Common Ace Founders, Sophia Chang and Romy Samuel, Talk Making the Sneaker Industry More Inclusive
To put it simply, it's not the easiest thing being a female sneakerhead. Sizes tend to sell out extremely quickly, and due to limited quantities, women sneaker shoppers are forced to go on long, labyrinthine quests through different platforms just to find the pair they want. Additionally, a majority of the most sought after sneakers aren't available in full-size runs, creating the impression that women consumers are often considered a mere afterthought in the industry. It's a situation that needed to be addressed, and thanks to innovators like Sophia Chang and Romy Samuel, there’s hope for a more inclusive tomorrow.
The duo launched a female-focused content and commerce platform called Common Ace in May 2020. It’s a single-page hub that allows for a more convenient and accessible digital experience for women who want to buy sneakers. “We're here to empower the female customer,” Chang says. “We’re building a fluid content and commerce experience that appeals to the female psyche.”
Common Ace couldn’t have come at a better time. The growth in women’s sneaker sales in 2019 surpassed those in the men’s footwear market, according to a 2019 ForwardPMX study. And in recent years, more women are designing sneakers and landing big footwear deals—Aleali May and Melody Ehsani made their own Jordan sneakers and Cardi B scored a major shoe deal with Reebok. This trend is occurring internationally too with Korean girl group BLACKPINK signing with Adidas.
Photo Credit: Brian Tampol
For Women’s History Month, we asked Chang and Samuel to curate a fresh selection of sneakers from Complex SHOP. They also gave us insight into the inspiration behind Common Ace and their plans as a women-focused sneaker marketplace.
Tell us a little bit about how you two met.
ROMY SAMUEL: We met at a Jeff Staple NTWRK event for the Pigeon Dunk drop back in the beginning of 2019. We were in the audience and I was having a conversation with someone and I yelled out the words “oy vey” because I know a little bit of Yiddish and [Sophia] literally ran over to me and said, “I know that word. Could we be friends?” After several hangouts, I mentioned I had an idea that I’ve been working on for several years and she was like, “I can do this in my sleep. Let’s do it.”
SOPHIA CHANG: I’ve been craving New York energy ever since I came out to L.A., so when I heard her say those words I ran over and introduced myself. We ended up hitting it off and we literally have talked to each other every day since we first met. She mentioned she had this idea of creating an online hub that brings women together and it's shoppable. And I was like, “Great. I can help you do that.” It’s obviously a space that I'm passionate about and merges all of the experiences, skills, network, and relationships that I've built over the past decade of my career.
How is Common Ace challenging the sneaker shopping experience today?
Chang: I've been on so many streetwear/sneaker-related panels and have had opportunities, and it’s always the same conversation. It's still "shrink or pink-it. They’re not listening to us. There's not a full-size run, not enough female creators…” The issues are still going on. It's great that the conversations are happening, but I think Common Ace exists as an effort to completely burst that bubble of the same discussions happening over and over again. We're here to empower the female customer. We’ve designed an experience that caters to the female psyche. At times, I have to go to all these different websites to look for shoes. All of them either don't have my style or don't have my size because I'm a size 5 in women's, and it's just a jumble of nonsense.
As everyone moves towards content and commerce, we are building a very fluid, digital experience. The platform offers a free-flowing technology that supports and champions the female shopper who's reading all different articles but essentially catering to this vast audience of the new her, the modern woman. What we're not trying to do is chase after GOAT or StockX because everyone knows that if you're looking for a sneaker, you can go there. We want to cater to the broad audience of who she is. Whether she's married with kids or a teenager, exploring who she wants to be in terms of her style, if she wants to be feminine one day or masculine the next. Those are the roots tied to our background in sneakers and streetwear. We always shop in the men's section and we choose how we want to present ourselves. At Common Ace, we harness and celebrate that identity. In every touch point, we think of women that come from all walks of life. From our bodies developing down to our career, student days, our financial spend changes to motherhood, and so forth.
Photo Credit: Brian Tampol
The platform carries a specific curation of sneakers. Can you tell us about the selection process for Common Ace?
Samuel: It's interesting because what people don't realize is that we're bringing in shoes for every gender. That's really our point of difference. We're not saying, “Oh, this is a men’s shoe. This is a women's shoe. This is a kid's shoe.” We're saying you have access to all of these shoes now. Pick what you like, if you find your size. That's our priority—to make sure that we have the selection there for you as well. What people don't realize is that women have the same size feet as men. A lot of women I know can go up to a men's 10. Someone we met recently, she's a size 12, and that’s okay. That should be celebrated. She shouldn't have to feel like, “Oh, I have to go on a men's sneaker site or men's section to find a pair of shoes for myself.” So why not create that inclusivity, that accessibility? Through our curation approach, we get rid of that gender orientation because at the end of the day, we're aggregating sneakers and we're marketing it to women. But nothing stops men from shopping with us. Size should not be discriminated upon.
What inspired your latest social series, “Pair of Aces”?
Chang: We want to connect with our audience of women and really resonate with that memory of the first pair that made a difference in your life, whether you went out to work for it and paid for it yourself or you begged your parents to buy them for you. Everyone has one story. But beyond that, too, is that feeling that we get when we wear our first pair or a fresh pair. We walk differently, we stand taller. Our whole mood changes, our identity and our confidence changes, our self-esteem changes. And that's the power behind our first pair. That's the feeling we want to tap into and, at the end of the day, all women connect on.
Photo Credit: Brian Tampol
How do you see the sneaker industry evolving for women, and how will Common Ace be a part of that?
Samuel: We’re already seeing many female creators being invited to be the stars of collections, like Yoon from Ambush and Chitose Abe from Sacai. And it's a huge win. Granted, a lot of the products are not full-size runs just quite yet. But I think it's a proof of concept. The demand for the product is there, and it's moving in that direction. People have said many times that consumers are smarter than ever, and we are intentionally spending our dollars towards things that we support as people, whether you are helping another female creator or not. But I think there will be a significant shift to where it's going to take more than just a celebrity to be the face of a collection. People are going to want more. And I think, more than anything, it's really pushing towards authentic voices, authentic teams, real people. With everything we're doing, we plan on championing that. We do plan on uplifting our communities and making sure that those people are also just as much in the limelight.
Shop the Common Ace curation of sneakers from Complex SHOP here.