Sneakerheads are dedicated, obsessed and loyal. They’re not a new breed — some of those rare Nikes have been lurking in closets for years now — but only somewhat recently has the label “sneakerhead” seeped into the common vernacular and mainstream media (beyond just niche publications).
The kick culture has also nabbed the attention of the cultural elite: This summer, an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum plans to unpack this phenomenon. The Rise of Sneaker Culture premieres July 10, and will explore everything from the early origins of the sneaker to the recent widespread obsession.
Sneakerheads have also infiltrated the advertising industry. So in order to better understand the species, we asked a few agency folk to unlace the details of their sneaker collections. A few highlights:
Julian Thomas, marketing communications manager at Guild
“I can’t live as a ‘Brooklyn creative’ and not be a self-proclaimed sneakerhead. I’ve been working at building up my collection for about a year and a half now. I’m a sucker for the classics. My favorites are Converse and, surprisingly, Doc Martens — they’re growing pretty fast in the sneaker market.
“I’m also a fan of below-the-radar brands, like the Apollo Mocs and Chukkas from Native Shoes. They are ridiculously light, and very friendly to my millennial budget. It’s easy to always go for the usual suspects for sneakers, but there are so many awesome sneaker brands that are under the radar.”
Richard Ting, global chief experience officer at R/GA
“Unlike other collectors, I wear almost all of my kicks. At the current moment I have close to 150 pairs. A few years ago my collection was well over 200 pairs, but then my oldest daughter wanted her closet back, so I was forced to sell off a few dozen pairs at the Brooklyn Flea.
“I’ve been collecting for over 30 years, but back then I didn’t consider it collecting. I grew up in the Bronx back in the 80s and 90s and having the freshest, flyest kicks were just a part of living. It was just like breathing air. When you left your house, you just wanted to make sure you had something fresh on your feet. However, nowadays, I do consider myself a collector especially as sneaker culture has become much more sophisticated and evolved.
“My favorites are the classic Nike franchises; Air Force 1s, Air Max 1s, Air Max 90s, and the Air Jordan 1s.
Christopher Cau, project manager at AKQA
“My two favorite pairs, the Air Max 90 360 and the Air Max 95 360, are above. Why these two? Because they were a one-time exclusive release back in 2006 and I managed to get them against all odds.
“I was out late in Brooklyn on a Friday night, and on the subway ride back to Manhattan with my friend, we both realized these kicks were dropping that morning. We knew there would be a line for them with no guarantees of even getting a pair, as they were first come, first serve. But we’d had a few drinks and thought it would be worth a shot. So we headed straight to ALIFE on the Lower East Side and arrived around 5 a.m. Of course, other sneakerheads were already there but we assumed our position in line and waited until the store opened at 10 a.m. hoping to get at least one pair.
“I was in luck. Both the Air Max 90 360 and the Air Max 95 360 were available. Without even trying them on, I pulled out my debit card and the available balance barely covered the costs. I walked out on cloud nine!”
Kazuho Ozawa, human resources executive at R/GA
“I’ve been collecting for 15 years, and I have two favorites. Nike Rifts, which I started wearing back in 1999. I have small, flat feet and I really love the way they look and feel on me. They were inspired from the barefoot runners of Kenya, but I find that they are strangely also Japanese, which is where I am from.
“My other favorite is Nike Dunk highs. They are more down to earth than the AF1 for me, and maybe easier for me to sport with anything I wear. It was also the only Nike basketball high tops that I could ID on NikeID seven years ago. So I started to ID Dunk Highs every year or so. Now, you can ID all sorts of stuff, but there weren’t many choices back then.”
Chris Polychronopoulos, creative director at AKQA
“I think of sneakers almost like an accessory; depending on the occasion you can dial up or tone down the volume. They’re something small that adds a pop of expression to whatever you’re wearing. Plus you need something that looks fresh, but it’s comfortable in my mind. I like clean looks with small hints of color. Nothing too flashy.
“I am influenced by skateboarding, soccer and basketball shoes as I played a lot when I was younger, so I still geek out on basketball kicks. At one point I wanted to be a basketball shoe designer, and still have a pile of old sketches.
“I wear a lot of Nike because they feel and fit my foot the best, they’re always trying new things with designs, fabrics, textures and layering in innovations throughout the shoe, which is cool.”
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