MakeWay is making waves in the female sneakerhead community

'[We've] always loved sneaker culture, but we've never been able to see ourselves in it.'
December 21, 2021 5:03 p.m. EST
Courtesy of MakeWay Courtesy of MakeWay

The term "sneakerhead" has mostly been used to describe men who are really into sneakers, but MakeWay is changing that narrative. The women-owned streetwear and sneaker company, located in the heart of Toronto in the Stackt Market, is opening up the space for people of all genders, specifically womxn. Don’t worry if you’re not in Toronto, they also have an online offering for sneakerheads across Canada to enjoy.  

MakeWay was founded by two admirably powerful female entrepreneurs Abby Albino and Shelby Weaver who wanted to curate a sneaker shop for women by women. Etalk caught up with the owners one year after they opened their doors (mid-pandemic, we might add) to admire their space and hear all about their vision. 

“There's a lot of confidence when you're wearing a fire pair of kicks,” Abby Albino told Tyrone Edwards. “I think that it's such a part of who people are. It can show personality. It can show confidence, as I said. It can show someone's mood.”

“I think there is so much about sneakers that connects us, and that's why we're so excited to have a space for females in sneaker culture.” Abby previously contributed insight on her sneakerhead journey for Tyrone's documentary Creative Soles (available to stream exclusively on Crave) where he took a deep dive on sneaker culture..

For years, there hasn’t been a space for women to be represented in the sneaker community. All the iconic shoe drops and major celebrity collabs (especially athletes), only featured men and offer men's sizing. The first pair of Jordans targeted to females was made 13 years after the original Jordans were released. With the opening of MakeWay, the hope is that female sneakerheads are finally able to purchase shoes from hyped shoe drops made specifically for women by their favourite shoe brands all in one place. 

“I think for so long, she and I have always loved sneaker culture, but we've never been able to see ourselves in it,” Albino says, referring to herself and and Weaver. “You know, creating a space for women that's fully funded and run by women allows us to allow our consumers to see themselves in this space.” 

Albino and Weaver’s love for sneakers started with similar childhoods growing up playing basketball and customizing shoes for fun. Though they didn’t grow up together, they met while working for the Toronto Raptors where they shared their mutual love for sneakers, ignighting the idea for MakeWay.

Abby noted how successful female leaders such as U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are moving toward stylish comfort in the form of sneakers rather than conforming to more traditionally feminine shoes like heels. 

“I think it's just really cool to see how much sneaker culture and sneakers as an aesthetic have kind of influenced big powerhouses like that. Because it shows confidence is in comfort. And I think, as we know, women have to sometimes wear clothes that are not comfortable, like heels and things like that. But now it's okay to be wearing sneakers to a wedding, sneakers to a formal function.”

This November, the sneaker curating company celebrated its first anniversary. The birth of MakeWay was a "pandemic project" of sorts for both Abby and Shelby. While the world came to a halt during the global COVID-19 pandemic, the young entrepreneurs didn’t let anything get in their way.

The company pivoted from a predominately in-person business to an eCommerce site, but is now located in the Stackt Market, truly carving an inclusive space “for womxn, by womxn.”

How did the founders come up with such an iconic name? Albino and Weaver insist that it didn’t happen overnight. Both co-founders were going back and forth for months trying to figure out the best and worst names, but all the best names they came up with were taken. Until one TV ad sparked something in both of them.

“We were kind of in our own homes watching the NBA playoffs and a WNBA commercial came on,” Albino began to paint the picture. “At the very end of the commercial, one of the taglines was 'make way.' And it was an automatic spark.” 

“We were both watching the NBA playoffs and we both picked up our phones and automatically, we were like, 'Yo, Make Way?' And [Shelby] had picked up her phone to call me [and say] the same thing.” 

The co-founders later reached out to the director of the commercial and the creative director of the WNBA and shared with them that “the one phrase sparked an entire community.”

Believe it or not, on top of owning and operating MakeWay, both women also have full-time jobs. The entrepreneurs keep themselves busy by dipping their toes in numerous ventures and projects that are in different sectors of the creative industries.

Abby Albino is also the co-founder of Rise Tribe, an organization based on powering the next generation of Filipinx-Canadian leaders. When Abby isn’t busy with MakeWay and mentoring Filipino youth at Rise Tribe, you could also find her as the Head of Development at Mad Ruk, a creative production agency.

Weaver’s life-long love for basketball brought her to work with the Toronto Raptors as the team’s Director of Operations and Culture. When she isn’t working alongside the Raps or MakeWay, she takes her love for sneakers to the next level. Weaver owns her own sneaker customization studio called Mack House where sneakerheads can bring their sneaker dreams to life. Luckily, both Mack House and MakeWay are located in Stackd Market. That’s truly any sneaker-lover’s dream.

Shelby says her reasoning for launching MakeWay was actually advice she gives Raptors players—pursue what you love outside of your main hussle. 

“I think the main reason that [basketball and MakeWay] are so closely related for me, at least, is a lot of my job for many years at the Raptors was to encourage our players to hone in on what their off-court passions are and building a life outside of basketball, whatever that looks like for them,” she explained.

“A lot of that for me is just doing what I preach and doing, the things that I'm trying to help other people do,” Shelby continued. “I think that's sort of why I've felt so empowered to move forward in a space outside of the NBA, and I think it starts from the top for us with Masai [Ujiri] and everybody in our organization is so about being more than just who you are on the court or, in my case, who you are within the confines of the NBA.”

“MakeWay will never just be a retail space. It's a community hub,” Abby shared.

Albino and Weaver wanted to create a safe and inclusive space for female sneaker-lovers who want to either pick up some new kicks or chill in a cool environment that exudes creativity and comfort. The MakeWay shop makes for the perfect home away from home. 

Shelby explained that the retail space became a lot more important to them for numerous reasons. “Obviously, during COVID, everybody was like 'You should start an online store, start online first,' and that just totally defeats the purpose for us, the space.”

“The physical space is so crucial to what we do and what we're trying to build here.”

Shelby says that at its core, MakeWay strives to be a community hub that encourages lifelong friendships and connections to those who have similar interests. 

When speaking on how more women could get into sneakers, Abby thinks there should be more female celebrity collabs with respected sneakerhead companies.

“I think the collaborations are an important piece of why sneaker culture has become so important and so powerful within this time period,” Abby explained. 

“Now, with the Billie Eilish, the Rita Ora, the Melody Ehsani—these people are allowing sneaker culture to become very approachable and part of someone's every day, whether it's music or gaming or sports or art. There's so many ways sneaker culture has infiltrated those spaces, and it's because of those really cool collaborations.”

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