about the project for now, but trust me, it’s going to be big.
If that’s not enough, Jazerai landed a sneaker deal with Reebok that has allowed her to handpick a small #GirlGang of sneakerheads to design their own shoe for an upcoming pack. That series of shoes will be coming out in September, and Jazerai, despite all of her accolades, is making sure to keep the price point down because as a divorced single mother of two, she gets it.
“My son wears a size 11. He’s 17, so a pair of shoes for him is sometimes $240,” she said. “So if the family wants a pair, we’re talking about a band on a Saturday and that’s not right.”
Are you swooning yet? Continue reading for more of my conversation with Lord about her upcoming shoe, and creating more brand opportunities for Black creatives.
MadameNoire (MN): Every sneakerhead has a backstory about how they fell into the culture, and for most, it started in childhood before the culture went mainstream. What’s that story for you?
Jazerai Allen-Lord (JAL): It’s still a mind f–k that there is a culture, like it’s still crazy to me that you know like the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee is dancing in LeBrons. That’s a wild concept to me but it’s so real. It almost feels a little bit like forecasting where you know, like they always say that Black people are at the core of trends, fashion, and style. We’ve been doing this! It’s not something brand new to us. That’s why it’s a mind f–k like, what? You guys are just now figuring this out.
But ironically, I came into Sneaker culture through skate culture. Growing up in San Diego, I didn’t play basketball. I didn’t know my dad growing up, so I didn’t have a [male] style icon or somebody that was dressing in streetwear, like an older brother, in the house with me. My mom’s best friend had son at the same time right before I was born so I wore hand-me-downs, and that’s just what it was. Even though I see a bunch of photos of me in pink sweatpants and a crew neck, it was like, you know, it was just my vibe, but it came from my mom not having a lot and then when I started skating I started getting comfortable in what I was wearing. I went to a [predominately white school]. All of the rich white kids had Converse. They had like Chuck Taylors low-top blue tops, blue check. I think they were like $38 and my mom couldn’t do it. I had the Payless Chuck Taylors.
MN: Interesting. For me, I grew up in NYC which was big on Basketball Culture, and that was when it was about Jordans, AirMax, and 5411’s if you were a girl.
JAL: My older female cousins would wear 5411’s. They wore Parasuco Jeans and 5411’s and it was just like, “Damn!” They were just so powerful. I was like, 11 and they were like 19 and going to the club, you know, going to school, going to college and just looked so like—I wanted to be Left Eye growing up and that feeling cultivates that product feeling. I mean, it’s really part of the core reason I chose Reebok because I wanted to be authentic to my story. Even though I love other brands, it really is a brand that always has been authentic to who I am and spoke to me through product and in different ways that other brands don’t do.
MN: Speaking of Reebok, how you end up with a shoe deal?
JAL: I was trying to really figure out like who I wanted to be next [after divorce]. I started at Crush & Lovely and they gave me the freedom to do things a little bit differently because they really believed in the messaging, and I worked with New Balance, Nike’s Black employee network, with Sneaker Week, with Reebok, just creating. We did this thing called Impact Commitment where we would go around and speak. These are happy hours or dinners where we partner with other organizations and have safe spaces for women of color to come and talk about their frustrations and how we can make individual commitments to each other to make change. Can you donate 10 hours of your time this month to an organization that helps women the color? Can you create a pipeline program in your organization? What can you do for the advancement? So, Crush allowed for me to do that. I do it digitally and I go around with these little paper cards and tell my story and I get women across all brands to sign up and give over a hundred commitments.
All the brands do everything from mentorship programs to affinity groups, and through one of these happy hours, I met a woman from Reebok named Darla Degrace. She was super inspired and she said that she wanted to start an affinity group for Reebok for people of color. And that was her impact commitment. She followed through so just seeing the initiatives of my own and my team, three founders [at Crush & Lovely] saw how important the work is and said we can have whatever we needed.
We met with Reebok at a happy hour put our infinity group in motion, and they asked us to come back and open conversation for other people within the organization. We came back, we started having conversations with other people just about these issues, and they called a bunch of people together and had me tell my story, which wasn’t just my story but the story of thousands of women who have expressed their frustrations to me over the decade that I’ve been in sneakers, and they said this was important and they wanted to recognize those on the product side because the industry failed us and that we needed to figure out what can be done on the creative side. It was like, who are the girls that really represent the girl that’s not being spoken to? Who is it that we want to amplify? What is it that we’re trying to say? And we ended up with a very core group of five women across all cultural backgrounds—an international group of women of all shapes sizes, talents and platforms. We gave them each a silhouette, gave them a creative brief and let them go to work. [Note: Lord ins included in this group].
MN: Can you tell me who else is on the design team?
JAL: I have Wonda Gurl, who is a dope producer for Travis Scott and number of other people. I have a young artist who I’ve been mentoring since I was at KicksonFire. I have Distortedd. She’s a girl that I saw something in when she was 16 and have been mentoring her since. My son said to me, “Mom, you know Distortedd? She did XXX’s mural.” She’s a big deal to the young kids. I have Museum Mammy. She was integral and important for me to be in this pack. Before I considered it and looked at her feed and she had on all kinds of Reebok naturally. Those are the voices I want, the girls that actually love the brand. It will only sell if that girl really believes in the brand and the product that she wants to put into the world and wants to make change. I think I’ve achieved that. I also have Girl On Kicks, a White woman who is from Amsterdam. She has been at it in sneakers for as long as I have. I liked her from day one. She was one of the voices that I followed when I started on the internet. Again, we want to go across the globe and make sure every voice is heard that is not being Amplified. I’ve never seen a pack of sneakers designed by four out of five women of color, two of them being dark-skinned women. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a dark-skinned woman other than Serena Williams get a shoe. And yeah, most of the time they give us one pair and then they make us wait a couple years, and then that one pair goes to a light-skinned girl with curly hair.
MN: That is such an on-point observation. Plus, a lot of brands are copycats. They’ll ignore an entire group of people until someone else finally takes a chance and then it sells, like with Fenty Beauty. Then all of a sudden they all go scrambling toward that thing when they could have been doing something that was already there, that was already needed.
JAL: Exactly! That’s the thing! Women have been doing this! We’ve been really focused on women who break barriers in male-dominated spaces and we’ve been doing that for the culture so that ain’t new! I think now they’re trying to see it affects of the dollars, especially with cancel culture.
MN: And we’re not doing sparkles and neon pink ad nauseam, right?
JAL: I can say for me and a majority of the pack there is no pink or cliches. The only pinks that I saw was used correctly to the aesthetic and not in a cliche kind of way. My biggest fear is that someone is going to see that one piece of pink and take it in the wrong context.
MN: I mean, all of the above work when they’re necessary. I do like bright colors and sparkles, but every shoe for women can’t just be that all the time.
JAL: Right! I love pink, but I love pink in context. I love pink when done elevated and beautifully, I don’t like us using pink as—
MN: Like, you’re a girl, here’s pink and feathers, now be happy you have a shoe!
JAL: Yes! I feel like the boys want pink more than we do. So let them wear it for a little bit and let us do something different [laughs]!
Keep up with Jazerai Allen-Lord’s adventures @NerdLikeJazzy.