It's rare that many people know what they want to do in middle school or high school, but Vashtie Kola was the opposite. In fact, the star always knew she was destined for greatness.
"So, growing up I couldn’t afford name brand sneakers, and I grew up in the hood, and at that time and still now, sneakers are really a representation of style and [to] not be able to afford a name brand sneaker was a shame," Kola, 40, exclusively tells Morning Honey while discussing her partnership with Pine-Sol.
"I could not live with it, and I grew up with an obsession with sneakers. So, when I was able to afford myself nice name brand sneakers, I started to collect. So, I became a sneaker collector, a sneaker head, if you will, and a lot of my youth I spent sketching sneakers and drawing what I would wear if I could make my own sneaker, and a lot of kids have done that," she explains. "I am sure if you talk to anyone who is in the sneaker culture, they will tell you that. So, it’s exciting for me to be able to have a vision come to fruition."
Kola didn't stop there, though, as she ended up becoming the first woman to design Air Jordans, paving the way for others going forward.
"At the time, it was shocking – it’s still shocking, right?" she says of the accomplishment.
Now, the brunette beauty hopes that women — no matter what industry they are in — keep breaking the mold.
"It's like, 'Woah.' And it was exciting to be the first woman, and I think now in today’s day and age, I am kind of like bored with the idea of being the first," she admits. "It’s great, but we should be talking about the 10th women, the 30th women, or at some point, maybe it’s not noteworthy to say, this woman. It’s like, 'Oh no, we all have the same opportunities.' I think that’s exciting to know that path is like already happening — especially with a lot of women who are designing for sneaker brands like Aleali or Melody Ehsan. It’s exciting to see that it’s going to continue, and it’s going to grow, and it’s going to be all kinds of women and all kinds of people from all over the world."
Kola advises anyone to "be relentless" when it comes to pursuing their passion.
"Do what you want to do, just do your thing," she shares. "Growing up, my older brother and sister were like, 'Why are you collecting sneakers? It’s going to take you no where.' I would have these hard conversations with family members who were like you should be saving your money, what are you doing? That’s a different topic, but it was part of my passion. Also, I was a kid who grew up who could not afford a name brand sneaker, and the fact that I am able to say that I am the first woman to design a Jordan, which is the king of all sneakers, it should say to everyone else, if I can do it, you can do it, and I think that’s the exciting thing. Anything is possible."
At the end of the day, the entrepreneur has to pinch herself that she is living her dream.
"You know, I think about this probably once – at least once every couple of weeks – just to know that I am able to use my creativity to make something," she says. "I come from a family of working class immigrants – my mom worked at a nursing mom, my dad was a car mechanic, my parents didn’t even go to high school. In their country of Trinidad, they weren’t able to go to school in the way that I was able to here. To be able to use my creativity to make something and then make a living off of it is really exciting for me, and I am thankful for it."
In the meantime, the sneaker guru has teamed up with Pine-Sol to launch its first-ever collective footwear collaboration in support of nonprofit, digitalundivided, which leverages data and advocacy to catalyze economic growth for Black and Latinx women entrepreneurs in innovation and technology.
"Pine-Sol approached me with this opportunity to design a sneaker, which was exciting in general," she exclaims. "I grew up with Pine-Sol as many people have. I have a lot of fond memories of growing up with it, so I was just excited. It’s an iconic brand and they wanted me to design a sneaker, which was a lot of fun because I have a history of that. I am a sneaker head, so I felt like they came to the right person. The sneaker benefits digitalundivided, which is a nonprofit. They support Black female entrepreneurs, and they are generally an underfunded community and that was super, super exciting for me. I think that to be able to make something that is going to support others, it’s just a win-win."
The limited-edition Pine-Sole collective sneaker can be bought at PineStore.com.