They say Paris is always a good idea. Which makes Paris Fashion Week a better idea. Throw in a couple days of adventuring the charming city streets, late-night parties, and most talked about events with Sallys Sneakers – sneaker content creator and women rights activist – and you have the best idea yet.
Last year, the StockX team highlighted inspiring conversations and content from women creating their own lanes across sports, sneakers, gaming and fashion with a series entitled “Built Different,” and we’re excited to be doing it again for 2023.
This year starts with Sally Javadi, otherwise known on Instagram as Sallys Sneakers. She boasts over 280,000 loyal followers and an impeccable taste in sneakers and fashion. Beyond the weekly heat in her rotation, Sally is also committed to a message of inspiration and equal rights, especially when it comes to the Woman Life Freedom movement in her family’s home country of Iran.
We caught up with Sally on one of the first days of Paris Fashion Week in a way-too-empty Parisian apartment that happened to overlook the Eiffel Tower (a serious miss in the Airbnb listing). She is warm and excited. She hugs everyone in the StockX crew, regardless of whether we’ve worked together for years or if this is the first time meeting. She is instantly kind and ready for a laugh. It doesn’t take long for you to feel like you’ve suddenly become part of her extended family. And not because of what sneakers you’re wearing or the bag you’re carrying, but because of your kindness and soul. She recognizes her inner value first and foremost, and that is her superpower. It makes everything else we connect over – family, sneakers, fashion – feel like just icing on the cake.
In between us blasting Drake and styling her latest sneaker pickups, Sally sat down with us to talk about being Built Different, how her mom shaped her story, and the importance of women’s rights and believing in yourself.
We’re here celebrating Women’s History Month, and we do a campaign called Built Different about women in current culture creating their own lane, and making an impact on younger generations. So we start every interview by asking, what does Built Different mean to you?
Sally: Built Different to me means the opportunity to actually be myself and stand out as a woman in the sneaker community.
You frequently mention the desire to stand out in interviews. And you also talk a lot about your mom and the example she set for you in your household. I’m curious to hear a little bit more about how your mom showed you this path of empowerment, of using your platform and your voice. What examples did she set for you as a kid?
Sally: My mom was an Iranian refugee. She fled Iran with my dad and my older sister when she was in her very early 20s. And she’s been through a lot. Being an Iranian woman, having to start over fully in a completely different country, learning another language, being as young as she was with her child, my sister.
I mean, I think she really gave up everything to give her daughters, me and my sisters, the opportunities that we have today. So she’s been a prime example of sacrifice, but mostly for us.
As a woman she really had no choice but to flee Iran to give us the opportunity to express ourselves, to be ourselves, to dress however we wanted to, to achieve what we have today.
She was so young, younger than I am today. And I can’t even imagine what she’s been through and how difficult it’s been for her to build a life for us and start over completely. So yeah, my mom is probably my main icon in everything I do, because she’s always, always taught us to be strong and be persistent in what we do, and take every opportunity that we get to be a voice and be ourselves.
"At the end of the day, how fun is it actually to be like everyone else? It's better being Built Different."
Was there ever a moment from childhood where she specifically taught you or showed you how to be strong and persistent?
Sally: We had a few incidents. In first grade I went to a Danish public school. And one day I came home and was like, “Mom, the teacher is not letting me answer the questions in school.” And she was like, “What? Why?”
So she goes to my school the next day like, “What’s going on? Sally’s telling me that you’re not letting her speak in class. And why are you taking her into a different room to speak with her?” And they go, “We made the kids draw three circles, and the second one has to be bigger than the first one, and the third one has to be bigger than the second one.” Apparently I didn’t catch that, so I just drew three perfectly similar circles.
And the teacher lays this in front of my mom and goes, “This is what she draws.” And my mom was like, “Yeah?” And they go, “So it’s clear that she has a language barrier.” And my mom goes, “Why would you take her out of class without talking to me?” And she goes, “We thought she needed extra help.” And mind you, I was speaking two languages perfectly fine. I was bilingual, so I spoke both Danish and Farsi. Which was never a problem for me until I started school and people noticed that I wasn’t fully Danish. Then it became an issue.
I ended up having a couple of similar experiences just like this, but my mom never gave up. I always asked her, when we had parent teacher meetings, “Mom, can you please take off your glasses? You look intimidating.” And she was like, “No, I’m not taking off my glasses.” Because I knew that whenever we were going to parent teacher meetings, she would have something to say about the unfairness of the treatment that I could receive from time to time.
There’s so much from those stories that I see in you today. Today, you speak truth to power and how you use your platform. When did you realize the responsibility you had? Or not even the responsibility, but when did you take that power from your mom? Like, “Oh, I can use my voice and my strength just as she did.”
Sally: I think when I reached 13 or 14 years old, I started being very straightforward. And if I felt like I was being treated differently or badly, in school even, I would always speak my mind.
Before starting university, I made up my mind that by being a psychologist I could go out and help children like myself, multicultural or bicultural children, children of color, that have faced the difficulties that I faced when I was a kid.
Looking back, I always had my mom and I really, really feel like I would have not been the person I am today without her. And not every kid has that. So I feel like I could be that person, I could be that guidance for other kids with dual ethnicity.
And then I started doing sneakers. Very randomly, a friend came over to my house during the year of uni. I was about to write my master’s thesis in psychology. I was 23 at the time and really set on where I was headed, I wanted to work with kids and help them find their path in life.
And then my friend comes over and is like, “Sally, you have a crazy collection of sneakers. Why are you not sharing that on Instagram?”
Keep in mind Denmark is a very small country, so people tend to know each other. And I felt like a lot of people may have a presumption that people who are “influencers” or do content, or social media in general are a specific type of people. So I didn’t want to mix it.
So I told my friend, “I’m pretty set on what I want to do. Will I still be able to get a job if I do social media?” And she goes, “Then just don’t show your face.” And so we started shooting my collection and posting it on Instagram and suddenly it just blew up.
"I felt like there was a big lack of representation when it came to women wearing these shoes. It was always men, it was always men's feet. So I was like, 'Let me give the people, the community, something that they're actually lacking.'"
How did you start building that collection of sneakers?
Sally: I was probably in high school and I started getting more aware about how people dress, how I was dressing, and I started getting more into fashion. So I actually started with the most boring pair in the world, but a classic: all white Air Forces.
And from there it became, “Okay, how do I find something that is not as boring?” Because I was looking at everyone’s feet, and we were all wearing the same thing. I was like, “Nah, I need something with a pop of color.” So I started getting into Air Maxes. I had no idea what the specific models were called, I just got pink Air Maxes with pink laces and was like, “No one has these so I need to rock them.”
From there, I started sourcing shoes from around the world and finding something that everyone didn’t have. I got into more exclusive sneakers, women’s releases. I got the Puma Fentys. I queued for those actually in Denmark.
What’s the count now? How many pairs do you have in total?
Sally: Oh, I stopped counting to be honest. But I think approximately like 350, 400 pairs at this point. It’s quite a lot.
So you start Sallys Sneakers. And, like you were saying before, it just kind of blows up, right? How did it catch on the way it did?
Sally: So the first picture gets like 500 likes. And my friend goes, “Yeah, I have an Excel sheet with all the hashtags you need to do, and all the guidelines of what you have to do, and all the pages you should tag.” And she ends up helping me with the first few posts.
And within maybe two weeks I have 2,000 followers, because all the right pages re-posted me and it sort of took off from that. I had NiceKicks, I had Hypebae, I had a bunch of the American sneaker pages.
That’s actually what I found most intriguing when I started Sallys Sneakers was the fact that I kind of needed community. I kind of felt alone in my hobby or in my lifestyle. When I first got into sneakers, I would literally go on Instagram, search up the shoe and then try and find someone styling it to see if that was the shoe for me.
So I felt like there was a big lack of representation when it came to women wearing these shoes. It was always men, it was always men’s feet. So I was like, “Let me give the people, the community, something that they’re actually lacking.” So I tried doing the content I would have liked to see as a woman, which was really fun. Spicing it up, without my face, having different colored socks, doing anklets, whatever I could do. Because I didn’t have face value either, so I had to find my own way of standing out.
Is that how you discovered the mirror shot idea?
Sally: Yeah, so after a while of doing only sneaker shots, I got kind of tired of doing the same thing. And after six months I’m now at 50,000 followers, and I am finishing up school. I became more intrigued to do fashion as well, because I feel like sneakers are simply sneakers and nothing else if you don’t have the power to style it.
So I started figuring out that if I hold the phone in front of my camera while standing in front of a mirror, I could actually do a full fit without my face. So I get Ikea shelving, I put a mirror in front of my shelving and I’m like, “This works. This actually really works.”
I started doing more of that content. And with the concept of having everything kind of match and look good together, I started doing full ‘fits. I would hold my phone in front of the mirror and start finding ways to intrigue people, like showing some face but without my full facial expression.
And then last year on International Women’s Day you made the decision to reveal your face, kind of introduce yourself to the world. I saw you said you had to redefine who you were on social media.
I wanted young women, girls, to see me and be like, 'Hey, she's an Iranian woman. In Denmark, achieving what she is. She's built this just by keeping her feet on the ground and being who she is.'"
How did you come to that decision? And what was that redefining process like for you?
Sally: I always strive to do more. I’m never fully satisfied, it’s like I just want to keep creating and keep moving forward. I started wanting to share more of who I was. And I always promised myself that when I came to terms with the path I wanted to choose — like do I want to do psychology or do I want to do sneakers— I would step out and show the world who I am. And so I did. I decided, “I’m building my own brand. I am trying to confidently show people who I am.”
Were there any nerves?
Sally: I was so scared. Because I had built a strong brand but I felt kind of safe in my zone of being Sallys Sneakers without a face. And I’ve always kind of been a private person. Not that I don’t enjoy speaking with people, but I have my boundaries.
I felt like it was scary that I suddenly had to share more of myself. Suddenly deciding that you want to share your face with 250,000 people that have no clue what you look like except from trying to stalk you on Google. I was like, “Oh, how interested are you actually?”
But when I did finally share my identity, even though I was shaking, I felt relieved. It was relieving that I had finally told my story. I initially came out with the message that I wanted to be a psychologist because I wanted to be of influence. But then I found my creative path, and I decided to become an influence in a different manner. But it’s still who I am.
I wanted young women, girls, to see me and be like, “Hey, she’s an Iranian woman. In Denmark, achieving what she is. She’s built this just by keeping her feet on the ground and being who she is.” I felt like my message came out the right way. But after I did that, I was like, “What the hell do I do now? Where do I go from here?”
Something I think is so unique and cool about you and your content is that there’s all these archetypes and stereotypes when it comes to women being influencers or women in sneakers. But you always stay true to this core love of sneakers. The sneaker is the end all be all. I’m curious, how do you stay true to that love of sneakers in this ever-changing fashion landscape?
Sally: I’ve always promised myself that I would never accept a sneaker from a brand that I wouldn’t wear outside of social media. And I’ve always, always, always stayed true to that. And that is regardless of the pay I’m being offered, or who is offering it to me. I’m not posting anything that I can’t see myself wearing in the real world. I love being built different. And I love pushing boundaries and knocking down doors when it comes to fashion and sneakers because I’m being like, “Hey, you can’t tell me I can’t wear that. Not as an individual, not as a woman, not as whoever. I decide how I want to dress.”
But I always center my fits around the shoes I’m wearing as well. Sneakers are how I learned to fully express myself. They gave me the confidence to dress as crazy as I do sometimes, because I would’ve never done that if it wasn’t for the shoes. I would have never been who I am if it wasn’t for the sneakers.
You always grow as a person and you find new ways and new directions you want to go in, you find new interests as well. So I’m not going to sit here and say, “I’m never going to do anything other than sneakers for the rest of my life.” But for me, (sneakers) gave me the confidence to actually be who I am today.
You talk a lot about your platform and your audience as a community. What’s been the most meaningful interaction or impact that you’ve seen within your community? What are those moments like?
Sally: The moments where people message me and are like, “You are the reason I am doing what I am today, ” are the moments I know that everything I do is worth it and that I’m doing the right thing.
Just the other day, I shared a picture of a guy who commented on one of my posts that I should show a picture of a childhood picture of me wearing sneakers, because otherwise I wasn’t a real sneakerhead or someone who’s legitimately interested in sneakers.
I posted this on my story in the hopes of showing that there are no real rules for sneaker culture. That this guy is everything that is actually wrong with the sneaker world, the gatekeeping, the, “You have to do this. You have to have this sort of knowledge. You have to wear this kind of sneaker to be an OG or to be good enough to be in the sneaker world.” There are no rules.
Just be respectful to the culture, be who you are, be good to other people and rock whatever you want to. It’s ridiculous to me that some people think there are rules. It’s not that serious.
So I post this story, and this girl reaches out to me and goes, “Sally, please do not listen to this guy. You are awesome and you are the reason that I am doing what I’m doing today.” And she goes, “I actually wrote a university study on you and who you are as a person in sneaker culture.”
And yesterday, she sent it to me. It’s crazy, it’s a full paper on me. It’s like an analysis of who I am and everything I’ve done. She has my Nike by You designs, she has my stories about Iran, paragraphs about what messages I’m trying to get across my platform, and what makes me stand out in the world of sneakers.
And honestly, I’m looking at it and I have a big smile on my face, because I’m like, I still to this day cannot believe that I can have this effect on people and that anyone would be that interested in me to write a full paper on who I am and be inspired by who I am in the sneaker community.
These are the moments where I’m like, “Okay, you’re doing something right, regardless of the hate, regardless of the people that can be very mean towards you, especially as a woman in the sneaker community.” Everything I do is for my community, for the Iranians, and for every young girl, so they can look at me like, “She’s not afraid to be herself.”
Taking that a step further, I know you’ve been very vocal about Iran’s Woman Freedom Life movement. What does it mean to you to be a woman in sneakers and fashion using your platform for what’s happening right now in Iran?
Sally: It is such an important part of my identity, it is such a big part of who I have become — my Persian descent and my Persian heritage — that I have always felt a responsibility to show how proud I am of being Iranian.
But as a woman, now especially, I have the freedom to actually express myself, be whoever I want to be. I have a privilege that no Iranian woman in Iran has, no woman can fully be herself and have the freedom as I have. So it is incredibly important to me that I do my best to always spread information and share the message on Woman, Life, Freedom. And try, at least, my best to be part of change. And I really, really do believe that Iranian women will be free. And that in the end, I can have a more wholesome feeling of my ethnic roots and my cultural identity. Because you’ll always, always feel like somewhat half of a person if you are not fully connected to your roots.
I read that you had mentioned the desire to visit your homeland, to see it.
Sally: Hug my family, yeah.
Talk a little bit about that desire.
Sally: Imagine that you’re growing up in this parallel world and you’re being told stories about this paradise that your parents grew up in. Of course it wasn’t a paradise, it wasn’t perfect, no country’s ever perfect. It had its own difficulties, obviously. And my parents had their own difficulties at the time, probably more problems than I do now.
But when my mom tells childhood stories and tells me how special it is, walking the streets of Tehran, and having four seasons in one country, all these stories. And even my dad being like, “My dying wish is that I can spend the rest of my life or the amount of years that I have left in my motherland. Where I had my youth, where I grew up, where my mom is buried, where my brother is buried.” That’s their biggest wish.
It’s not even about me at this point. I feel like I want to give them that opportunity, especially my dad. I would really, really love for him to be able to go back. And because I haven’t seen it, I don’t remember it and I long for it, I really, really want to go. I feel like it would probably make me feel more whole. But because I haven’t experienced it, I don’t really know what I’m missing out on.
It is obviously hard juggling between sneakers and the movement in Iran, but I am really trying to do my best to combine it in the most meaningful way possible. And always stay true to who I am as a person and share whatever message I feel I need to.
What message do you want to share with people who are just getting introduced to you through this interview? And what’s the biggest takeaway you want people to know about the Woman, Life, Freedom movement and how they can get involved?
Sally: Enlighten yourselves, share awareness. It is very difficult to be able to get donations into Iran. Of course there are few reliable ones, but because of its ruling government it is very difficult to help financially.
So my biggest advice is to sign petitions, share awareness, and do your very best to educate yourself. If you see a protest, join it. Iranians are lovely, open-minded people and we would be so very happy, myself and the entire community, if you support us.
And to every young girl, woman, and every other person reading this that has respect for what I am saying, and that thinks that I am doing something good, please know that you’re able to do just as much goodness. You can always, always, always stay true to who you are.
Don’t ever stop being nice to people, because, for me personally, I owe my community everything that I have. Even when I post about Iran and other things that are non-sneaker related, it’s the support of those people that mean the world to me.
It sounds so cliche when you say it, but nothing is actually impossible. If you set your mind to do whatever, it is possible. And I am actual proof of that. Like, how did I go from being a university student, to this? And now I’m sitting here with StockX in Paris?
I remember when I started, I was like, “Yeah, the goal is actually to be able to work with StockX,” to be able to have that relationship as well as many other things. That was a milestone for me actually.
Sally: It really was. Yeah.
Why did StockX make so much sense for you from a partnership standpoint? And how has it helped your brand and your platform?
Sally: I remember telling my friend, “Imagine if I could work with StockX, because God knows how much money I’ve spent on resale because I have small feet.”
So StockX for me was like, it made so much sense. And I remember being like, “I’m a woman and I’m a content creator. I do sneakers. That is the most ideal collaboration that you could ask for.” I reached out and I was so scared of not getting a reply, but I was like, “You know what, I’ll try.” And that ended up being a three-year-long partnership with StockX.
And that shows again that anything is possible. If you asked me five years ago, where would I be today? It would not be in Paris telling StockX my story, sharing my roots, sharing my passion for sneakers, being a Danish-Iranian woman. Like, how is this real? I would’ve probably fainted if you went back with a time machine being like, “Hey Sal, you know what’s going to happen?” I would’ve never believed it.
What’s next? What are some things you’ve got in the works that you want to tease out? Or any plans you have on building your brand and taking that next step as a creator?
Sally: I think my next step is definitely the launch of my brand. I am currently building a brand that is inspired by my cultural heritage, inspired by my roots, and my duality as a Danish-Iranian woman.
I don’t want to give too much away because I want people to be blown away by what I come forward with. I so want to create my own sneaker that carries the weight of my story and passes on that feeling of empowerment to the next generation. Or even to my own generation, or the generation older than myself. My biggest goal is to be able to inspire. So I think the biggest milestone, and what would really make me feel like a champion is having my own collaboration, being able to tell my own story.
Having had this conversation, having told your story, and everything that motivates you, inspires you, and your message you’re trying to give to the younger generations, what does Built Different mean to you?
Sally: Built Different means that ability to be whoever you want to be without being restricted by the stereotypes that anyone set up for you. Embrace being different, embrace being you, and never give up on who you set yourself up to be.
I feel like Built Different means that being different is actually not a bad thing. Society teaches us that we all have to be similar, that we all have to act a certain way to be accepted, but at the end of the day, how fun is it actually to be like everyone else? It’s better being Built Different.