At BET, we are privileged to celebrate our Blackness every day. In honor of Black History Month, we are pulling out extra confetti as we profile some of the most influential Black people in the fashion and beauty industries—especially if their accomplishments and contributions are overlooked by mainstream society. Cheers to our icons!
In 2021, more women are pledging to no longer allow mainstream society to hinder their personal goals of love, life, and happiness. From calling out lack of diversity in the workplace to demanding fashion brands rethink their approach to inclusivity, the needs of women—Black women in particular—are being pulled from the back burner and into the forefront of conversation.
Thankfully, with the help of some trailblazing creatives, the light at the end of the tunnel becomes clearer with each step. Enter, Alexander-John: A famed footwear designer and the new Creative Director of LA Gear, who is using the women in his life as the inspiration for his glow-in-the-dark sneakers and apparel, available at Payless.
“I drew my inspiration from my mom and six sisters. We grew up in the projects, and although they experienced tough situations, they always remained resilient,” Alexander-John explains to BET Style about his LA Gear x Alexander-John collection. “That’s the core inspiration. It is important to remember that even though you are experiencing a dark time, you still have to let your light shine.”
To echo this philosophy, the “Light the Way” line features LA Gear’s signature “Light Runner” sneakers with glow-in-the-dark logo panels and the fashion brand’s iconic heel flame technique—wildly popular in the 1980s.
“My second older sister had a pair of LA Gear sneakers with the flame technique, which is what you call that leather twisting on the back of the heel,” he shares. “If you know LA Gear, that is what they were most known for.”
AJ prides himself in finding a way to conceptualize a women’s runner that not only pays tribute to the past, but also incorporates the stylishness of today. “I wanted to make a shoe that allows wearers to be stylish and active while letting their light shine,” he adds. “All of the women I know are super active so that was the concept of making the shoe a runner.”
It was at a very young age when AJ realized the strength it takes for women to overcome obstacles on a daily basis, all while maintaining a picture-perfect appearance. Hoping to “open the lenses” to the world, AJ’s debut collection for LA Gear challenges the male-dominated sneaker culture with footwear aimed to give women what they actually want.
“I’ve heard from women in this industry that they often feel overlooked. That’s why the big ‘LA’ on the side of the sneakers glow. I want them to feel seen,” AJ insists. “I’ve been inspired by hearing these amazing stories about women who have started their own businesses and gone back to school to get their degrees. The one word I keep using is ‘resilient.’ That’s what women represent to me.”
Despite working with Fortune 500 companies and A-list celebrities—like Beyoncé and Jay-Z—to create stylish footwear, Alexander-John has maintained his composure, stayed focused, and built a successful concept sneaker boutique for both custom and collaborative projects.
Having his own studio has significantly played a part in maintaining his business amid the pandemic.
“For me, my business went through the roof because I was able to create the things that people were asking for in-house and my work didn’t require overseas manufacturing,” he shares with us exclusively.
To fellow creators, he offers the following advice, “Be able to make the things you are dreaming up.”
As for what’s next for the artist, who has designed exclusive sneakers for Puma, Nike, Adidas, and Reebok, AJ shares with us that he’s currently working with Payless to mentor fellow creators—especially those with similar backgrounds. “It’s really what I want to do. I’m excited about these opportunities to share with the people that come from my community,” he says.
To learn more about the affordable LA Gear x Alexander-John collection, prices range from $16-$50, visit Payless.com.
(Photos: Instagram/JHALIN KNOWLES @jhalinknowles)