Aleali May on Working with Jordan Brand

by February 14, 2018
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Aleali May

Los Angeles-based stylist Aleali May and Jordan Brand hosted a pop-up shop inside UNDFTD on La Brea Avenue to celebrate her collaboration with the Jumpman back in October. The release, which was the first time a female designer made a shoe in men and women’s sizes, was a black and gray Air Jordan 1 with corduroy that pays homage to the house slippers her father and uncle would wear, and a satin and chenille Swoosh that draws inspiration from vintage Starter jackets. Inside UNDFTD, May curated the aesthetic to replicate the Slauson Swapmeet, a one-stop shop in South Central that’s one of the city’s staples, with vintage tees, jewelry and classic West Coast albums. The collab drew many people to camp out for numerous days with resell prices that currently range anywhere from $350-$500.

It’s a Thursday afternoon at CBS Studios in L.A. and May, 25, is one of four speakers on a panel hosted by Kenny Smith to kick-off the Future of Flight event. Shortly after she discussed how much Michael Jordan influenced her, Jordan Brand unveiled the 2018 NBA All-Star Game jerseys along with upcoming footwear—from highly coveted retros like the Black Cement IIIs, more colorways of Russell Westbrook’s recently released signature sneaker, the Why Not Zer0.1, to pieces from the brand’s recently released Season of Her collection, featuring select footwear and apparel that caters to the female demographic. May, who recently styled upcoming pieces for the campaign, has played an integral part its development.

SLAM caught up with May to talk about the Season of Her collection, the response and design process for her sneaker, inspiring females and more.

SLAM: What’s it been like to see the evolution of Jordan Brand incorporating a women’s line with the Season of Her Collection?

Aleali May: It’s mixed emotions. Sometimes I was like, Damn, finally, ’cause we’ve been trying to get lit and then it’s also like, Wow, this is actually happening because we’re the target that’s missing. But mind you, when you think of women, these are the mothers that buy shoes for their kids. They want to look fresh when they go to the office or when they’re outside of it. Young moms, too. I got friends that have kids and they buy them the kids’ size, and to have something for her, that’s really something significant because we’re a part of sneaker culture too. Women buy, so it’s amazing. We have me, Maya Moore… we had to have this.

Aleali May

SLAM: Your Jordan 1 was a big hit that people were camping outside of UNDFTD for a few days to grab a pair. What was that feeling like?

AM: Honestly, I thought it was going to be one of those things where you walk in and see the pop-up, buy the shoes, flick up. I didn’t know it was going to be crazy. The day before it was like 2 p.m. and they were like, ‘Hey, can we start camping?’ And then we were like, wait what? I never imagined, for myself, to have a Jordan. I’m from South Central—everyone wears Jordans. When we all meet up for Christmas, we all wear the latest Jordans, and to see myself have one, I’m honestly still taking it in ’cause this is a dream come true, and it’s really cool that my city is in it. That’s something that’ll be a part of history forever. That’s the part that’s mind blowing is that as long as the world is what it is, it’s going to stay there. Really I did this for women and my city. I did this for my family. My uncle, G, put me on Jordans. For us to celebrate, I think that was the highlight—to see his face—because he bought me my first [pair]. It was lit.

SLAM: How much did the Slauson influence you as a kid and your style?

AM: First of all, I went to Hillcrest [Drive Elementary School] in the Jungles. My friends had the Looney Tunes pullover so I had to go to the Slauson Swapmeet and get the Looney Tunes pullover; then they had the bamboo earrings and I wanted to get them bamboo earrings; then I wanted to get the slouch socks. I actually used to get my uniform from the Slauson Swapmeet. That was really like the hub. [Me and my grandmother] would go and buy jewelry. That’s what it was, you know? That’s why I needed to have it there. Even though [UNDFTD] is on La Brea, there’s a lot of people that have never been to the Slauson Swapmeet. There’s a lot of people who’ve never had Roscoe’s, Randy’s Donuts and just having them have that shopping experience of like, ‘Damn, this is what it feels like?’ Also, it brings more people to go the Slauson. For me, I felt like I wanted to redirect it and bring some money to the neighborhood, so whoever seen the pop-up wants to see what the Slauson is; or I’m going to buy a piece of jewelry now. You know, really just highlighting how I grew up. And everybody has love for they city so that’s really what it was.

SLAM: When did it really hit you that you were actually doing a shoe with Jordan Brand?

AM: When I was on the flight back—you know, I’m a girl—so I cried. I just can’t believe that I just left this Jordan meeting and I sat in this meeting that you can imagine: it’s an all-white room, every product in there was all white. It’s a really long table where it’s you and a bunch of people with notebooks, talking and they were like, ‘What [shoe] you wanna do?’ And I was like the 1. I was a little nervous to ask for it because everybody wants to do a 1. They were like OK and I said corduroy and Gemo [Wong, Senior Design Director for Special Projects at Jordan Brand] was like, ‘Corduroy?’ He shook his head and for me, I was like what is going on right now? It was one of those things where you need your friend to be there ’cause then y’all can be looking around at each other…but it’s still surreal. I kept my guest pass and hung it up in my room. It’s a start of something that’s great.

Aleali May

SLAM: What was that one Jordan that pulled you in?

AM: I’ve always worn them when I was little, but I had a pair of XIIs and I’d frickin’ run around with the dogs. They were so bad I had to clean them so many times. But the Flu Games—those my shit.

SLAM: If you’re able to collab with Jordan again in the future, what’s the next shoe you’d love to work with now that you have the AJI and AJVI?

AM: The IV. I love the IVs. I just heard when I was little about the Military IVs and my dad was in the military, so automatically I’m like well whatever that looks like. I love the IV, man. Besides the VI—I like Is, IVs and VIs—that’s my swag. They go with everything. They don’t exactly look like basketball shoes, and for me, I have a small frame so it’s trying to find things that compliment my style and I can wear and swag out in. Every colorway. I even asked Frank [Cooker] for them and they were too big, but I was like, ‘Fuck this, I’m ’bout to wear two socks’. [Laughs]

SLAM: What kind of advice would you give the women that look up you?

AM: Like how they were saying on the panel, Jordan followed his own lane. I think the most important part is to be yourself. Being yourself is going to get you where you are. There’s a lot of times where I’m like, ‘Do I have to be this girl to get this? Do I have to do this?’ Instagram will also mess you up in the head, too. But if you stick to who you are and you’re like, this is me—unapologetic—people are going to respect that. People are going to see you making your own waves, making your own moves so that’s important to stay true to who you are. Also, learning yourself a little bit more. The older you get, the more you’re going to evolve, travel, take more things in and the more your style’s going to change—everything. You do this for you.

Drew Ruiz is a contributor to SLAM. Follow him @DrewRuiz90. Photos by Joseph Sherman.