When Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart puts on a pair of shoes designed by a woman, she feels "a little bit more powerful." For a 27-year-old with two WNBA championships under her belt, that's saying something.
Stewart hopes that partnering with eBay to unveil its Trailblazers Collection of women-designed shoes will help spotlight women's contributions to sneaker culture—while also landing more WNBA athletes signature sneaker deals like the one she signed with Puma in 2021. "There's a lot of talent in our league," Stewart says, and it's "really underrepresented."
In fact, Stewart is one of only 10 WNBA players to ever have a signature shoe deal—a personal shoe design marketed en masse, not to be confused with player-exclusive designs worn only by the athletes—and the first in over a decade. Compare that with the NBA, where enough athletes had signature shoe deals in the 2021 season for media outlets to make top 10 lists. It's "something that I definitely don't take for granted," Stewart says.
So why, exactly, are sneakers such a big deal? Signature shoe deals rake in cash for players who have them, netting top players tens of millions of dollars a year. For WNBA players, whose six-figure salaries pale in comparison to NBA stars' multi-million dollar shares, sponsorships and other corporate deals are the difference between living like the average Amazon programmer and living like the top-tier athletes they so clearly are.
But it's about way more than just cash. "Sneakers play a huge role in the basketball world," Stewart says. "We're seeing more and more what people are wearing." Increasingly, players are using shoes to "spark conversation," like LeBron James's "equality" sneakers or the "vote ASAP” shoes Stewart, who's known for her activism on and off the court, wore during the 2018 midterms.
Increased attention on athletes' fashion choices makes the gulf between how brands (and by extension, the general public) treat the NBA and the WNBA that much more obvious. But "attitudes towards women's basketball are definitely changing," Stewart says. Take eBay's big effort to promote women's sneakers, for example. And the WNBA's increased popularity—2021 was the league's most-watched season since 2008.
And Stewart's own design, which by current estimates should be released mid-summer. "This is our industry," Stewart says. "Yeah, these are designed by a woman... We're finally here."