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Run DMC made them a staple of hip-hop culture. Nelly wrote a song about them and Michael Jordan’s name is synonymous with them. Now junior marketing major William “VJ” White has organized an expo on Main Campus to bring together a community that has emerged from a love of them.
Sneakers, also called kicks, trainers, Uptowns or Chucks (depending on the region they’re worn or their make), have created this unique subculture of shoe aficionados
Defining sneakerheads is not easy, but there is one thing they all have in common: a fascination for high-end, hard-to-find and, at times, over-priced sneakers.
For some, they are collectibles that are purchased to be archived, stacked in boxes and locked away with no intention of ever being worn. For most, like Jovon Eldridge, sneakers are about the look, feel and exclusivity.
“The shoe is like the exclamation point of the outfit,” said the 23-year-old Temple graduate boasting a 200-pair collection.”
Your feet just set it off.”
Many sneakerheads are brand loyal.
“I strictly wear Nike. That’s all I buy,” Chris Greve said while perusing the stock at Premiere, a specialty shoe and apparel store at 326 South St. The 28-year-old graphic designer said his first pair was Air Jordans when he was still wearing a kids’ size. Greve never rocks a pair more than twice to his job at a New York City advertising agency. He wouldn’t label himself a sneakerhead since he would never do anything “too crazy, like camping out” for a new pair of kicks, he said.
But there are enthusiasts who camp overnight for limited-edition releases, wanting to be the first to rock the latest styles. Then there are those who simply love the hype, ogling Web sites and magazines.
And last, like in most things, there are the ones looking to make a quick buck.
These resellers buy up a store’s inventory
only to flip the goods on eBay, charging twice the retail value in order to make an easy profit.
But White buys only what he likes.
“It had nothing to with other people or wanting to be seen. It was just for myself,” he said. “People think I am obsessed because every week, I’m like, ‘I got these sneaks’ or, ‘I ordered this sneaks.'”
And if there is one person to credit for intensifying the shoe obsession, it is Michael Jordan. Ask any sneakerhead, and they’ll tell you, Jordans run the sneaker game.
“It was always Jordans because they were sort of exclusive. They were different,” White said. Children used to skip school on Wednesdays to stand in line for the release of the latest Jordans, White explained.
“People were even using welfare checks for Jordans,” he added. The drop date was eventually changed to Saturday because so many kids were missing school.
Aside from Jordans, there are a slew of other kick candies that excite sneaker lovers: Air Force Ones, Air Max 95, Bathing Ape and currently Nike SB Dunks. But, like most sneakerheads, White’s first affair with kicks began with a pair of Air Jordans. The Washington, D.C., native’s fancy for sneakers budded in fifth grade, when he and his friends would mull over Eastbay, a mail-order catalog selling athletic footwear and apparel.
“I was in a public school in the city and everybody was [hooked] on shoes,” White explained, “Everybody would get [Eastbay] to see what was going on and what was coming out.”
Growing up, White’s friend and next door neighbor Will would constantly add to his footwear frenzy.
“He’s the one that used to make me real envious,” White said. “He used to get everything he wanted. I used to be like, ‘Man I hate you. Why do you get those?’
“I always wanted shoes, but I never got them,” he continued. “My parents … thought it was unnecessary to spend so much money on a pair of sneakers that I was just going to run around in.”
Now, in an effort to score all of the shoes he missed out on in his youth, White spends most of his waking hours perusing eBay.
He’s scoping out colorful kicks and pouring over online forums like Niketalk.com to analyze, discuss and negotiate transactions with other sneakerheads.
“Some people say I am a sneaker fanatic. Some people say it’s a fetish,” he said. “Some say I am obsessed with sneakers. Those are all factors, but a sneakerhead, to me, is someone who is real deep into a hobby.”
More importantly, sneakerheads have the knowledge and appreciation for shoes, White said. “They just don’t wear anything,” he said. “You ask them what’s on their feet and they can tell you what it is, the concept behind it and when it first came out. That’s a sneakerhead.”
Magazines like “Sole Collector” and “Sneaker Freaker” serve as guide to school ‘heads, helping them keep tabs on new developments in the shoe game. And, of course, there is the Internet – both a gift and a curse for the sneaker game. Some sneakerheads consider the Internet a force that is thrusting the subculture into the mainstream.
“[Sneaker culture] was always about being
in the know,” said Jimmy Gorecki, manager
of Afficial, a specialty shoe and apparel boutique at 608 S. 5th Street. “The kids that did have the stuff were the only kids in the know and it was such a small percentage because there wasn’t magazines just for sneakers. But now everybody knows because you are, like, two clicks away,” he continued. “As a result, kids nowadays are buying cool rather than figuring out what cool means to them,” Gorecki said. “A kid from Des Moines, Iowa, where there are no stores like [Afficial], can look on the Internet and Hype Beast and find out what cool is to him and order it from wherever.”
“It has brought the world closer,” said Anthony Gilbert, a senior writer for “Sole Collector.”
Sneakerheads now have access to kicks that previously were only released abroad, he added. Eldridge said online forums have even brought female sneakerheads together.The sneaker game has been mostly an all-boys club. Men are privy to limited-edition releases and rare, hard-to-find shoes because, often, they are only produced in men’s sizes. And the ladies who are seeking to build their own collection of kicks usually get the short end.
“Females are always the afterthought,” Eldridge said, naming limited sizes and bland color schemes as some of the major gripes women have with the game. “But I am lucky enough to find things in my size,” she added.
Gender bias in the sneaker game can be attributed to the belief that women collect sneakers for “some kind of male reasons,” Eldridge explained. “Some people say, ‘Girls shouldn’t wear sneakers,’ or ‘You only collect because your boyfriend collects, or your brother collects,'” she said.
Femalesneakerfiend.com is a Web site that provides a space for lady sneaker lovers to communicate, post pictures and even petition for shoe companies to improve their equal opportunity practices. But with access comes what’s called “hypebeasts”
– folks who know nothing about sneakers other than that they look hot.
“They’ll fake stuff for the attention, because [the fake] is in vibrant colors and they want to match up stuff,” White said.
Gilbert admits the Internet has taken some shine off the sneaker game primarily through higher resale prices and prevalence of a counterfeit market. But it’s all a part of the game, and one that is constantly evolving.
Events, like Temple’s first ever Sneaker Expo and Competition held last week, create a floor for dialogue between sneakerheads about the future direction of the game.
“I would hope that people do it because they love it,” Eldridge said. “It’s not for everybody and to all the hyebeasts,
I wish they would go sit down somewhere.”
Malaika T. Carpenter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.