Titi Finlay discusses inclusivity in sneakers, partnering with Nike and the intersection between art and footwear

March 26, 2023 by Joey Birch

Titi Finlay discusses inclusivity in sneakers, partnering with Nike and the intersection between art and footwear

Titi Finlay is a multidisciplinary artist based in London with a clear and concise message: make sneakers inclusive. Through a range of clean, impactful, pieces Finlay has become a leading voice within the sneaker industry. We sat down with Titi to discuss everything from her career, to the sneaker that started it all and more.

Titi, it’s been a long time coming. I’m glad we can finally do this interview. How have you been? 

Thanks for having me! I’m great – suuuuuper busy right now so it’s a bit mad, but a lot of fun.

How’s Maple?

As spoiled and cute as ever! 

We have to ask, what’s your favourite sneaker of all time? 

Such a hard question, but probably the Air Max BW. It was the first pair I can remember seeing and being like ‘Woah’.

What’s in your rotation currently? 

Stüssy Pennys in ‘Fossil’, Vomero 5s in ‘Grey’, and always have a classic white AF1 on the go (the anniversary pair with the good leather, of course!)

Where did your affinity for sneakers come from? Was there a particular pair you can pinpoint? 

I came from a very small village in Scotland where sneaker culture didn’t exist, so it wasn’t until I moved to London in 2014 that I became aware of it. It was an immediate obsession. That was the time when hype culture and sneaker culture was just on the come-up, so it was a really exciting moment to be in London consuming it in real-time. I couldn’t afford to buy sneakers for a long time, so I wrote about them on my blog as an outlet for my passion, then eventually saved up for a pair of bone/cream AM95s. That pair kicked off almost a decade of love for the culture and eventually a career in it. 

What’re your thoughts on the sneaker industry today as a whole?

It feels like a bubble has burst in the last few months. There was so much inflation and hype for a few years, that it went into overdrive and kind of turned people off. But I think the people who are left after all that are the ones who have always loved footwear, and in the same breath, it feels like a nicer space for newcomers. Sneaker culture today is so much more welcoming than it was when I first came into it, we have so many incredible platforms that promote gender equality, sustainability etc. Where there were once mostly secret forums and trolls, there are now really lovely online communities where everyone is welcome. It’s been awesome watching that come to fruition.

You’re one of the leading female voices in the sneaker industry, supporting equality in the sneaker industry. Tell us a little more about that journey. 

I used to feel so intimidated by sneaker culture, and that’s because it was a very male-dominated environment. Meet-ups and all-night campouts for sneakers were where the culture mostly existed, but those spaces weren’t very welcoming (or safe) for women. Then when you got online, you were met with trolls questioning your passion. I eventually built up the confidence to share my passion for sneakers online, but I always felt like I had to work twice as hard and learn twice as much to be taken seriously – I was always being undermined by men in the space, and I didn’t want other young women to experience the same as I did. So a few years ago I decided to start sharing bold graphics that spoke out about unsaid issues for women in sneakers – and they went fairly viral. It just showed how many other women felt the same, all over the world, and it was time to do something about it.

What can sneaker brands be doing to better support women? 

Gender-neutral sneakers – or a wider size range for all pairs, better consideration for design and materials (stop over-designing and adding unnecessary frills to women’s sneakers) and better representation – we want to see more mothers, disabled women, all ages etc. 

March is host to two big anniversaries, the first of which is International Women’s Day. What advice would you give to women looking to get into the industry and perfect their craft? 

  1. Knowledge is power. To get respect in this industry, you almost have to treat it like a discipline, study up consistently on sneaker history, silhouettes, designers, materials etc. 
  2. Find a community that feels empowering, where you can connect with others in the space. It’s not only a way to make friends, but it’s often where you’ll find the best career opportunities.
  3. Stand your ground! You deserve to be here!

The second day is of course Air Max Day, the day of the year if you ask me…what’s your favourite Air Max silhouette? 

I think I already said it with the BW. But my runner-ups are 90s and 97s.

Where do you feel art and sneakers intersect? 

I think sneakers are art. A lot of us love sneakers for the visual aspect, which I don’t think is any different from appreciating art. Sneakers have been a constant source of inspiration for my own art, whether that’s painting an actual pair of sneakers or creating typographic pieces around sneaker culture. 

In a 2014 interview, you referenced acrylic painting as your main medium. Recently we’ve been seeing more digital graphic design - what caused this shift and which do you prefer?

I still paint with acrylics regularly, that’s always been my biggest passion – but it’s harder to make money from. I initially moved to London to be a Fine Artist but financial reality soon kicked in and my career took a diversion in a creative direction, content and design. In the last few years, I’ve made an effort to get back to painting with the ultimate goal of making it a full-time thing, but it’s such a discipline, I spend any spare moment I have painting and I rarely go out haha. But I love design too, it has afforded me so many incredible opportunities and it’s a much faster, more fun way to bring ideas to life. 

You’ve become a serial Nike collaborator, hosting workshops and even designing your own Air Max 90s. How did that partnership begin and where has your affinity for the Swoosh come from? 

I knew a few people from Nike London through my first big job at ASOS, and I actually reached out to them first to sponsor a one-off Air Max Day podcast I did years ago. But the partnership properly began after I was selected as one of the 20 London creatives to design my own Air Max 90 as part of their Unseen London programme in 2020. I think the reason our partnership has been so successful is because I have a very clear goal and theme to my work: making sneakers inclusive, and that’s an initiative Nike wanted to get behind. They have been incredible to work with and given me a platform and backing I could have only dreamed of. I’ve always been a Nike girl, I think because they have always done things differently and supported the underdog, not to mention the silhouettes and design history is unmatched. 

Who/what inspires you to stay consistent with your exceptional work rate? 

I would say my husband Lewis inspires me the most – he’s a designer too and I’ve never seen someone more dedicated to their craft. But I’m a very driven person regardless, I’m also an introvert. That combo works well for getting things done ha ha! I prefer to be at home creating, and like I said, I rarely go out – 9 out of 10 events I get invited to I won’t go to. I’ve got big dreams and I think self-discipline is the only way I can get everything done that I want to!

You recently launched ‘things’, what can you tell us about that venture? What can we expect to see in the future?

The name originally came from an exhibition idea I had, because all my paintings are of things: collectables, sneakers, and random items that form a person’s identity. I thought ‘things’ was a good name for a brand too, as it covers all manner of sins.

Right now it’s a place to sell my limited edition screen prints, but eventually, I want to move into consciously-made 3D objects, homeware, clothing etc – but that’s the 5-year plan. One step at a time!

Is there anyone you’d like to shout out while we’re here? 

I always want to shout out female sneaker platforms so here goes: @_womeninsneakers @sneakersbywomen @sneakersisterhood @herstoryinsneakers @shekicks.book @sheakermag I’m sure there are more, but they are all great and so important!

Keep up to date with Titi on her socials here. For for interviews, keep it Kick Game