The Tokyo Olympic Games preparations are well underway. Allyson Felix, an American athlete with nine medals and one of the most decorated track-and-field Olympians in history, qualified for her fifth Games this weekend. She’ll participate in the 400-meter dash this summer, which will be her last time participating at the Olympics and her first as a mother. “I want to show my daughter, Camryn, that we do things with character, with integrity, and that we don’t give up,” Felix tells Vogue of qualifying. “I’m proud to have fought to make it to this moment.”
Felix gave birth to her baby, Camryn, in 2018, and she has been open about her recovery and challenges as she returns to training since then.
She parted up with her then-sponsor Nike in 2019 due to the circumstances surrounding her childbirth, revealing in a strong New York Times op-ed that she faced a 70% wage decrease as a result.
“During my pregnancy, I faced a gender injustice that I couldn’t run from,” she tells Vogue. “My employer Nike did not support my maternity in a way that I could be proud of.” With no big shoe sponsor this year, Felix decided to take matters into her own hands. But instead of finding the right performance shoe, she decided to channel her frustrations into creating an athleisure sneaker under her new brand, Saysh.
The Saysh One shoe, which retails for $150 and is now on preorder, is the brand’s first release. Felix aimed for a design that was both comfortable and attractive. It was more athletic in inspiration than a genuine performance style. “It was inspired by the lines of a wrap dress, which create feminine shapes through a flowing design,” Felix says of the shoe’s sleek, low-top silhouette and flattering curved lines.
“The drapes of a wrap dress are also reminiscent of lines that denote a running track. We wanted to bridge the worlds of the professional and the casual, and create a sneaker to accompany women whenever and wherever.” She adds that being a professional athlete certainly helped shape the design process. “Typically in footwear, shoes are built for men, sized down, and recolored for women,” she says. “We understand the true proportion and need of a woman’s foot.”
In the brand’s first official ad, dubbed “I Know My Place,” the shoe is shown in white and black hues. The campaign, which depicts Felix and models wearing the sneakers in a tranquil beach environment, has a personal message for Felix that was equally as important as the brand’s origin story. “Like so many of us, I was told to know my place, that runners have to run,” she says. “This is a similar experience for many women, who are often shrinking themselves to fit into roles or spaces. This campaign reminds us to take up space—to live in our greatness and fight for what we believe in.”
She hopes Saysh will offer pieces that represent power and femininity to athletes, whether professional or not. “At Saysh, women are at the forefront,” she says. “We’re designing products for women, by women, and we pride ourselves on having an equitable, majority-women team.” She’ll also launch the Saysh Collective, a $10-per-month digital subscription that includes exercise videos, networking opportunities, and more. She wants to create a network of women who, like her, are dominating athletics while also looking great. “For me, this brand represents so much more than simply the shoes we wear or compete in,” she says. “It represents hope, acceptance, and the power to create change.”