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Harrison Boyce for Saysh
Allyson Felix, the most decorated track and field Olympian in U.S. history, is officially headed to Tokyo for her fifth and final Olympics - and her first as a mother. She'll also be making history as the first athlete in her sport to compete wearing her very own brand.
Saysh, a shoe company for women founded by Felix and her brother Wes, officially launched today. Their first product, the Saysh One ($150; saysh.com), is a lifestyle sneaker that comes with a lifetime membership to "Saysh Collective," an online platform that will offer inspirational conversations and workouts. (Felix herself will be racing in the Saysh Spike One, racing spikes designed specifically for her.)
"Saysh was born from my experience of feeling overlooked," Felix tells InStyle. "I've been asking for change and speaking up, and it just got to a point where I needed to create that myself."
Harrison Boyce for Saysh
The announcement comes two years after Felix famously penned a New York Times op-ed about the "gender injustice" female athletes face if they choose to become pregnant - and the lack of maternal protection that follows. She revealed how during contract negotiations, her sponsor of nearly a decade, Nike, wanted to cut her pay by 70% following the birth of her daughter, Camryn, and declined to provide any guarantee that she wouldn't be penalized if her performance dropped in the months after childbirth. Her words led to real change - Nike announced a new maternity policy for all sponsored athletes - and she went on to become the first athlete to sign with Athleta, paving the way for Simone Biles who also recently left Nike to join the women-focused brand.
And now she wants to further disrupt the traditional world of athletic sponsorships, providing an opportunity for the next Allyson Felix. In the powerful campaign images for Saysh, she shows off the scar from her emergency C-section - a statement of what her brand represents. "I see the C-section scar as really the medal that I'm most proud of, and the other medals sit on top of that," says Felix, who was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia at 32 weeks pregnant, a potentially life-threatening complication that disproportionately affects Black women (Beyoncé experienced it, too). "I feel like through my experiences, I was really told to know my place - that runners are supposed to run. And no woman should have to make that decision, whatever industry they're in, between their profession and motherhood. To me, that is the power of that image and the 'I Know My Place' launch campaign."
But beyond the opportunities and community Felix hopes to create, she's also focused on making comfortable, chic sneakers that are actually engineered for a woman's foot. As Natalie Candrian, the lead designer of the Saysh One, tells me, sneaker forms are traditionally built off of a man's foot and then given the "shrink it and pink it" treatment. And that's a problem considering there are quite a few nuances between men's and women's feet, she says. For example, in comparison to men, our heel is more narrow, and the widest part in our forefoot is wider in proportion to the rest of our foot. So they designed a shoe built from the inside out for women specifically, rather than making these adjustments as an afterthought. For example, "we designed a slightly different offset, the slope from your heel down to your forefoot. And that's because women often wear high heels and therefore our Achilles are shortened," she explains.
Harrison Boyce for Saysh
As for how Felix is managing to find time to train for Tokyo on top of raising a toddler and launching a new business? "It's been a totally different experience than any of the previous Games. Add in a pandemic to that, and it's been a bit of chaos," she says. "There were so many moments where I doubted if I would ever get here, just thinking about giving birth and being in the NICU and all of the hardships of being a new mom and everything that comes along with that. And then trying to get back to training. It has been a lot."
"Some days, I feel like I'm absolutely killing it on the track and a beast and then coming home and feeling like I'm falling short there, and I think that's been the constant kind of struggle just realizing that it's okay not to be okay, and it's okay to ask for help," she continues. "But now to actually make the Olympic team and be so close to going to Tokyo - I'm just excited and hopeful for what's to come."
Felix may be older going into her fifth and final Olympics, but she has an edge she didn't before: the motivation from her daughter. "I want to tell my daughter about these days where we've had to overcome a lot, but also that we get to be this representation as well for all these amazing women and hopefully show some young girls that they can really do anything that they put their mind to."