Moolah Kicks, designed specifically for women, sign milestone 1st players: Destanni Henderson, Caroline Ducharme

Moolah Kicks, the trailblazing shoe specifically for women's basketball players, will be on Division I collegiate and professional courts after signing its first two players from Division I powerhouses and announcing its Neovolt Pro model on Thursday.

Connecticut guard Caroline Ducharme will wear the shoe in a name, image and likeness (NIL) deal when the NCAA season tips off next month and Indiana Fever guard Destanni Henderson, a national champion with South Carolina, will lace them up exclusively in 2023 when the WNBA season starts.

“Women basketball players really from ages 5 to all the way pro now are wearing Moolah Kicks and getting behind the brand and it’s just been incredible,” Moolah Kicks founder and CEO Natalie White, 24, told Yahoo Sports.

The shoe, which first hit the market in 2021, is the first designed specifically for a woman’s foot and is the only performance sneaker built by and for women’s players, the company said. They have already filled a glaring gap in the shoe market for high school, lower-level collegiate and overseas players as women-led and women-focused brands continue to prosper when allowed an opportunity.

"In basketball most of us wear men’s shoes," Henderson wrote in an email to Yahoo Sports. "The perception is that they’ve always had better quality materials and had more colorways, so Moolah kicks is doing something truly game changing for women."

Henderson, a 5-7 guard, averaged 5.3 ppg and 2.5 apg in 16.4 mpg as a rookie with the Fever and is not playing overseas this WNBA offseason. She told Yahoo Sports said she didn't even know her size in women's when Moolah asked and found it "funny and an adjustment." She said her feet would often hurt in other shoes, but the Moolah Kicks were comfortable, crucial since the feet "are the foundation of everything we do."

Ducharme, a 6-foot-2 sophomore guard out of Massachusetts, first met White with her sister, Ashley Ducharme. They played summer pickup games at Boston College, where White first sparked the idea of Moolah as a senior in 2019. Ashley now works at Moolah corporate and Ducharme will be leaned upon heavily while the Huskies are without former national player of the year Paige Bueckers.

“To us, that’s what’s most important,” White said. “This is a performance sneaker and a performance brand. We don't want to be used with any type of lifestyle use. All of our focus is really on them playing in the sneakers and them performing their best on-court.”

Connecticut's Caroline Ducharme will wear Moolah Kicks during the 2022-23 women's college basketball season. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Connecticut's Caroline Ducharme will wear Moolah Kicks during the 2022-23 women's college basketball season. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Moolah Kicks hits untapped market

Moolah Kicks has grown quickly since its launch in January 2020 because it attacked a lingering hole in the market and latched into the growing furor over inequity in sport. Sneakers weren't made with women in mind and White, a lifelong basketball player, experienced the same issues as any other woman lacing up. Toes hitting the top of the shoes. Ankles and heels sliding up. Foot pain after long use and a lengthy breaking-in period. All were “symptoms of wearing equipment that wasn’t fit for us,” White said.

“I think that we as women basketball players, we never questioned it,” White told Yahoo Sports. “And that was something that I didn't really question. When I put these on for the first time and played in them, I probably had the same reaction everyone else does. ‘Oh my gosh, my toe hits the top of my shoes all the time,’ and we think that’s normal. And it’s not. That’s what’s been the most eye-opening.”

Medicine and sciences have often treated men and women as equal and interchangeable, so researchers use the male body for studies and favor men’s health for funding. Yet, research on the gender differences in adult foot shape and its implications on health and injury prevention is widely researched, published and applied in other activities such as distance running and hiking.

“In basketball, there has never been a women’s option or a brand specifically dedicated to creating those sneakers fit for women,” White told Yahoo Sports. “So really what we did is took all of this research, consulted with experts in the footwear space [and] worked with the top last manufacturer in the world to make that fit. And [we] applied it to the basketball end of things.”

The last is a mechanical form shaped like a human foot and used to design comfortable, useful, activity-specific shoes. Moolah uses a last crafted for a woman’s foot so that the inner fit forms better than a shoe designed for a man’s foot. White calls it the “signature female fit” and new advances for the Neovolt Pro will improve that further. There’s a high-energy return midsole for faster push-off, a stability control heel for a quicker first step and a webbing lacing system for an even better fit.

It’s not only about feel and performance, it’s about safety since a shoe that’s designed the best for that specific activity and movement will cut down on injuries. Women are more prone to lower-body injuries, particularly ACL tears, in part because of anatomical differences in hip structure. Ill-fitting equipment can also impact it.

“You can decrease your risk of injury by wearing equipment that is fit specifically for you and that’s how the inside of every one of our sneakers is built,” White said.

'Full circle' with WNBA signing

White called the Neovolt Pro model release a full-circle moment. The spark to start Moolah Kicks came from an advertisement on a footwear company website showing four WNBA superstars each holding up different models of NBA players’ shoes. The social implication of WNBA players marketing men's shoes combined with the performance issue bothered White.

"It’s always felt a little unfair that we were wearing signature shoes with men’s names on them," Henderson wrote in an email to Yahoo Sports. "We play too. Our league is great. Our fans love us. I think what Natalie and her team are doing is amazing, and I’m happy to be part of it and support Moolah Kicks as a brand."

It clearly bothered others, even if they hadn’t seen that particular advertisement. Moolah started with a May 2021 crowdfunding campaign for fans to pre-order a pair and it met its goal to manufacture them. After White made a cold-call to Dick’s Sporting Goods, which has deepened its investment in girls and women’s sporting gear, the Phantom 1 in four colorways became available in 140 stores as of last fall.

Dallas Mavericks team owner Mark Cuban, a businessman and Moolah investor/adviser, gave it a shoutout. Most reviews on the Dick's website are from parents who had previously searched "in vain" for supportive, comfortable basketball shoes for their daughters. Everyone noted the fit. A “Paint Shop” pack with four additional colorways soon followed. For the Neovolt Pro, the store is doubling it to more than 450 stores — more than half of its locations nationwide.

“Now we have Destanni Henderson holding up Moolah Kicks by and for female ballers in just two years,” White said. “It just really shows how excited the market was and speaks to the product and the business.”