Elmhurst native makes impact on sneaker industry
By Jessica Meditz
The sneaker and fashion industries were always an interest of East Elmhurst native Sarah Sukumaran, but they were never something she thought she would pursue as a career.
A business graduate of Babson College, she found herself in the world of marketing and tech in New York, working as the head director product at Nike.
It was during March 2020 when she decided to quit her job and launch Lilith NYC, a Queens-based footwear brand for women and femmes in the sneaker world.
“Spending time at Nike, I realized that I wanted to definitely create shoes for women because for so long, I felt they were underserved in terms of selection, sizing and colorways,” Sukumaran said. “I gravitated towards men’s styles still as a 20-something-year-old, couldn’t get my size, didn’t care for the colorways dropped for women and the silhouettes had still been centered around male sport.”
Sukumaran emphasized that women spend more money on sneakers than men do, owning 80 percent of the wallet share.
Despite this, her time at Nike revealed that the industry is not moving at the pace that she would like, and feels that brands should make an effort to cater to their audience.
Lilith is Sukumaran’s outlet to reach out to other women who love sneakers and explore feminine identity and style through its designs.
“Everything from the brand top down is really through the lens of the divine feminine, because historically, everything has been either hyper masculinized or hyper feminized. In sneaker culture, the expectation for women is super sexually presented through campaigns or ads, or it was the opposite where you have to be a tomboy,” Sukumaran said.
“Especially in 2022, I question how we can express our gender, sexuality or style on a spectrum, and I wanted to do that through the lens of the divine feminine,” she continued. “It’s an energy that we all have, but it transcends the gender binary and doesn’t pigeonhole us the way the industry has wanted us to.”
Lilith’s debut silhouette, the Caudal Lure, is designed by Sara Jaramillo and named after a type of mimicry snakes take on to lure their prey. The shoe’s outsole resembles a snake’s tail.
The serpent, throughout region, culture and time, has been a symbol of the divine feminine, and this imagery is ever present in the brand.
As the daughter of Tamil refugees, Sukumaran expresses her culture through this imagery, since the Hindu goddess of protection is represented with a five headed cobra.
She simultaneously ties in her connection to Queens to the brand through Caudal Lure’s colors, concrete jungle green and amberlou brick.
The green pays homage to the grit of Queens and lush of urban life, redefining the urban jungle, and the amber-toned brick represents the bricks used by architect Louis Allmendinger for homes throughout Elmhurst, Sunnyside and Ridgewood.
Lilith NYC is currently online only, but Sukumaran said a physical storefront in Queens is a goal of hers.
She has participated with in-person popups, such as Queens Collaborative, to share the designs with locals, and hopes to release more colorways and a new design next year.
During Women’s History Month, Sukumaran embraces the fact that Lilith NYC is a women-run brand and commits to sharing women’s achievements through storytelling.
“Whether you’re a woman in tech, footwear or architecture, women’s contributions are constantly erased. They’re constantly overlooked, and sometimes attributed to men,” Sukumaran said.
“That’s why we named it Lilith; she was considered the first feminist because she didn’t want to be submissive to Adam. Historically, she’s been written out of history in a negative light, and so the name is to tell our own stories and men don’t get to dictate it.”