‘Sole Searching’ is a series that highlights Black women in the sneaker community, how their passion for footwear began, their thoughts on Black women in sneaker culture, and how they’re leaving their legacy in the sneaker world.
“I’m a little nervous, not going to lie,” she said sweetly. After following Kiah Welsh on social media for some time, I wouldn’t have pegged her as the shy type. After assuring her that there was nothing to be nervous about, we proceeded to have what I called a ‘regular degular’ conversation about her love and passion for sneakers as a Black woman in this space.
During our conversation, Welsh revealed that her bashful, timid nature wasn’t anything new. In fact, she claimed to be “super shy” when she was a little girl but allowed her kicks to do both the walking and talking for her when words failed. “I love really loud sneakers, and so that kind of did the talking for me,” Welsh told ESSENCE. “When I was young, I would wear those loud sneakers, but I guess as I got older, it kind of evolved into my personal style.”
The content creator admitted to minimizing her style when she was younger because she was worried about what other people would think of her fashion choices. “It sounds silly, but I had my reservations,” she said smiling with a hint of giggle in her voice. “But now, what I wear on my feet has kind of extended into my style and I am becoming my own person. It’s reflecting back into what I wear, but it all started on my feet. Now, it’s extending into me as a person and it’s cool to see the evolution.”
Today, social media goers can find Welsh all over their explore pages, thanks to her Sneaker Facts with Kiah series, which gives her audience the opportunities to know the tea about some of their favorite kicks, companies, and manufacturers. While her voice is sweet, soothing, and subtle, her fashion choices are loud. From pairing royal purple Air Jordan 1s with Melody Ehsani’s Vibrate Higher collection to Reeboks with a throwback-style Blue Jays jersey, Welsh continues to prove to followers that you don’t have to say much when your style speaks for you.
In this installation of ‘Sole Searching,’ ESSENCE chopped it up with Welsh about how sneakerheads have found a community on social media, how sneakers speak for her when words can’t, and the budding sneaker style in Toronto.
On when she first fell in love with sneakers:
“As a child, I was super shy and it took a lot for me to put myself out there. When the school year was starting, I believe it was maybe [around] grade six or seven, my mom took my sister and me to get a new pair of shoes for the start of the new school year. I had a pair of K-Swiss and it had baby blue stripes on each side. When I wore them, I felt confident and I felt unstoppable. That love of sneakers never stopped and I think that’s where it began. If you look at my sneaker collection, I love wearing loud sneakers, whether it’s by color or pattern. I also have a fascination with storytelling, so everything has a story. It provides substance and meaning, and I’m always intrigued to learn why a particular colorway for a sneaker was chosen, material, et cetera. It’s the storytelling aspect and that personal anecdote that really got me into sneakers in the first place.”
On the inspiration behind “Sneaker Facts With Kiah”:
“There’s three things that influenced me to make the series in the first place. The first thing is I didn’t see a lot of women, Black women specifically, represented in this space in terms of us being storytellers and narrators. Whenever I would tune into different shows, I didn’t see us there in abundance. I thought this could be a space where I can show people, ‘Hey, we can empower each other with a story as being a storyteller or a narrator. I wanted to show that storytelling is very much alive and that it’s essential to have a multitude of different stories represented. Whether you’re a newbie or an OG or someone who’s just wondering what the sneaker thing is all about, it’s a great feeling to have some sort of relatability to someone impactful in the sneaker community who looks and sounds like you.”
“The second thing was there’s a lot of people who DM me and they’ll be like, ‘How did you get this kind of sneaker?’ It would mainly be focused on the hype sneakers and I wanted to show them that it doesn’t always have to be a hype sneaker that you’re focused on. There are so many underrated sneakers out there that have a story that people don’t know about, and so I wanted to bring that to the forefront. The third thing was my family and friends, they’re just like, ‘What are you doing? You have so many sneakers. You could have three or four sneakers in your rotation. Why do you have so many?’
“I wanted to show them it’s not just a sneaker to me. It goes beyond that in terms of the canvas, the type of silhouette they chose, why they chose it, the material they chose, and the person or people who are behind the sneaker. It’s funny because when I started making this series and they started watching, they understood where I was coming from for the first time. It was kind of nice that they could relate to it. People who are not even into sneakers relate to the series, which is really kind of nice.”
On how Instagram Reels, TikTok, and social media platforms are performing with the sneaker community:
“With the help of social media, we’re seeing different types of women from different backgrounds who have different experiences, who share a love of sneakers. We are seeing the beauty of different cultures and perspectives converging on a shared interest, and it proves that we’re not a monolith. We have different interests. We’re seeing that showcased through TikTok and through Instagram, and it shows that we’ve been here for a long time. These platforms are kind of showing that there are different variations of us and it’s so enjoyable to be able to explore it all. More than ever, women are taking up space and putting in the work to generate what they like to see happen. We’re seeing different ways of how women are expressing themselves, whether it’s style, whether it’s sneakers, in different capacities. Like I said, we’ve always been here; thankfully we have these platforms that can push us and show the world that we’ve been here some time.”
On the moment she realized her power as an influencer and storyteller:
“Honestly, when I started Instagram, it was really cool connecting with like-minded individuals like me. I’m here in Toronto, but it was cool to know that there are people like me, that look like me, that connects with me, and can share the same story. I think it’s just connecting with people and finding the similarities in our story. I think that’s what makes it worthwhile. Even when I make the Sneaker Facts series, people will be like, ‘Wow, this is so cool.’ “
“Even just providing value into people’s lives, like sharing certain facts that maybe they may have not known before. Doing the research and them being like, ‘Wow, I didn’t actually know about this,’ it creates a community within itself when I do create these videos. When I make the videos, there is a community under there within the comments section and they’ll share my videos. There is a conversation that starts, where people were like, ‘Wow, I really didn’t know about this certain fact.’ Creating that kind of community, whether it is with the Sneaker Facts series or just, in general, me just loving sneakers, I think connecting with people one on one is what makes it worthwhile for me because if I was just posting stuff and getting cool stuff, it can get tired real fast, you know?”
On the style and sneaker community in Toronto:
“The sneaker community, it’s pretty encouraging actually. There are several girls over here that are pretty cool. The cool thing about Toronto is that we are a melting pot of different cultures and identities. I might be inspired by someone that I see walking down the street and we kind of inspire each other in that sense. It’s small, but it is inspiring. What I do really love is that I can connect with folks across the border, south of the border, that look a lot and sound like me, and the support that they galvanize towards me is really, really cool. The culture here in Toronto, it’s young and developing, [and] has a lot of potential to thrive and be amazing.”
On her current favorites and go-to pairs of sneakers:
“Whenever someone asks me this, I get stumped because there’s so many but I do love my Jordan 1’s. You can’t go wrong with Jordan 1’s because you can pair them with anything. They’re classic. You could pair them up with a suit or maybe you could pair them up with some joggers. It’s really versatile in that sense. The Jordan 1’s is my favorite favorite.”
“I also really love [Nike] Blazers. I feel like Blazers are such an underrated shoe. They are comfortable and I don’t know why it doesn’t get as much love as it does. With the canvas, I’ve seen really cool designs on the Blazer and there are so many cool things that you can do with it. My go-to’s would have to be the Blazer and I love a Cortez. I love a Cortez to do errands in. They’re easy to slip on and they’re super comfortable. It’s so funny; it’s such a simple-looking shoe, but there have been a couple times where I am wearing it and people are like, ‘Oh, where’d you get it from?’ This is such a simple-looking shoe, but people love it. I love it.”
On the impact she hopes to leave behind in the sneaker community:
“I want my work to impact the future of sneaker culture by showing that there’s power in empowering more than one version of a story, storyteller, or narrator. I want to show that storytelling is very much alive and that it’s essential to have a multitude of different stories represented. I think I just want to show that if you see something missing, don’t be afraid to make it. Even if it hasn’t been done before, just listen to your intuition and good things will follow.”
On advice she’d give to her younger self about owning her voice and personal style:
“I would tell her, ‘Just go for it, girl!’ There’s nothing to be afraid of and you should embrace yourself. Don’t be afraid of what other people think about you. Just do you and everything will follow after that.”