Chanel Miller Is Breaking Into the Fashion World

The author, artist, and women’s rights advocate tells us about her latest project—her "Courage Shoe," created with footwear brand Rykä.

Chanel Miller wearing her original Ryka shoes
Chanel Miller shows off the shoe she designed for footwear brand Rykä.
(Image credit: Ruth Chan)

Best known for her powerful memoir, Know My Name (opens in new tab)which she wrote in the wake of the widely publicized trial of Brock Turner, who sexually assaulted her in 2016Chanel Miller has also become known for her illustrations, fun travel selfies, and one-on-ones with acclaimed authors. Now, the writer and artist is expanding her resumé to include fashion by teaming up with women’s sneaker brand Rykä.

Rykä (opens in new tab), which was founded in 1987 by sexual assault survivor Sheri Poe, was the first brand to make athletic shoes designed specifically for women’s feet (rather than simply sizing down men’s shoes, which had previously been the standard). The company prides itself on its meticulous research into the specific shape and muscle makeup of a woman’s foot. 

Rykä has continued to advocate for women’s needs, maintaining that women “deserve better shoes, better rights, a better world.” Now, in their campaign with Miller, they’re donating $25,000 of the proceeds to Futures Without Violence’s Courage Museum, a platform committed to ending gender-based violence. 

The design itself features Miller’s original illustrations (Miller’s art has been critically lauded and featured most recently at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum) and accented with her favorite color, “cherry blossom pink.” In line with Miller’s reputation for bravery, the inside of the shoe reads, “Love is where courage is born.” It’s a powerful mantra from the woman whose story single-handedly prompted changes to California law and inspired countless survivors of sexual assault to open up about their experiences. 

In anticipation of the April 5th release of Miller and Rykä’s aptly named “Courage Shoe,” (opens in new tab) Marie Claire caught up with Miller to get her thoughts on courage, women’s fashion, and the collaboration.

Marie Claire: I’d love to hear more about your collaboration with Rykä, in your own words, and how it came about.

Chanel Miller: Rykä helped me design this shoe detail by detail and encouraged me to express what I wanted. I wanted my illustrated creatures to accompany the wearer. I wanted it to be accented with my favorite color, cherry blossom pink. Every suggestion was heard and implemented. I am grateful to Rykä for keeping my voice at the center of the design, because before I would’ve said “that’s good enough” and now I know to start my sentences with “I want.” The shoe truly feels like it’s for me and that’s empowering.

MC: In what ways does this collection seek to empower its customers?

CM: Whenever I feel overwhelmed, one of my grounding techniques is to plant both feet firmly on the pavement. I love that Rykä’s sneakers will serve as a foundation for your body. Even if there’s chaos in your mind, you can take a moment to feel solid wherever you are standing. In life, we tend to focus on big milestones and achievements, but I see life as a succession of small moments—mundane, joyful, sad. Step by step is the only way we get through.

Before I would’ve said 'that’s good enough' and now I know to start my sentences with 'I want.'

Chanel Miller

MC: What was it like applying your skills in illustration to working in fashion? What was most exciting about the process of designing the collection, and what was most challenging?

CM: Lions are a symbol of courage. Courage is a term that is often affiliated with bravado and chest-puffing. The lion I created is very gentle and curious. I love that my lion will be living on the shoe, accompanying you on your daily tasks. The lion will stay close during stressful moments at work. The lion will be proud of you just for mustering the energy to walk down the block to buy eggs. The lion will enjoy the breeze on a light jog. The lion’s just grateful to be a part of your daily life, bad and good.

MC: This collaboration is a great example of how fashion can be mobilized to make a difference. What else can the fashion industry do to advocate for women?

CM: Rykä knew it was not enough to simply shrink a man’s athletic shoe and say, ‘that’ll do.’ You empower people when you give them choice and preference.

Courage Shoe

Rykä's new "Courage Shoe," with illustrations by Chanel Miller. 

(Image credit: Ryka)

MC: Both you and the Rykä team have been very outspoken about women’s rights and sexual assault prevention. What was it like connecting under that common goal for this project?

CM: Connecting with strong women is the only reason I’m here today, visible and doing well. I am often asked about “resilience” and sometimes I wonder if people are under the impression that it’s self-generated. Whenever I feel depleted or have a hard time finding my way forward, I look to the women around me, my mom, my sister, my childhood friends, my editor, my advocates, my legal team, my therapist. They take care of me and give me time to replenish. They remind me who I am and what I possess. This work is not about charging forward on your own, it’s about remembering you have a community around you who is there to share in your pains and joys. Rykä has built a community that celebrates and centers women’s experiences, so when the opportunity came to partner with them, I embraced it fully.

MC: Could you talk more about Futures Without Violence and its Courage Museum?

CM: When I think of spaces where we talk about gender-based violence and sexual assault, I think of courtrooms that can feel oppressive and intimidating. In the Courage Museum, these issues will be brought to light in an environment that’s nourishing, comforting, and beautiful. It will be a shared experience, bearing witness to these topics alongside others, which is a direct contrast to the isolation survivors feel when seeking help on their own. The very existence of the Courage Museum communicates that these topics are not meant to be hush-hush, but something that is meant to be carried as a community. We each have a role in ending violence, we just need to tap into the courage we already possess.

Gabrielle Ulubay
E-Commerce Writer

Gabrielle Ulubay is an E-Commerce Writer at Marie Claire and writes about all things beauty, sexual wellness, and fashion. She's also written about sex, gender, and politics for publications like The New York Times, Bustle, and HuffPost Personal. As a film school graduate, she loves all things media and can be found making art when she's not busy writing.