A new era is dawning in the world of sports footwear, particularly in women’s basketball. Recently, female basketball players were forced to play in men’s sneakers, as specialized women’s shoes simply did not exist. However, major brands like Puma, Nike, and Adidas are now set to release exclusive shoes for WNBA superstars such as Brianna Stewart, Sabrina Ionescu, and Candace Parker.
Brianna Stewart, the current Most Valuable Player of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), possesses three-point shooting skills comparable to Kevin Durant, the ability to shoot from the wing-like LeBron James, and shot-blocking prowess reminiscent of Michael Jordan. Consequently, her desire to have her own branded shoes is entirely justified. However, this was not always the case.
A similar situation is typical for other athletes. Sabrina Ionescu, Stewart’s teammate, notes that it wasn’t until college in Oregon that it “became clear to her that there was nothing on the market, especially for young girls.” Cali Copper, of Chicago Sky, remembers how she simply “went to the men’s section” to find the right shoes, and it worked.
The basketball shoe market in the United States was valued at approximately $1.38 billion last year, according to a report from Cognitive Market Research. While the men’s industry held 71% of the market, the women’s basketball shoe segment is projected to grow rapidly in the coming years. Women’s sneakers could eventually account for half of the overall athletic shoe market, according to some analysts and business insiders.
The Puma brand returned to the basketball industry in 2018, attracting the attention of women. Steiger notes that his initial goal was to attract as many basketball fans of all genders as possible. Three years later, Puma signed a contract with Stewart, promising to release her signature line of shoes.
The multi-year agreement, valued at about $500,000 a year, was a significant deal for Stewart. Branded shoes have long been a symbol of the status of basketball players and a reference point for the target audience of brands.
Stewart became the first WNBA player to debut a signature shoe since Candace Parker in 2010. She debuted the Stewie 1 at the 2022 WNBA All-Star Game and released a second version of the shoe (retailing for $125) a year later. Puma declines to comment on specific sales figures but says the company’s women’s basketball business has tripled since signing Stewart.
Off the basketball court, women’s basketball shoes are becoming increasingly popular in the fashion and lifestyle worlds. This effect is one of the key reasons why famous female athletes sign contracts to create their signature shoes. In addition, brands develop exclusive models for prominent players or modify existing ones, as Adidas did for Copper or Under Armor did for Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum. 2020 saw the birth of Moolah Kicks, a Mark Cuban-backed company that specializes in producing sneakers exclusively for top female basketball players.
Despite his optimism about the future of women’s basketball, Max Steiger admits maintaining that momentum could be a challenge. “We’re just a small piece of a big puzzle,” he says, emphasizing the need for further investment in the sport. For example, Puma has big plans for 2024, including releasing a third version of the Stewie sneaker and expanding its team to include Skylar Diggins-Smith of the Phoenix Mercury and Jackie Young of the Las Vegas Aces, in addition to Brianna Stewart.
“We’re just a small piece of a big puzzle”
For Brianna Stewart, launching her basketball shoe was an opportunity to fill a gap she felt in her youth.
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