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“Not Just Celebrated But Respected": Moolah Kicks CEO Natalie White on the growth of women’s basketball

Iowa vs. South Carolina ratings not a 'one-off'
Michael Smith and Michael Holley react to the "record-shattering" TV ratings of Iowa vs. South Carolina, breaking down why the mark signifies the exponential growth of women's basketball.

This year’s NCAA Championship game between South Carolina and Iowa was the most-watched women’s basketball game ever as roughly 18.7 million viewers witnessed Dawn Staley and the South Carolina Gamecocks end with a perfect season.

Those numbers are no surprise to New York City native Natalie White—someone who has always believed in the women’s game. So much so that she created the first brand in basketball dedicated to performance footwear and apparel made exclusively for women. White founded “Moolah Kicks” in 2020 and just four years later, her brand is available in over 500 stores. The Boston College graduate spoke with On Her Turf about her passion for women’s basketball and the impact she’s made in making female players feel valued on and off the court in the conversation below.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did growing up in New York City influence your love for sneakers and basketball?

Natalie White: Oh my gosh. Well, I feel like growing up in New York probably influenced a ton about me! But I think when I first fell in love with basketball it was shooting around with my dad at just one of the parks here in New York. As I got older, sneaker culture and basketball culture became everything in my life because I played on one of the top AAU teams from middle school all the way through high school and just absolutely loved it. Growing up here really brought out the grit and hustle mentality that is so prevalent in basketball, but also so prevalent here at Moolah.”

You went to Boston College where you played club ball and managed the women’s team. How did your experience lead to you launching Moolah Kicks? Was there one particular thing that was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”?

White: Yeah, when I was a senior at Boston College, I was shopping for my sneakers and came across an ad that had four WNBA players holding out and promoting sneakers that were named after someone else. The ad had these four players, their names, and right underneath it was the name of an NBA player. It really struck me [and I asked myself] what is the message here? The message is that you can be the absolute best and biggest in women’s basketball, but you will still be wearing and promoting a sneaker named after someone else.

When I looked into the issue, I saw that there is not only a social implication but a performance one as well because the female foot form is different in five places than the male foot form.

Now seeing where women’s basketball is—just four years after seeing that ad in 2020—has just been the absolute best ride. In 2020, there were no footwear products and no equipment for women. The most recent NCAA championship had just over 3 million views. Now, look at Iowa vs LSU game last week, which received 12.3 million. When you look at the women’s basketball section that we pioneered 4 years ago, now there are a ton of other brands that have joined us in this space in making products for the female basketball consumer.

Can you talk about the importance of having sneakers designed for women’s feet? How is the female foot different from the male foot and what is the physical benefit of having equipment fit for women?

White: Women’s feet have more of an arch, a more shallow lateral side, a narrower heel, and differences in the toebox. When female hoopers are wearing sneakers fit for the male foot form we’re more at risk for knee, ankle, and leg injury in the long term. On a day-to-day basis, it means that the bottom of your feet burn. [Women’s feet] in men’s basketball sneakers take a long time to break in and sometimes your toes hit the tops of your shoes.

For so long we as women’s basketball players have just accepted this and said “Oh well, that’s just basketball shoes. They always burn and my feet always ache when I take them off.” Moolah Kicks fit specifically for [women]. When you wear them you’re able to elevate your game and perform at your best level because you’re not hindered by any of those things.

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You’re a brand for women, run by women, and you actually took the time to listen to women. So what were the most common complaints and how do your sneakers provide the solution?

White: Asking the women’s basketball community is at the heart of every single thing we do. We go out before every single sneaker, and every single colorway, and we pull at least 100 players and ask them for their thoughts.

An unexpected thing we saw is girls complaining that their ankle braces don’t fit inside of their sneakers and so in our marquee model, the “Neovolt Pro” we actually have a notch that allows for the top area [of the sneaker] to expand so that it can accommodate ankle braces because that was one of the most common problems that they cited. The top of the shoe opens up to fit their ankle braces and leave them feeling supported.

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That’s one example of how we put [women’s] insights into everything we do. We also have them vote on colors, silhouettes, and design lines. We have them wear and fit test and say which traction compounds and materials they like better.

Where did the name “Moolah” come from?

White: “Moolah” is slang for money. The slang aspect is a positive nod to the street culture of basketball. The money aspect signifies the financial opportunity that Moolah is making in women’s basketball. We are the only brand that is solely dedicated to this sport and that means every dollar we earn goes back into either more equipment for female hoopers or additional marketing and sponsorship dollars.

“Moolah has gone from a shoe to a movement” like you said. What kind of impact have you made and what message do you hope to instill?

White: We see girls and women wearing Moolah—sneakers fit for them—all across the country. We also see a shelf filled with options now. Four years ago we had zero options, now not only have we welcomed more options into the space, but we have a shoe for every position. We have a full line of apparel and a full line of kids [sizes] so that girls can wear shoes that fit their feet earlier and we’re seeing our vision come to life because in 2024, we are seeing women’s basketball players feel more seen and celebrated than ever before. We are definitely a part of leading that difference from the equipment side, and we’re just lucky and thankful to continue to be doing it.

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From the shoe itself to the box it comes in, every area of your product has been well thought out and intentional. Can you talk about some of the hidden messages you’ve incorporated in the designs and what they mean?

White: I think the box has been most exciting to people. We’ve had two different boxes and the change in [design] shows how far women’s basketball has come. The original box was teal and yellow and it showed the difference between the men’s versus the women’s viewership of the NCAA Finals in 2019. Now our box actually shows the growth in viewership from when women’s basketball had its first year in the NCAA tournament in red to 2022. 2023 numbers weren’t in when we made this box but when we put that in we’re going to have to reorient how we design this.

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Two messages are important there. The first is a change in measurement. For so long we were comparing ourselves to men’s basketball and almost looking to them for legitimacy. In 2021, there was a marked change at Moolah where we are now really focused on women’s basketball with no comparison. We’re really against that mentality of thinking that we have to compare to men’s basketball in terms of numbers, dollars, and really anything to be considered successful or not. That was part of the change that we made to the box in later years. Now we’re showing our own growth [by focusing] on the value that we bring, the talent that we have, and the excitement and the movement that we’ve created. It’s continued to catapult the company, women’s basketball, and the level that girls are comfortable performing in with the sneakers that they’re wearing.

Which pair of Moolah Kicks are you most proud of?

White: I would say the “NeoVolt Pro Easter Storm” because we had so much love behind that shoe. We came out with the storm pack in the spring of 2023 and we were really thrilled to see the speed at which that Easter Storm shoe flew off the shelf. That has been by far my favorite shoe!

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Who are some of the women who have empowered and inspired you along your journey?

White: Definitely the women’s basketball community here in New York City, Moolah is now in five 570 stores. We have models for every single position but four years ago we had nothing. I had an idea. It was because of the support of the women’s basketball community here in New York that got behind us when all we had was an upper, not even attached to the outsole. They were in our promo videos. They were talking to everyone they knew about the sneaker. They were wear-testing it. It’s the women’s basketball community here in New York that got us started and it’s the girls today that are wearing and promoting the brand and what we believe in, in their communities, that continue to fuel us and this movement. That’s who inspires me every day.

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Of course I have to get your take on this year’s March Madness tournament? Who have you been rooting for? What’s been your favorite match up?

White: I’ve been rooting for a good game every single time. Of course, we’re really proud of Caroline Ducharme, who’s on the UConn team, and we were thrilled to see them in the Final Four. We’re excited about everything that this tournament has had—some unbelievable matchups!

The South Carolina Gamecocks defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes, 87-75, to win the 2024 NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship on Sunday.

The future of women’s basketball is bright. In talking to a lot of female athletes across different sports, many of them have shared that when they were younger, they really couldn’t dream of playing a full-time sport professionally because that example didn’t really exist. With your brand, you’re playing a direct role in helping the women’s game be respected and making athletes feel seen and heard. What does that mean to you?

White: Not just respected but celebrated. That’s the change in thinking that we’re looking to make. Girls have been told that the dream is a baseline because we’re constantly comparing to men’s sports and now the future is so bright and we’re paving it for ourselves. We don’t need to compare to anyone. We’re here to show the world the unique value that we have to offer.

One thing that stood out to me about your brand is that you don’t just focus on college-age players and the professionals you pay attention to the high schoolers and the middle schoolers. Why is that important to you?

White: That’s who’s wearing the sneakers. That’s what it’s all about. It is about basketball at every level and we have girls aged 5 through pro that wear Moolah. That speaks to the performance of the brand, and the popularity of the movement of what we’ve started. The high school-aged girls and the middle school-age players are so important and integral to this brand because everything that we’re doing is truly made for them. They are part of every decision that we make in terms of product and how we merchandise it, and making sure that they feel a sense of ownership because that’s how you make people feel seen and celebrated.

It’s been incredible to see just how far you’ve come in just a short amount of time but I know you received a lot of “no’s” along the way. What have you learned during this process?

White: I learned how much detail goes into everything. I think sometimes a lot of us see the final product of anything—whether it’s a movie, a sneaker, or a glass of orange juice. You don’t think about all of the details, the labels, the operations, how it’s getting paid for. All the questions, answers, and challenges that need to be overcome—everything that goes into actually getting it there. I’ve learned how intensive it can be to actually bring something to market...but I can also say it’s been extremely satisfying and gratifying because now we have girls across the country who are really excited to wear our product.

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You’ve got the sneakers, you’ve got the performance wear, what’s next for Moolah? Are there any upcoming launches that people can look forward to?

White: We have a launch coming up this summer that we’re really excited about in July. We can’t share more details than that but I can say we’re excited for what’s coming this summer!