Meet the Duo Behind Maha – Amsterdam's Women's-Only Sneaker Store
Peep the brand-new store interior, too.
It’s no secret that women’s sneakers are having a real moment. Between the launch of the new ladies-only Jordans and “The Reimagined 1” series by Nike, 2018 looks set to be the year girls sneakers get even more popular – and more inclusive. While women are slowly but surely carving out their own space within streetwear and sneaker culture, the product offering can still be limited, and dedicated stores are few and far between. It’s a good thing then, that Maha is kicking off the year with a brand new, beautifully-designed store.
The Dutch womens-only shop only launched a few years ago but its well-curated selection of sneakers, apparel and lifestyle products has ensured that Maha has gone from strength to strength not only in Amsterdam, but worldwide. Run by partners Saskia and Dian, the store stocks sportswear faves as well as brands as diverse as Opening Ceremony, Suicoke and fellow favorites from The Netherlands, Filling Pieces. We visited the store space in central Amsterdam and sat down with the duo to find out more about their passion for ladies sneakers and the scene in their home city – read on for more.
What made you guys initially decide to open a dedicated women’s sneaker store?
Saskia: It began with a frustration of mine; I couldn’t find any clothes to wear that are of the same quality that’s available for men. The same goes for sneakers, Dian always had sneakers that weren’t even available in my size.
Dian: We started in around 2015. At the time, female streetwear was either too girly or too over the top and for men it was better quality-wise and design-wise. design-wise. A lot of the brands in either apparel and footwear were using the ‘Pink it and shrink it’ mindset. Everything that came out for men was different to what was available for girls and that was something we wanted to try and change. That’s why we essentially started the business.
And how long did you have that first store for?
I think 2.5 years, almost. It was around 2 x smaller than this space. The stockroom was really small – I can’t believe we survived there for two years, with all the releases coming in every week. Luckily we could always sell our sneakers really quick, because the demand was very high – that’s how we survived in that small space.
And finally, you outgrew it?
Yeah. We outgrew it very quickly. We waited for the right moment and we also had some feedback from the brands we worked with and decided the direction to go in with the new space was something more minimalistic, something more adult. I think we accomplished that.
You’ve only moved the store a few doors down the street – what is it about this neighborhood that made you want to stay?
We actually live on this street! We know what happens here, it’s a quieter space of the city center and it’s the last piece of Amsterdam to be renovated. We have our eyes on the future; the pedestrian area is going to twice as big soon. They call it the red carpet of Amsterdam because it’s the main road from Amsterdam Central Station to the museums. There are big plans for this street but we have to sit it out for now – it’s a work in progress.
Let’s talk about the design and interior – what was the concept for this space?
In the first store we had a limited budget and all the money came out of our own pockets, so we had to think of more affordable ways to style the store. We didn’t have that much product in the beginning so we had to think of non-practical ways to fill it. And now we have to find practical ways to get all the stuff in here because it’s quite a lot more than we had a couple of years ago. We both have asian roots so that affected the style we chose here – we wanted to incorporate that in our space. We have a little zen garden with Bonsai trees inside the couch and we’ve used a lot of bamboo and lighter types of wood and have created minimal lines. You get what you see, it’s very focused on Asian lifestyle.
“The interest in sneakers for women was always there but it was never available – the good types of sneakers, at least.”
Why do you think the female sneaker scene is so strong in Amsterdam and the rest of Europe?
The Netherlands is full of amazing types of people. The hardcore music phenomenon, Masters of Hardcore, started here. They all used to wear all sorts of Nikes like the Nike Air Max Tns and Air Max 90s. On the other side, you had a huge hiphop/breakdance/graffiti movement which always used a wide array of sneakers, so these sneakers have always been in the DNA of the Netherlands – they never left.
The interest in sneakers for women was always there but it was never available – the good types of sneakers, at least. I’ve never been to the US before but I’d love to go. How women think about wearing sneakers, and what type of sneakers they wear is so different over there. In Asia, it’s more the practical side, which I feel is shifting now into fashionable as well. I’ve travelled through Asia and the mindset over there is if it’s comfortable, great, but you want it to look nice too.
For me, in London, sneakers aren’t just practical, they’re more of a lifestyle thing. They’re just becoming more accessible, would you agree?
It’s definitely a lifestyle thing! Sneakers have become part of the lifestyle of a much wider audience nowadays. People are getting
more and more informed about what’s releasing and what’s the biggest silhouette that’s on the market right now. You see a lot of
girls venturing into sneakers that previously only wore more dressy shoes. As a store we obviously sell to everybody who wants to buy whatever they want, both hyped and commercial items. It’s a challenge for the store to still stand out and to stay on top of the more innovative silhouettes. There is a point where some styles could be over-saturating the market and you have to evolve into the next chapter in sneakers.
How do you select what sneakers and apparel to buy in for upcoming seasons?
What we have in store right now is actually what was missing in my life. It’s getting harder and harder because I’m getting older. We started this when I was 25 and Dian was 28 and I’m almost 28 right now and I feel like my needs are different to what they were before. I try to listen hard to my staff and the younger customers and what they ask for because you notice that they have other needs. It’s always a challenge to stay on top of thing, luckily we do our research well and we have a great team that challenges us to keep pushing.
“People are getting more and more informed about what’s releasing and what’s the biggest silhouette that’s on the market right now.”
You stock such varied brands, Is there anything that’s been really popular that’s surprised you?
Nike is always good and the court styles from adidas too. Hi-Tec is really surprising. It’s getting better and it’s really well-known now. If you look to fashion, you’re seeing the bulky shoe trend, the dad shoe. This [Hi-Tec] is the perfect bulky shoe to start with and it’s a little more affordable than the Triple-S. It’s interesting to see the types of people that are buying the
Hi-Tec, as the shoe utilizes the Vibram Rolling Gait system, a practical technique, now used in a more statement look. Converse is also having a really big comeback here in Amsterdam, it’s never out of style and with the One Star they have the perfect addition to their roster.
Do you find differences in what styles your customers gravitate toward, depending on where they’re from?
Yeah for sure! The Amsterdam girls, they buy more into what I like to call the “sassy” shoes – Air Max Plus, 97s, Air More Uptempos. They’re very bold. Outside of Amsterdam, it’s more Vans Old Skools, Nike Blazers and more court styles. We have a lot of tourists coming in and I think because of the shortage in Asia for styles like the UltraBOOSTs, they buy all the ultraBOOSTS we have. When we have a sale, they really go out in big numbers, it’s ridiculous!
What are Maha’s big plans for 2018?
There are a couple of collabs coming up – I can’t tell you which brands yet, but it’s pretty cool! We’re going to be working with a lot of new brands, but I can’t tell you what ones yet either. We’re also going to have more activations in-store – it’s going to be pretty nice to work on!