Meet The Six Women Behind Nike’s Freshest New Sneaker

The International Girl Crew talk their Nike Cortez collab, career tips, and building long-lasting friendships.

August 28, 2017

What could be cooler than collabing with your best friends to craft a sneaker design? The International Girl Crew — composed of music, fashion, and media powerhouses Paloma Elsesser, Grace Ladoja, Phoebe Lovatt, Sharmadean Reid, Camille Garmendia, and Madeline Poole — will tell you that the answer is nothing. This young and stylish collective, who hail from New York, London, and Los Angeles, became friends after crossing paths professionally. Nike came calling and their collaboration resulted in three fresh takes on the Nike Cortez: olive green, white with cobalt and yellow accents, and orange with rose accents.

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Although the name International Girl Crew started as a hashtag to organize the six friends' photos from their trips abroad, they're now united by a much stronger bond — and they have matching nameplate necklaces to prove it. The six members of IGC told The FADER what working on this collab with Nike taught them, and shared BTS insights on their careers and honest friendship advice.

Paloma Elsesser, model
Meet The Six Women Behind Nike’s Freshest New Sneaker Photo by Troi Williams .  

What did you learn from this collaboration with Nike?

As corny as it sounds, making these sneakers taught me to always trust your dreams. When I signed with my agency I said I wanted Nike as a client. I've been lucky enough to work with them in various capacities and to be able to collaborate on such an iconic sneaker as the Cortez is a reality out of my adolescent dreams. This project has also reiterated to always pay attention to detail and be vigilant about your preferences.

What’s the most difficult part of about working in fashion? And, the most rewarding?

In my case, there are two difficulties to working in fashion. One is psychical, where being on jobs I don't have access to certain designers because I don't fit sample sizes. The other is emotional — I have to endure an immeasurable level of ignorance when it comes to being a plus-size women of color in the fashion industry. Having to explain my existence and be professional throughout the process can be incredibly grueling.

The most rewarding element is most certainly being able to create a space for girls to feel represented and, most of all, appreciated.

What’s the secret to a long-lasting friendship?

The secret to a long lasting friendship, just like any relationship, is communication. It is also essential to dismantle ego and not take everything personally.

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Phoebe Lovatt, founder of The WW Club
Meet The Six Women Behind Nike’s Freshest New Sneaker Photo by Marcel Severino.  

What did making these sneakers with Nike teach you?

That my friends are fucking good at what they do! We all really brought different skills and ideas to the table throughout the project — from initial design, to programming our pop-up space, to seeding. I think that combination of abilities is why the final product was so well-received. Teamwork makes the dream work! Sorry that was corny. But it's true.

What’s the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur? And, the most rewarding?

Having to make decisions in isolation — about anything from what time you're going to start working to what color your logo should be — can become draining. That's why I started The WW Club, to provide that invaluable support network and resource for any other women out their trying to make shit happen. It's the crew you can turn to when you want to just give up.

What are successful friendships composed of?

Open-mindedness, mutual respect, and dancing together. Lots and lots of dancing.

Madeline Poole, founder of MP Nails
Meet The Six Women Behind Nike’s Freshest New Sneaker Photo by India Sleem.  

What did you learn from this collaboration with Nike?

I certainly learned what everyone in the group's strengths were, when they were going to speak up, what details were important to each person. It made me understand everyone's personal style in a deep way. I learned a lot about specifically working with Nike and communicating for not just myself but a crew of six, how to do that efficiently, and how to be effective with what I'm asking. It also taught me a lot about design and how a 2-dimensional concept transforms when it becomes 3-dimensional and textural.

What’s the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur? And, the most rewarding?

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I think the most difficult thing is starting something new and knowing that you can make it sustainable. I'm really confident in terms of my skill and design capabilities, but if you're attempting to start a whole new endeavor there's so much beyond branding that needs to get done. As an independent you're also totally responsible for your trajectory. You choose if you want to expand your business or move in a different direction — there isn't a boss telling you where you're headed to next, or what goal you're working for.

As for rewarding, I think the International Girl Crew motto says it all: Uptown, Downtown, Worldwide. I can work remotely internationally and incorporate travel into my life and work, which is something I find incredibly valuable. I can also choose to work with whoever I want and on whatever I want. So last week I was a shoe designer, but today I'm back to doing nails, and tomorrow hopefully something completely different.

What’s the secret to a long-lasting friendship?

There's a balance to every friendship that you need to accept — we all have different knowledge, skill sets, and emotional weaknesses or strengths. I think discovering things together and having interests that are going in the same direction is really important as well. There's tons of people I get along with — I'm easy — but if you're constantly sharing information and ideas with someone, like we do with IGC, it keeps you on your toes and makes the interaction more frequent and more valuable. About three or four times a week Paloma or Phoebe and I send each other songs — just links to songs and they're always bangers. Just makes me feel like they get me!

Grace Ladoja, director and manager
Meet The Six Women Behind Nike’s Freshest New Sneaker Photo by Troi Williams  

What did making these sneakers with Nike teach you?

That dreams can come true if you are patient and stay authentic.

What’s the most difficult part of about working in a creative field? And, the most rewarding?

The most rewarding thing is seeing your vision come to life after, weeks, months, years of planning. And having complete control over this. The difficult part is getting an idea off the ground and getting past the fear of starting something.

What are successful friendships composed of?

Honesty, being able to listen and hear feedback about yourself, embracing change, non-judgement, sharing loving energy, supporting and being supported, and being cool with who you are.

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Camille Garmendia, stylist
Meet The Six Women Behind Nike’s Freshest New Sneaker Photo by Madeline Poole.  

What did making these sneakers with Nike teach you?

I relearned that all of us have a voice and the ability to reach and inspire. That it is important to be aware of your words and actions. To think of others while caring for yourself. That my girls and I all work well together as a collective.

What’s the most difficult part of about working in fashion? And, the most rewarding?

Body image — I feel that it teaches us about this idealized body type that women strive for that is just not natural for most of us. Our thighs are too big, stomachs not flat enough, too short, ankles too fat, arms too big, too old, or a million other things I have heard, or thought myself. I am really happy that consciousness is slipping in and the focus is becoming more inclusive all around. It is happening slowly, but definitely way more than when I was a teen. We could all be a bit kinder to ourselves.

What’s the secret to a long-lasting friendship?

Always show up. Be kind, don’t take thing personal. Think of what you give to the friendship instead of what you get.

Sharmadean Reid, founder of WAH Nails
Meet The Six Women Behind Nike’s Freshest New Sneaker Photo by We Are Victory.  

What did you learn from this Nike collaboration?

Making the Nike trainers taught me so much about running an innovative company and representing the city I call home. It taught me to how to coexist with different styles, opinions and methods of working. All the girls are so different, but somehow we managed to do this together.

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What’s the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur? And, the most rewarding?

The most difficult part can be bearing the weight of all the responsibility — as CEO, it all comes down to me. It can feel quite lonely at times, which is why having the IGC girls is so important to me. The best thing is having the ability to control your schedule. Sometimes, I just cancel all my meetings and take the day off to spend with my son. I can prioritize self-care because I’m in control.

What’s the secret to a long-lasting friendship?

I think our IGC friendship has lasted so long because we all respect each other as women, as creatives, and as entrepreneurs. It’s not about competition, we’re actually stronger when we’re together. I can’t stress the importance of your friends when you’re feeling down, sometimes you just need to be reminded what makes you special. I literally have these little moments where I’m like "Hey, just wanted to let you know you’re amazing and I’m so privileged to have you as my friend" — we know when to pick each other up like that.

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