Tausha Saunders and the A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan 5 "Dawn" for Hypebeast's Sole Mates

Sneakers have always been a part of Tausha Saunders‘ life. Growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska, the self-described “tomboy” played sports year-round and didn’t really have time for any other types of footwear. It was when she left to attend college in Kansas City, Missouri, however, and began working at a skate shop that she went from a sneaker wearer to a full-on sneakerhead — thanks to a very particular pair of SB Dunk Highs.

Now based in Houston, Saunders has taken her lifelong affinity for footwear and made a profession out of it by starting Her Grails, a women’s-focused sneaker platform and production company. Out of the many brands and creatives she’s partnered with to curate events and experiences, A Ma Maniére holds a special place in her heart because of their connection to the Houston sneaker community and affinity for rich, authentic storytelling. “A Ma Maniére [doesn’t] just talk that talk — they walk that walk, and back up their stories with how they interact with their community,” she notes.

Therefore, it seems only fitting that she’d select the A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan 5 “Dawn” as her sneaker of choice for Sole Mates, a style with a rich backstory, detailed design and strong community connection — in short, all pillars that she stands on, presented in shoe form. “No matter what, everyone’s got a pair of sneakers and we can talk about them,” she says.

Jean Paul Fuentes

What got you into sneakers?

I just always had them on growing up. I was a tomboy who played basketball, softball, and soccer year-round, so I never wore anything else. My sneakers as a kid were never the hyped ones, though. I grew up in Lincoln, Nebraska, so I’d be rocking whatever was available at our department stores: Nike, adidas, Tommy Hilfiger, K-Swiss, even Skechers [laughs]. I always loved a new pair of sneakers, but my interest in having the “right” ones became more serious when I got a little older, started working and could buy them for myself.

What were you copping at that point?

I got into streetwear before sneakers, because I left Nebraska to go to college in Kansas City and was working at a skate shop/skatepark called Ride Fourever. The time I spent there opened my eyes to many brands, and, eventually, sneakers as well. The first pair I recall feeling like I had to have was the SB Dunk High “Thai Temple,” the Eric Koston pair. The satisfaction of hunting those down and owning them was the start of it all, and now you could say sneakers have taken over my life [laughs].

Jean Paul Fuentes

You mentioned getting into streetwear first, then sneakers. Did that give you a slightly different perspective? It seems like the sneakers-to-streetwear connection is more common than the inverse.

Streetwear and sneakers have definitely always gone hand-in-hand, but I don’t think they were quite as intertwined back then as they are now. Because of that, I think having a different appreciation for each was easier. Collabs back then, like say the Diamond Supply Co x Nike SB Dunk Low, had a real story behind them and a really strong connection. We were so matchy-matchy back in the day too, so having that perfect sneaker to complete a fit was really important as well.

So SB Dunks were your first love. When did Air Jordans enter the picture?

It was honestly a little later. All through college, SB Dunks were my sneakers of choice. I actually didn’t get my first pair of Air Jordans until I was a senior. It was the Air Jordan 8 “Bugs Bunny,” and on a whim I wore them across the stage for my college graduation. Everyone else was in heels, and I definitely got some sideways looks, but that started my love of Jordans. It was a little harder for [female sneakerheads] back then because there wasn’t a whole lot of worthwhile women’s-exclusive product, but so much has changed since then. Jordan Brand is doing a great job of catering to women and understanding what it is that we want.

And that naturally carries over to your Sole Mates selection, the A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan 5 “Dawn.” What prompted you to tap this particular pair as your favorite?

I’ve always liked the Air Jordan 5, but have thought for years that it’s a true men’s basketball shoe with that big collar and puffy tongue. It’s one of those shoes that’s a certain fit for a certain foot and, until the “Dawn” was released there was never really a women’s-specific Air Jordan 5 colorway that spoke to me. Having a pair like this with a really refined palette and elevated materials, plus the fact that it was worked on a store that’s Black-owned and supportive of what I do with Her Grails makes it hit home. 1 of 2

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Jean Paul Fuentes

What about the “Dawn” appeals to you from a pure looks perspective?

Lighter-colored shoes have always been my thing, so that ultra-light grey upper on the “Dawn” with all those special details really does it for me. I loved how they were able to work in so much of their monogram pattern but do it in such a subtle way, and the special branding hits on the tongue, outsole and insole caught my eye too. As always with A Ma Maniére, there’s a great story behind the shoe too, which makes its look resonate even more.

Let’s talk about the backstory a little bit. Do you feel like a story behind a sneaker is more important than ever in today’s climate, where there are almost too many releases to keep track of?

Absolutely. It makes it mean more. And the thing with A Ma Maniére is that they don’t just talk that talk — they walk that walk, and back up their stories with how they interact with their community. Modern sneaker culture has largely been built off the backs of Black people, and any brand or retailer that doesn’t include us in the conversation is missing the mark entirely. The A Ma Maniére and Social Status in Houston are always willing to provide a free event space, sponsor events, raise money, and empower the community around their businesses instead of just selling them a new pair of Jordans and showing them the door. Houstonians can smell it when people are faking the funk, so if someone came here and was just trying to look cool or get a check they’d be laughed out of town.

What about the Houston sneaker community makes it so special?

Man … [laughs] Houston is like its own country. It’s almost unexplainable. It’s a melting pot. You’ll get transplants from all over the country, with trends and styles trickling in from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles as well, all of which then get informed by what we have going on here in Houston. Even with a shoe like the Air Jordan 5, you’ll see it worn so many different ways. You’ll have the hood dudes that want to match from head to toe, the OG Michael Jordan fan, the streetwear dude, and everyone will be hanging out together and getting along because they all like the same thing — it doesn’t matter that they interpret it in a different way. I don’t know many other cities that you can do that in.

Jean Paul Fuentes

It seems like brands have been making a more concerted effort towards catering to female sneakerheads and telling their stories over the last few years. What’s the most positive change you’ve seen and what do you think still needs some work?

I think brands have done a great job of helping break down gender barriers and making it more socially acceptable for women to be wearing sneakers instead of skirts and heels. They’ve also done a good job of giving us more specific shoes and more colorways, and there are even more women designers creating the shoes that are brought to market.

Honestly, that’s been both the biggest growth point and what still needs the most work: having more female voices, specifically Black and brown female in these rooms where the decisions are being made. If a sneaker brand is doing a campaign about Black women, there should probably be some Black women behind the campaign, right?

Why are sneakers important to you?

They’re a great common denominator, but also a way to freely express yourself. No matter what, everyone’s got a pair of sneakers and we can talk about them. It’s a beautiful world, and one that you can adapt to and thrive in.
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