It’s a tricky thing, trying to make a pair of sneakers mean something. The line between poignant and tasteless is thin, and plenty of brands have struggled to toe it. Retailer James Whitner knew this when he set out to make his first sneaker with Jordan Brand. “It’s usually contradictory to think big brands can tell authentic, rich stories and not have it feel contrived,” he said. Still: that’s exactly what he set out to do.
Whitner runs The Whitaker Group, the company behind a number of sneaker and streetwear boutiques like APB, Social Status, and Prosper. A Ma Maniére, the brand’s premier luxury hub, is the one joining forces with Jordan Brand. And it’s doing so with a line of apparel and a new Air Jordan 3 that has already been pegged as a contender for the best sneaker of the year. This all comes with a bit of a twist for the male-dominated sneaker world: the shoe, which will release exclusively in women’s sizing next week, is intended to pay homage to the role Black women have played in Whitner’s life, and in the Black community at large. It’s an unusually ambitious collaboration—one built to put a cool new spin on a hall of fame sneaker while telling a timely, crucial story.
For Whitner, the shoe and the story behind it share an origin point. The first pair of Jordans his mother ever bought for him and his brother were the original 3s, back in 1988. “Jordan Brand has always been Louis Vuitton or Gucci for the hood,” Whitner explained. “Now that [my] circumstances have changed, you still want to represent those things that are essential to who you’ve always been.”
Despite the 3 being “super near and dear to me,” Whitner wasn’t precious about changing it. The biggest shift is an act of subtraction—removing the elephant print so closely associated with the colorway his mother bought him. It’s all extra-luxe. A rich grey suede on the shoe’s heel and toe accents a white leather upper. The sole includes a cream highlight and a box of deep violet around the iconic visible air bubble. The luxury elevation is tied together with a silky quilted inner lining and the store’s logo on the left tongue in place of the traditional Jumpman. It’s the sort of lush neutral treatment you see more often from high fashion brands than sneaker companies.
It’s a beautiful colorway, but doesn’t seem to call attention to the themes or storytelling surrounding the line. As Whitner explains, that’s the intention. Anybody can throw a catchy slogan on a sneaker, after all.
So where’s the story in the A Ma Maniére Jordan 3? As Whitner explains, it’s not in the shoe itself but rather the people who made it—him and his team, all passionate advocates for social justice and reform. “The goal was to design a shoe that speaks to A Ma Maniére, which is uniquely tied to the people who power it, and tell a story that connects to the community,” he says.
Alongside the launch comes an affecting short film directed by the Turner Brothers. “It was about trying to give people a view into the lives of Black women as we see it,” Whitner says of the film. “I don’t think people understand how women are viewed in the Black community. They’re the backbone.” He explains that he grew up in the era when the war on drugs led to the over-incarceration of Black men, leaving Black women to raise their families on their own. “Without them,” he says, “there is no us.”
These days, even sneakers designed with the noblest of intentions can bypass their intended audience completely thanks to bots and resellers. Right now, even, early pairs of the A Ma Maniére 3 have made it onto resale sites, where they’re fetching prices in the range of $1,500. Whitner has designed a shoe inspired by and for the women in his life, and he wanted to make sure they have a fair shot at copping them. So, at least at first, they’re going to be the only ones able to buy a pair.
“For five days, women will get a chance to go first.” Whitner explains. The brand is running a raffle, ending April 17th, exclusive to women—winners will get the chance to make an in-person appointment to pick up their pair from any of the Whitaker Group’s brick and mortar establishments. After that, there will be a general release raffle and online launch for everyone else. But for now, Whitner’s priority is making sure women who want the shoe can get them.