Meet Chicago cohort of 2023 Women’s Collective

Jordan Brand Women’s Collective, a community-centered movement focused on advancing the presence and impact of women in basketball and sneaker culture, began in New York in 2020. The inaugural collective was assembled in 2022 and continues for its second iteration in 2023 with 11 creatives and culture drivers from New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Chelsea Billingsley, Melissa Co, Ashley Crowe and Ayanna Hardy-Fuller make up this year’s Chicago cohort. The women were selected in a process that included nominations from the 2022 class focused on “embracing higher expectations for the industry and the world around them, transcending conventional standards and paying success forward for the betterment of their communities” and guiding principles.

As part of the collective experience, each participant will benefit from the brand’s efforts to “fuel and sustain the momentum women have been driving in basketball and sneaker culture,” and the expectation is they will use the opportunity to advance their creativity as well as make a positive impact on their local communities.

They also will have “unprecedented access” to members of the Nike/Jordan Brand family, including Hall of Famer Sheryl Swoopes, the first women’s basketball player to have a shoe named after her, and Chicago Sky forward Isabelle Harrison.

For the Chicago participants, the brand’s connection to one of the city’s legendary athletes makes it extra special.

“It’s a complete dream to represent a legacy brand like Jordan,” said Crowe, who is better known as Astrowifey. “Michael Jordan embodies determination and resilience. For me that is also what it takes to be a Chicagoan — a woman at that.

“Having the privilege to stand beside 10 other incredibly talented women is an honor. It drives me to work harder and with more purpose.”

Jordan Brand approached Crowe for what she contributes to nail and Chicago culture.

The women will be able to use the platform to tell their stories and learn from the unique perspective each brings.

One such perspective is that of Co, a photographer who cohosts a podcast about the Chicago Bulls. A former athlete herself, she recalls rarely seeing anyone who looked like her in sports.

“Being both a woman and Asian American, not often was I able to look at an athlete or public figure and identify with them or how they looked,” she said. “The idea of a little girl somewhere in the world being able to identify with me and be inspired to chase her dreams is everything to me. To be given a larger platform to make positive change in this world is a dream come true.”

Advocacy for inclusion and representation is something each of the women believes in strongly, and the Women’s Collective gives them “a seat at the table in sneaker culture” by increasing visibility as well as the options for women, Hardy-Fuller said. The former Jackson State student-athlete turned architect said sneaker culture has progressed and women are moving to the forefront.

“It’s awesome that the hardest releases come in women’s sizes and that women can be ultrafeminine or more masculine with their style and how they represent,” she said. “It takes us out of that traditional box. And the more you take things out of a box and allow them to grow and kind of do their own thing, it just continues to produce something great.”

Before the March announcement, the women had an opportunity to spend time with the Women’s Collective and each other. They say they have come to see each other as extended family or even sisters.

For Billingsley, the youngest of the group, being a designer in fiber arts and fashion was sometimes lonely. Like Co, she didn’t see many others who looked like her in her industry, and she wants to use the cohort to welcome others into the space she occupies.

“I want to shift the narrative of what it means to be a Black fiber artist but also what it means to be a fiber artist of color within this industry,” she said. “I believe that with Jordan Brand helping me and accepting me, it has not only helped to inspire others within my community, but it’s helped them to see that they can ultimately one day do what it is that I do — but probably do it better.”

The collective has events planned the rest of the year. Growing up in different neighborhoods while rooting for the local teams, the group mentioned how important sports and sneakers are to Chicago’s youth — and how impactful each of them can be in bringing women into an arena in which they often have felt invisible.

“I love seeing women playing such a huge part in the sneaker world,” Crowe said. “There are so many ladies who have kept sneaker culture and its history alive. We have come a long way within the culture, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

“Women have always been collectors and we are more than qualified to contribute a perspective and opinion. In true MJ energy, we’re ready to take flight.”

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