Sneaker Stories

Black women are the blueprint for James Whitner and A Ma Maniere’s new Jordan Brand collaboration

A Ma Maniére x Jordan 12 continues the brand’s conversation with Black women as the topic

James Whitner, the owner and founder of streetwear boutique A Ma Maniére, has consistently prioritized the experiences, talent, and inspiration of Black women, most prominently in his partnership with Jordan Brand. The latest release from this collaboration is the A Ma Maniére Jordan 12. The accompanying short film, She Is The Blueprint, furthers the conversation between the brand and Black women that began a few years ago.

"She Is The Blueprint" - The A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan XII Story

In 2021, A Ma Maniére and Jordan collaborated on the Raised By Women Jordan 3, a luxe reimagination of the iconic silhouette inspired by Whitner’s mother buying him and his siblings the originals when they were children in Pittsburgh.

Last year, A Ma Maniére worked with the brand again on releasing the lesser-known Air Ship model, the first Nike sneaker Michael Jordan wore before lacing up his signature line. The accompanying campaign highlighted members of WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, who helped lead the charge to oust the team’s former owner and U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia in 2020 and shone a light on WNBA player Brittney Griner, who was then imprisoned in Russia.

Now in 2023, with a portfolio that includes more than 20 retail locations, community hubs, restaurants, and hotels, Whitner is ready to show the world that we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. His bread and butter is the first glimpse of what’s to come: storytelling, beautifully constructed and conceived products, and a still-flourishing partnership with Jordan Brand. 

We spoke with Whitner about the new Jordan 12 release this week, why Black women are the blueprint, and the role in-store release events play in fighting the never-ending bot battle.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

An image from the A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan 12 lookbook.

A Ma Maniére

I’m curious about the genesis of the She Is The Blueprint short film and the campaign accompanying this new Jordan 12 and apparel release.

The campaign actually does something that makes me really proud because the idea of Black as the blueprint is just the narrative we gave to our internal team and started giving them moods and ideas of what it meant. But for me, it was so special because it speaks to the ecosystem our collective team is beginning to live in together, which speaks to our why and purpose for doing what we do. So it’s easy for us to talk about the product piece, but when you start talking about what we’re trying to get after and how we’ll get after it, collectively, if our team isn’t aligned on the same vision, you don’t get there.

This video has shown the alignment and shared vision of the internal Whitaker Group creative team, including white and Black faces. I think it’s important to say that the buy-in for societal change has to [include] more white faces, because we know the numbers. So when you start to see a buy-in across the collective team to get after a vision we all buy into, you know you’re cooking with grease.

One thing that’s been interesting about your team and your relationship with Jordan Brand is that Black women always seem to be a real priority. Why and how has that been a recurrent theme with your approach?

It’s twofold. I’m infatuated with the idea of the Black family. And the idea is, in my lifetime, how do we change the narrative around the 40 million of us in America? So I think that’s very different from our vision for Jordan Brand, which is still unified in that we just need to stand up for Black women.

There’s only one type of person in the world that has it worse off than Black men and that’s Black women. And I think for us it’s important to create space for them to be seen and heard and be responsible about it. Black women have done the work, so we gotta make the space and allow them to lead alongside us.

What have you heard from Jordan Brand about prioritizing Black women and women consumers in general, not just in inclusive sizing and exclusives but also in how the products are marketed?

When you look at who the leaders are at our organization, from MJ [Michael Jordan] to [Jordan Brand president] Craig Williams to Melanie Harris, who leads the North American marketplace, to Tonia Jones, who leads all of the women’s category, to Shimika Wilder, who heads NBHD [Jordan Brand’s community-driven storefront program]. We got a powerhouse of Black women driving a business alongside strong Black men. Kris Wright [vice president of Footwear], Craig Williams, and MJ oversee the whole thing.

A look at the black/burgundy colorway of the A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan 12.

A Ma Maniére

Can you talk a bit more about the design choices for the new 12 and why you chose this model?

It’s a priority for the brand because it’s a model that has always been meaningful to women and it’s something that’s always been meaningful to the legacy of MJ himself. Look at the connection between Utah hosting the All-Star Game. We all know what happened with MJ and Utah. Then you start to think about what A Ma Maniére’s bloodline colors have been with Jordan Brand, primarily mauve and maroon.

So, when you think about the brand’s legacy and everything that MJ built through the natural stories, the things that women loved, and the priorities for the brand, it was a perfect marriage. It was very easy.

Let’s talk about the early access part of the release. Women were able enter the in-store raffles at retail locations 10 days before the broader release. Why’d you do it that way?

We know from experience that women and men consumers move differently. And women don’t like all the hoopla and chaos that goes along with sneaker culture. So for us, it was about making sure that we created an experience for women that they felt comfortable in and they felt like they had the opportunity to get what they needed because sneaker culture is a heavily male-dominated community. That’s part of making space. 

We want people to wear the shoes, not to resell the shoes. As much as people think we’re fighting bots for fairness, we are also fighting bots because we want the people who want to wear the shoes to have them.

One thing I associate with you is big ideas. What’s on the agenda for The Whitaker Group in 2023 and beyond?

It’s just that. We’ve been working on an infrastructure plan for about three years and that’s coming to a close this year and the world will start to see it. And I think the biggest part that’s been incredible for us is being Black and in this space. Because we were always the ones that are most slept on. Because there aren’t many of us that exist this way in this space, and we’re able to have these moments where we garner tons of excitement.

But largely, we’re still built in the groundswell for what will become the future in years to come. So for us, it’s going to really just be about building the infrastructure so we can start to tell more stories at scale and build the foundation for us to grow meaningful things as a community.

For me, that’s all it’s about. I’m in my 40s, so God willing, I got 60 more clips left. I’m focused on really doing the work and building infrastructure for us all to really stand on and to really have something meaningful and to be able to beat our chest and understand that there are opportunities for us as a people that don’t include us needing to break the law, to be able to move us all ahead.

Liner Notes

The Black/Burgundy colorway of the A Ma Maniére Air Jordan 12s with Jordan Brand launches on February 24 at The White/Burgundy pair will release on March 2. 

Greg Whitt is a writer from Washington, DC. His work has appeared in VIBE, Genius, Consequence of Sound and several other publications. He likes to freestyle when he's by himself in the car.

This Story Tagged: Black Women Jordan Brand Sneaker Stories Sneakers A Ma Maniere James Whitner
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