Black women are some of the most innovative playmakers in sneaker culture today. Their contributions have made a global impact through some of the biggest streetwear brands and even their own self-made platforms that have helped pave the way for others.
As previously reported by AfroTech, Black women aren’t waiting around for major corporations to offer them opportunities in the streetwear industry anymore.
They’re carving out their own spaces and making room for other people in their communities to erase the “boys club” stereotype. And that’s exactly what True To Us founder Jourdan Ash set out to do when she created her forward-thinking online platform.
True To Us — which is labeled as “a platform for you to be seen” — strives to center Black and brown women as the foundation of the streetwear and sneaker industries while also extending career opportunties.
Like many sneakerheads, Ash got her proper introduction to the culture very early in her youth, even as early as the day she was born. Growing up in Harlem, NY is what allowed her to become immersed in the culture and shape her future career endeavors. The rich streetwear scene in the city’s borough also played a part in how the young founder grew to appreciate the value of sneakers.
“When I moved to Harlem from Detroit at [age] six, that’s when I noticed I needed to care more about sneakers,” she tells AfroTech. “People don’t buy sneakers just because they need something on their feet, it’s more so like a cultural reference out here.”
After graduating from Morgan State University with her degree in print journalism, Ash juggled various jobs in the media and entertainment industry between 2014 and 2019, working for places like Complex, Teen Vogue, RESPECT. magazine and others to get her foot in the door.
Though many of those opportunities helped her find her footing in the streetwear scene, it wasn’t until early last year that her next move became perfectly clear.
“I had just come from doing work with adidas on S.E.E.D. School and I was like this is what I want to do forever,” Ash says, “so any opportunity that comes up has to involve community and sneakers.”
Instead of waiting for the right career opportunity to find her, Ash established her own platform where she could prioritize her values around sneakers, streetwear and community all in one place — giving birth to what is now known as True To Us.
“I’ve always been good at storytelling and as I get older and see my neighborhood change, community has become like a forefront to me,” she shares. “So everything I do I don’t think twice about community, whether it’s online or in real-life. My community essentially raised me into who I am today [so now] I’m doing anything I can to pay that forward.”
Ash shares that her platform started out as an edit test for a job opportunity that fell through at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but she kept building it out as she knew it could eventually serve a greater purpose.
Besides working at sneaker stores, Black and brown kids don’t have many avenues to get involved in the sneaker industry, which is largely due to a lot of gatekeeping at big brands and publications. According to Ash, the industry as it is today doesn’t abide by rules that people are taught to follow in school.
“In college they teach you a lot about networking and also doing the work, but I noticed a lot of time it’s less about doing the work and more about who you know,” she says. “And that erases a lot of women who are taught that we have to do the work and go through these [specific] steps in order to be ‘this’ person in this industry. There are people that are skipping steps and so we get erased from these narratives.”
To combat this, Ash decided to use her online platform as a vessel to fill a void for women like her who have had to find alternative ways to get into the streetwear industry on their own.
Not only is True To Us dedicated to normalizing Black and brown women as key figures in streetwear and sneaker culture, it’s also ensuring these women are getting their flowers every single day of the year. This goes beyond occasions like Black History Month — a time where a lot of brands launch special campaigns centering these women.
Through Instagram and audio storytelling, True To Us is “bridging the gap between consumer and brands while opening the doors for those seeking a variety of opportunities within the streetwear and sneaker industry,” according to its website.
Over the last year, the platform has had the opportunity to partner with several brands including Foot Locker, WNBA, Nike/Air Jordan and others, and has received attention from notable figures like Kelis, Kari Faux and more.
Ever since Ash showed the world her platform last year, she says that “we’ve been getting [much] love.” Now her goal is to spread her industry knowledge so more Black and brown women can come in and take up space in a culture they helped define.