Female sneakerheads have a place to call their own in Toronto with Makeway boutique

·4 min read

Two women in Toronto are clearing a lane for female sneakerheads in the GTA with their new aptly named boutique.

Makeway co-founders Shelby Weaver and Abby Albino grew up playing basketball and met while working for the Toronto Raptors. Streetwear and sneakers were a natural fit for both of them, but they found representation of women in the industry was lacking in the city.

When they came up with the idea to create a women-focused Toronto sneaker boutique, it was both to fill that need within the streetwear community and to empower other women through an industry they’re passionate about.

“There’s so many women that we look up to,” Albino said, “We wanted to just follow in their footsteps as best as possible in the space that we’re familiar with.”

For a while, men held court in the sneaker world, and knowledge of gear seemed like a prerequisite for entry. Weaver and Albino want to help welcome new people into the scene and make it more accessible.

“We want women to feel comfortable. Sneaker culture can sometimes be incredibly intimidating,” Albino said. “We want new people to be involved and discover what these brands are.”

“We don’t expect people to come in here and be able to know what every shoe is on the wall,” Weaver added. “That, to me, shouldn’t be a prerequisite for sneaker culture.”

Sneakers make up the main display upon entry, but the racks and displays flanking them and filling every corner are products from local and small women-run businesses, many of which keep with the sports theme.

Below the shoe wall are planters made from hollowed-out basketballs with names like “Spicy P’eperomia” after Pascal Siakam’s nickname and a philodendron tagged “Freddy VineVleet” by Toronto’s The Give and Grow.

Next to sports bras and tracksuits are hand-tufted basketball rugs from Alberta-based Cree designer Rashelle Campbell.

Located at Stackt Market on Bathurst Street, Makeway opens to the public Saturday. Weaver and Albino have been dreaming up the space since last winter and, despite the pandemic, felt compelled to put it in motion even if restrictions limit it for the time being.

The store was designed by COFO Design and features open space and lounge seating, with community gatherings in mind for when health restrictions are lifted. “(We) work on a lot of community programming. And one of the challenges is having a place to do these things that doesn’t cost a ton of money,” Albino said.

“We want it to be an inclusive hub, a gathering place for women to come together, connect, engage and celebrate each other,” Weaver said. It’s also important to her that they support the countless women doing amazing things in the city.

With the Ford government announcing lockdown measures that will close non-essential retail come Monday, Makeway already had plans to launch an online shop, so it will remain operational through e-commerce and possible curbside pickup.

Either way, there are plenty of women sneakerheads looking forward to the space.

Anna Bediones is a sneaker collector who grew up playing basketball as well but often had to buy youth-size shoes when women’s weren’t available. The tradeoff is that since kids outgrow shoes so fast they aren’t usually made with the same high quality technology as adult pairs that could have enhanced her performance on the court.

For Keysha Freshh, a Toronto songwriter and MC, it’s the story behind the designs that drew her to the shoes. “For me, sneakers are like artwork. Most artists have a story behind their creations. So it’s no different with sneakers,” she said. The silhouettes, colours and textures tend to have meaning to the designers.

“(We’ve) lacked our own space where we can get shoes specifically for us, clothing specifically for us,” Freshh said.

Kiah Welsh was also drawn in by the stories behind shoe designs. As an introvert, sneakers and streetwear are a way she shows her personality, she said.

“For so long in the sneaker industry, women are usually overlooked. They’re an afterthought,” Welsh said. “Just knowing that you’re shopping somewhere where it’s curated with you in mind, it makes the experience so much more valuable.”

Angelyn Francis is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering equity and inequality. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach her via email: afrancis@thestar.ca

Angelyn Francis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Toronto Star