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How Allyson Felix Is Changing Women's Athletic Footwear

Allyson Felix’s career was never the same after she embarked on her journey to become a mother.

While renegotiating her contracts with Nike in 2017 and leading up to her first (and only) pregnancy, Felix discovered she was not protected in the case of motherhood. Instead, she’d be expected to go on unpaid suspension while pregnant and recovering. For the most decorated U.S. track-and-field athlete, these negotiations inspired her to speak up and peel back the curtain. Felix penned an op-ed in The New York Times and fueled a movement of athlete-mothers speaking up against similar contract practices. 

“Putting really strict requirements on our returning to competition takes away from out mothering. It can jeopardize our health,” she told the publication in 2019. The lack of protections hit especially hard for Felix who experienced complications when giving birth to her daughter, underscoring the realities of the Black maternal healthcare crisis.

This set Felix down a path she never expected to take: creating her own athletic footwear company, Saysh. She launched the brand launched in 2021 with lifestyle sneakers and a maternal shoe return policy for customers who may change sizes during pregnancy. Since its debut, Saysh has only offered lifestyle shoes, but that changes Tuesday with the debut of a running shoe specifically made for women: “The Felix Runner.” 

It’s been a long time coming.

“This has been my dream since we started this company,” the Olympian tells Fashionista. “Being a runner, I wanted to bring a performance shoe to the space. It’s different because it is made specifically to fit the form of the female foot. The majority of [running shoes] are made off of a last of a man’s foot.”

Felix notes there are differences between male and female foot anatomy when it comes to width, the balls of the feet, arch heights, Q-angles and overall foot shape. Plus, women are subject to hormonal effects, exacerbated in pregnancy, that can cause the feet to grow in size. (Hence, the maternal returns policy.) Despite that, she says, most footwear companies re-size and repurpose the mold of a male foot for their women’s shoes.

“We can’t just have the same exact product that a man has,” she says.

Felix spent over three years developing the performance kicks, which have nitrogen-infused foam soles and laces designed to promote stability. The shoes aren’t just “approved from my standpoint as an Olympian,” she explains, “but it’s also for the everyday woman, from running errands to a half-marathon.”

Since retiring from competitive running after the 2022 season, Felix may not be competing for gold medals anymore, but she still has her eyes on the prize in growing Saysh as a purpose-focused brand.

“It’s much bigger than sneakers. It’s also about having impact,” Felix says. “We’re very community-based. We’re about bringing women together, learning from each other, having something to offer each other.”

Based on her past experiences, it was important for Felix to create Saysh as her own venture rather than partnering with a major company for a co-launch or collaboration. She says her customers tend to appreciate the brand’s story and maverick spirit.

“The footwear industry is a legacy industry. To be a disruptor in that space is super challenging, but I’m constantly reminded by our purpose and why we show up every day,” she says, keeping her champion’s attitude. “I can’t believe that we stood up to this giant company. We actually were able to come out on the other side with something that we are so proud of and believe needs to exist in this world.”

Building Saysh fills a “competitive void” for Felix, while mirroring where she is in life. Moving away from the sport has felt similar to Serena Williams’ “evolution” from tennis, Felix says.

“When she came out and talked about that, it so deeply resonated with me because you’re really not retiring at all,” she says. “It’s a really hard transition, leaving a sport that I did for 20 years. There’s a grieving process. Even though I love what I’m doing right now, and I feel so fulfilled, I think there is a sense of very real loss. Transition in any aspect is difficult.”

Ahead, Felix plans to continue supporting women through Saysh by donating to relevant initiatives and bringing childcare to athletic events, for example.

“I feel like this [running] shoe really fits right in that timing of my new relationship with running,” she says. “My focus on, not Olympians or people performing, trying to break world records in the marathon, but on women — working women and mothers — is a space that I’m in in my life. I really wanted to bring something to just help in that space.”

In other words, the “Felix” is not just another performance running shoe, but a chance to support a brand created by women, for women. Available in three colorways, it retails for $165.

Saysh The Felix Runner, $165, available here

Saysh The Felix Runner, $165, available here

Saysh The Felix Runner, $165, available here

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Source: Fashionista.com

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