Z-Ro’s "Mo City Don Freestyle" played through the hall at NRG Center. Young kids walked past booths with arms stretched high in the air holding pairs of shrink-wrapped shoes. Vendors handed out shirts, stickers, patches, and other merchandise celebrating Houston, comics and all things sneaker. Stars like Doughbeezy, Bun B, Dice Soho, and Le$ greeted fans and snapped pictures as people walked by sipping on Monster Energy drinks and foreign imported sodas from Exotic Pop. On stage, in the center of it all, stood Tausha Sanders, the media maven for the Sneaker Summit and its women’s edition SneakHer Summit. She spent most of the day constantly on the move, directing guests and vendors, keeping the event on schedule, and performing as MC for various events. Dressed simply in a Sneaker Summit staff shirt and shorts with matching kicks she split the stage in half and stood between two contestants as they were blindfolded.
“You have to hurry! Can you tell which one it is?” she asked one of the participants as she handed him a pair of Jordans. After he couldn’t guess she handed him another shoe as he raced against another blindfolded contestant across the stage.
The contest was just a small part of the Sneaker Summit, the annual Houston celebration of shoe culture that has been running for a little more than a decade and a half. For the last few years Sanders has been a huge part of the summit, coming on as the social media manager for the annual event and eventually taking the title of marketing and store manager for the accompanying consignment storefront. She’s a representative in a culture that might not have catered to women in the past but Sanders, and those like her, are effectively changing that narrative. The summit not only has what a person would expect, like shoe giveaways and booths full of merchandise, but also added flair, like women’s clothing booths and a dedicated spot for nail techs adorning hands with bright colors and shoe logos.
“I think in the past couple of years women have been more appreciated by men in the industry,” Sanders explains while taking a short break from conference duties. “Jordan brand and Puma are some of the brands doing a lot in terms of getting women involved in design and much more. Here, we have our SneakHer Summit booth. We’re attracting more women to the culture and creating spaces for a lot of us who have always been here. This is the first year we have a whole booth dedicated to women’s apparel and a booth to get your nails done.”
Sanders' co-creator of the SneakHer Summit, Wendy Franklin, spoke on why it was so important to form a division of the event with a focus on women.
“Really there was a lack of female presence at sneaker events in general. We knew women were out there, but they might not have felt confident enough to come out because of the stigma that the events were overrun with guys," says Franklin. "We decided to create a platform focused on women and really create a community of female sneaker heads. I came into this culture because I wasn’t fucking with heels,” she laughed while looking at the crowds of people moving around the hall.
“We want brands to know we like sneakers just like the guys. You don’t have to put pink, purple, and butterflies all over them to make them girly.”
The summit celebrated 16 years yesterday and the organization's founder, Bryan Angelle (also known as Kadoma), took time out to reflect on the role women have played in the event over the years and the importance of Sanders to the organization.
"Tausha does a great job catering to our female audience and making sure that they feel like they're a part of the community. One of the biggest compliments I've ever gotten on our events is that we have a large female audience, somewhere around 30 to 40 percent," says Kadoma. "Which is pretty good for an event of this type. I'm glad that we have a female division to cater to those women."
Women having a greater role in the industry is also something UGK’s Bun B thinks can only make the culture better.
“Women dictate a lot in terms of fashion and there’s a lot of fashion here at the Sneaker Summit," says Bun B. "In order to rock a pair of shoes right you need to have some form of fashion sense and women bring all that to the table. It’s good to see women selling to women. Plus, we’re getting to a point where guys are even open to wearing a woman’s sneaker. A lot of them come in some really fly colorways and people just want to rock something fresh. They’re not all pink and purple.”
Sanders has more events on the horizon with a focus on sneakers and giving women a space to express themselves and her face lights up when talking about the Sneaker Charity Ball scheduled for the fall.
“That’s my baby!,” she excitedly exclaims. “It’s an event that helps charity but also gives people a chance to really come out, have fun, dance, drink, and just have a good time. Girls can wear their formal dresses and sneakers and I just like that feminine and masculine vibe of being in a dress and sneakers.”