By Andi Breitowich
As a kid, Natalie White remembers walking into a basketball tournament and seeing $10 men’s tickets compared with $5 women’s tickets and always wearing sneakers that were either labeled men’s or unisex. Playing basketball since age 5, White always knew female players deserved more. Indeed, in 2019, the NCAA acknowledged a $13.5 million budget gap between men’s and women’s events. Whether competing on elite New York City teams, playing collegiate club basketball or managing Boston College’s varsity team, the 24-year-old was fed up with glaring inequalities.
“Women’s basketball represents the intersection between gender, racial and LGBTQ issues, yet no one is paying attention,” she said. In the spring of 2020, White started the first women’s basketball shoe brand, built by and for female hoopers, with a higher arch, slimmer width and narrower heel. Made in Vietnam at one of the top factories for performance athletic footwear, the shoes are designed with a rubber outsole, synthetic leather heel and mesh top.
The New York native officially launched her first collection in fall 2021, and the $110 kicks are now sold online and in over 140 Dick’s Sporting Goods stores across the country.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
How did you decide on the name Moolah Kicks?
“Moolah” is our mission in a word. “Moolah” is slang for money, and the slang is a positive nod to the street culture of basketball. Female athletes do not have the same scholarship or professional opportunities, but “Moolah” signifies that we are a vehicle for creating financial change. When girls purchase Moolah Kicks, they are betting on themselves. They are driving more funds back into the sport they love. We are creating a brand that drives more excitement and celebration around the game, and in turn, we’ll be able to sponsor more teams.
How did you decide on the price of the shoe?
$110 is the average market price. Our shoes are affordable, considering there are no other women-specific (women-made) options.
How involved are you in the design process?
Very involved. I used to stand at games and ask players what they wanted in a shoe. A lot of players want something simple that will go with their uniform. Other girls wanted crazy colors and to stand out with their shoes. Those results totally informed what we are doing. We have a simple all-white model, and three crazy-color models.
Is injury prevention a leading factor in how you make the shoe?
Absolutely. Women’s feet are different from men’s feet, and studies prove that wearing men’s sneakers leads to increased injury in women. I think everyone in women’s basketball has either had ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) problems, ankle problems or both. It’s because they are not wearing the right footwear, and no one is doing anything about it. That’s why our sneakers are designed by women for women.
How did you decide on the design of the shoe box?
Moolah Kicks shoe box – Courtesy of https://moolahkicks.com/pages/our-story
I spent my whole life going to basketball games and saw how hard these female athletes work to get in front of empty stands. We need people to come to our games. The box proves that as consumers and individuals we have the power to make that change. On the outside, the blue and yellow represents the average NCAA attendance ratio between men’s (blue) and women’s (yellow) games in 2019. This is just the beginning. The inside is a packed crowd around a court.
How has basketball shaped your character?
I was kicked out of (New York City) girls’ leagues when I was young because people thought I was older than my age. When I was 10, I once had 40 points in a game, and parents were upset because it wasn’t enjoyable for their kids. I was forced to play with the boys, so I tried out for elite teams in Brooklyn and Harlem. I saw what our coaches gave up to focus on their players, and I watched so many of my teammates go to play in college. The positive change that these individuals made through the game was unmatched. These programs and people changed my life.
What’s the toughest decision you’ve made?
Everything surrounding products, timelines and financing. Factories typically take six months to develop a sneaker and even longer when you’re coming out with new models. We are dealing with very long lead times right now and trying to accelerate the process. We would usually ship by ocean, but that is taking 45 days. Instead, we have been choosing to air freight our goods, and this is expensive. The decisions surrounding freight and production in this supply chain environment have been tough.
What is the biggest challenge for you as a CEO and founder?
Focus. How do I maintain my focus on women’s basketball and put all my efforts into areas that will make the biggest impact?
Where do you hope to see Moolah Kicks in 10 years?
On the feet of every single woman’s hooper.
Do you think that’s realistic?
When girls walk into the store and pick up our shoes, they fall in love. They see our mission, love our design, and then they try the shoes on and realize they fit their feet correctly. Moolah Kicks are made in a way that can be appreciated by our target demographic, and the response we have gotten has been incredible.
Who has been the biggest supporter of you and Moolah Kicks?
Dick’s Sporting Goods. What they have done for Moolah Kicks and women’s basketball is unparalleled. For them to put our sneakers in over 140 stores is a dream come true – for myself, for this brand and for women’s basketball.
Andi Breitowich is a magazine graduate student at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @andimora5.