They say you never forget your “first.” From a first kiss to our first pair of kicks, each moment becomes a memory that shapes us forever. For Jourdan Ash, creator of the sneaker and streetwear platform True To Us, her first subway ride after moving to Harlem from Detroit served as an official initiation into East coast sneaker culture. “I stepped on somebody's sneakers,” Jourdan recalls. An offense that, while pardonable (she was six years old after all), still held minor repercussions. “[The girl] was really upset that I stepped on her sneakers, to the point where my mom and her had words about it,” she tells xoNecole. Even in her innocence, the encounter brought Jourdan to an illuminating realization, “People really care about sneakers.”
“Growing up in New York, I realized a lot more that people will look at your shoes first before they decide to speak to you, so I had to get that together real quick,” she says. Coming of age in the mecca of streetwear culture gave Jourdan a unique perspective on the significance of sneakers and the people who wore them. One that proved why these footwear staples were more than just coverings for your feet — but a lifestyle and symbol for self-expression.
In February 2020, Jourdan was in pursuit of a potential social media job at a popular streetwear publication. For the edit test, she was tasked with creating an Instagram account from scratch. After noticing the lack of representation of Black women and men on the brand’s page, Jourdan decided to curate a mockup that was inclusive and reflective of her culture and community. “I built it in a way that I wanted to see certain things,” she says. While the position was dissolved due to COVID, Jourdan was determined to put this project to use, and thus, True To Us was born.
True To Us is an online platform dedicated to Black and brown women to amplify their voices and presence in the sneaker industry and the streetwear culture. “The community was there immediately because there were so many women and people who just wanted to talk about sneakers and streetwear without feeling belittled,” she says. “If I didn't have that embarrassing moment when I was six, just for stepping on somebody's sneakers, who knows where I would be?”
With her unique merch and insightful podcast, True to Us Talks, Jourdan continues to use her platform to amplify the ever-growing population of women within the sneaker industry and provide her community with the tools and resources necessary to shape their path into the streetwear industry.
xoNecole: From your work with notable brands to your podcast, Dating In NYC, one of the things I love most about your work is how community-focused it is. Tell us more about the importance of community-building and how it’s played a role in growing your brand.
Jourdan Ash: Community building is important because a lot of people think they can buy their way in. When we think about gentrification, it's the same thing; you think because you can afford to be here that you are a part of the community and maybe that's not true. For me, building community has always been important from the bottom up. For example, I like to volunteer. I don't just say, ‘Hey, I'm here,’ and impose myself. I build community, I talk to people, and I come back every week to volunteer. I can't say I love something without helping it.
So if I say I love the Bronx, why wouldn’t I volunteer in the Bronx? If I say I love streetwear and sneakers, why wouldn’t I hold space for people in it? Why wouldn’t I help other people? Why wouldn't I say other people's names?
"I can't say I love something without helping it."
In terms of authenticity, people are always going to know when you buy yourself in. People are always going to know when you’re posing or pretending, especially in New York. It's very obvious when they're not of the culture or replenishing the culture. I think a lot of people use the culture, Black and brown folks, and all these really amazing, beautiful things as a resource, and they don't replenish, and that's the issue. So that's why community building is always so important to me. Whenever I have any type of partnership, I always make sure that there's something that goes back because you have to replenish what you just took.
xoN: What have you learned the most from the women you’ve encountered within the streetwear and sneaker industries?
JA: I think the most important thing is to try because a lot of people get turned away easily. I'm not afraid of a no, and I'm not afraid to be myself. I think those are things that are super important. Every single woman I have met this year has genuinely been themselves, and that's the most important thing. I think a lot of times we see streetwear, and it happens to be a woman, there's an archetype of woman that gets heavily promoted. That woman doesn't look like everybody, but that doesn't mean you can't do it.
There are times when I go onto a set and I'm looking for the other Black women or other brown-skinned women and I'm like, ‘Oh, I'm actually the darkest person on this set.’ I have to not only set the tone for the next person but also let them know that this is not okay. There's no reason to not have more body types. There's no reason to only have light-skinned women in your photo shoots. There's no reason to not share. So I think being authentically you and sharing with your community, that's a part of it.
xoN: What space do you hope to fill within sneaker culture and the streetwear industry through True To Us?
JA: I want to break the glass wall; I want to break down the gate. There's a lot of gatekeeping that goes around to the point where people don't even know how you can get a job in the sneaker industry without working in a sneaker store first. That's why we have True to Us Talks, where we speak to different women about their journey into streetwear and sneakers.
There are so many avenues you can take to work in these industries without wanting to design your own sneaker. There are so many different aspects of sneakers and streetwear that involve math [and science] that people don't know about, so let me talk to somebody who does that, and hopefully, that'll bring you to a place where you can either get in contact with them, try to follow a similar path, or at least get some questions answered. I'm hoping with True To Us not only are we able to share opportunities as they come, but let people know it's okay to explore new things and you don't have to start at the sneaker store.
xoN: What advice would you give to women who are looking to build and grow their own platforms?
JA: The biggest thing is just to do it; don't worry about anybody else. There have been so many times when I didn’t know if I wanted to do a podcast because ‘everybody has podcasts,’ but nobody has a podcast like me. It doesn't matter what's already out there if you're not out there.
"It doesn't matter what's already out there if you're not out there."
I am a firm believer in the power of words, some people call it delusional and some people call it being optimistic, but there's no reason why I can't get what I want. A part of getting what you want is working towards it. You're not going to get what you want if you don't put yourself forward in doing it. Even if you have to fake yourself out and say, ‘Yeah, I could do that,’ you keep saying it until it's real.
Get out of your own head. There are plenty of times when I tell myself I want to do something, and when I tell somebody, they speak fear into my plans and now I'm hesitant about doing it. But that's just the projection. Sometimes you can't tell people until it's done, and that's okay, too. But the first step is to always just do it; just try.
Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
Featured image courtesy of Jourdan Ash