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Interview With the Sneakerhead
A chat with a Discourse Blog spouse about his decade of collecting sneakers.
For as long as I’ve known my husband Christian, he’s been obsessed with sneakers. When we started dating, he had a modest collection of thirty or so pairs of shoes. By the time we got married three years later, that collection had doubled or tripled, scaling the walls of our spare bedroom-slash-pandemic home office.
Really, I appreciate my husband’s obsession with shoes. It’s allowed him to connect with other hobbyists, and given me insight about someone I deeply love. Most importantly, Christian’s fascination with shoe style has given me the courage to find my fashion sense of self. That, and he remains unrelenting in his mission to get his shoe-size-challenged wife a large, wide pair of comfortable sneakers.
Last week, I chatted with Christian about everything sneakers, from the competitiveness of shoe drops, to Yeezys, to the future of sneaker culture.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you describe your hobby to people unfamiliar with sneaker culture?
I'm a sneakerhead because I'm very interested in sneakers and shoes. The variety, the colors and designs, the technical aspects. Most importantly, though, you fall in love with the looks.
How did you get into collecting shoes?
Just by being around stuff that let me nurture my interest more. In high school I started reading Complex magazine. They always did their list of best sneakers or photo galleries of rappers wearing sneakers. And then in NBA 2K, you create your own player on career mode. I had my guy sign with Jordan and I could make my own colorways of all the Jordan shoes.
How do you go about collecting sneakers?
It’s a little like the Ticketmaster lotteries. Each brand has its own app, Adidas and Nike have their own for sneaker releases. Sneaker releases drop Saturday at 9 a.m., so you wake up in hopes of the chance to buy them. The buying process could be a raffle, or first come first serve that favors the faster people. But mostly, you lose out.
What was the first pair of shoes you ever bought?
The Nike SB Paul Rodriguez 7, a red and black pair. Paul Rodriguez is a skateboarder and this is a shoe in his signature line, so it wasn’t very hard to get. Nowadays, everything is harder to get. In 2013, buying online was a lot different.
How has the process changed?
People make bots to buy up stock. It started when collaboration releases became the thing in street fashion, with Adidas’ Yeezy and the Nike x Off-White collab with Virgil Abloh. Those began the extreme hype machine. More people want to buy it, but more people will also figure out ways to cheat the system. That's where the bots came in.
If your collection was on fire, what pair would you save?
The StrangeLove Nike SB Dunks, a 2020 collaboration between the Nike skateboarding division and skateboarding brand StrangeLove. Brands will collaborate with people or boutiques on shoes, and those are often the most hyped. It’s a beautiful shoe, all velour, and it's Valentine's Day themed. I would never be able to get them again because they're $1,000 resale, whereas I could replace the shoes I wear the most.
Do you prefer buying collabs or different colorways?
I like different colorways. There's lots of collabs that just look like a normal colorway, so it's nothing really special. A lot of times they just throw the name on there, and that's it. And then it retails for $250, like are you kidding?
Did you ever wait in lines in person?
No, I never wait in line. I wouldn't do that.
Because you don't need to. It's all online. It's just a frustrating process, like with concert tickets. We're not going to get a congressional hearing on that, though.
But there’s been at least one scandal in sneaker resales.
There's that white teenager [Joe Hebert] whose mom was a Nike executive [Ann Hebert, former vice president and general manager for Nike North America]. He would use a card in his mom’s name to buy a massive stock of shoes. I don't know if that's illegal but it's something, especially when he’s some white kid trying to capitalize on a culture that he's only an observer of.
Why does that matter?
Why are sneakers popular in the first place? Black rappers and basketball players made regional sneakers popular. In New Orleans, the Hot Boyz wore Reebok Workouts, they’re called “soldiers.” New Balances were popularized in the DMV area. In New York, Air Force 1s are called “uptowns.” They created a culture for sneakers in their community. And this kid comes in with literal insider trading to build his resale scheme.
What’s the biggest problem with resellers?
On the individual level, someone might buy a shoe they don’t want with the intention of flipping it to make $100. On the next level, sellers create “cook groups” with a bunch of people using dozens or hundreds of bots to buy hundreds of pairs of shoes and split the profits. It all goes back to capitalism, it was just something that was ready to be exploited. But the resale market has been dying recently, which is good.
Why are resales slowing?
People can’t afford to spend money on shoes. But it’s also the manufactured hype on Twitter and sneaker publications. People are sick of real hype, manufactured hype, price, and unavailability. So now you just get apathy. I see it on reselling apps — every shoe size has the exact same price, and sellers can't move them.
Does artificial hype and reselling have consequences besides price gouging?
There’s a shoe called the Nike Flyease that was designed to slip your foot in easier and marketed as being more accessible. It sold out pretty quickly. You could assume it was mostly disabled people who bought the shoe, but I remember Nike had seeded [gifted] the shoe to able-bodied people for reviews. When you get lost in the hype of creating something that people want to buy, but you make something specifically to address accessibility, you still end up feeding the product into your hype machine.
Do you feel conflicted about reselling shoes?
Sometimes, but it's fleeting because I make a lot of money when I resell and I don’t typically buy shoes to resell them. Once or twice a year there's a pair that comes out that’s worth a lot, so I'll try to buy it. But I think people that resell shoes for a living are losers, so I’d feel bad about it.
If you were a shoe, what shoe would you be?
I would be the Nike Air Tech Challenge 2 that Andre Agassi wore because I’m a tennis player and I like loud colors, and Nike outfitted him in lots of neons and hot pinks.
If Discourse Blog was a shoe, what would we be?
You'd have to be a shoe for the people that want a better world. You’re the New Balance 990 V4. Of the six versions of the 990s, the V3 gets the most attention. The V4 seems just as nice as the V3, but is under-looked. New Balance is going to start doing more Teddy Santis collaborations with the V4, so it's gonna get a lot more attention, and I think Discourse Blog will grow more, too.
What is the best shoe of all time?
The New Balance 574. The best shoe of all time has to be well made, comfortable, and accessible to people, so I'm not gonna say some stupid Louis Vuitton Air Force 1. I think it’s $110, but for sneakers that's affordable. It's always in stock. New Balance is miles above Nike, Adidas, Puma, Under Armour.
Is that a controversial opinion, that New Balances are the best?
No. After being the “Trump proud boy” shoe, they pivoted away from that image through getting back into basketball, signing Kawhi Leonard, and working more with Black collaborators and people in streetwear. If you want to get away from the MAGA association, you gotta work with cool people. Adidas could do it if they knew how to run their company.
What is the most desperate thing you've done for some shoes?
I don't do anything crazy. I would have you [Sam] sign up for accounts on shoe websites email lists, but that’s it.
So, nothing big — you just sell your wife's data online.
I guess when you put it that way, then yeah! I try not to think about our data being online like that.
Is there such a thing as too many shoes?
I don't think I've seen a collection as big as mine. I think I have too many. I don’t know how many but it’s over 100.
That has to be an undercount.
Maybe 150. I have too much, I want to consolidate.
Interviewer’s note: Upon closer review, Christian owns over 200 pairs of shoes.
How many of these shoes do you actually think you've worn?
Let's say 70%.
What are the most problematic shoes you own?
Any of the Yeezys. I own nine pairs, and I just sold one. I bought them all before the Nazi stuff. On the other hand, it was after the “slavery is a choice” stuff, so… Before his Twitter got deleted, Kanye posted a picture of himself with Candace Owens and Charlie Kirk, who were wearing Yeezy Boost 350 V2s. I don't think I have the same pairs, but just having the same model makes them the most problematic.
What are your opinions on Yeezys now?
Adidas recently announced they’re gonna sell their leftover $1 billion stock of Yeezys and give a percentage of the profit to charity. But if you buy these Yeezys after all the Nazi stuff, you're a mark and an idiot. It's buying a MAGA hat at this point. If you already had Yeezys, you can't do anything about that. You can try to sell them. I put all my stuff in a closet.
Are you done with Yeezys and Kanye West?
Yeah. We are not going to buy stuff from a Nazi. Even if he somehow gets readjusted and shows remorse, it's like, “Oh, you’re gonna hop on the reformed Nazi train?”
What's the worst shoe on the market today?
I hate the Air Jordan 1 Lows with the jumpman on the tongue. I bought a pair years ago, because online you don't see how cheap it looks. The tongue feels like straight plastic. I think they’re $110 but I would not pay $10 for that shoe. There’s a version with the Nike Air on the tongue that I bought in 2015, and that’s much better made.
Who's innovating in sneakers right now?
Salehe Bembury. He’s a designer who was vice president of sneakers and men's footwear Versace. Before that, he worked on early Yeezys. Now he's creative director at Crocs. He picks his color palettes from nature, and he uses his “fingerprint” motif across all brands. I always look out for stuff.
Using Aleks’ special system, can you score brands popular in sneaker culture? (We hate it!!! Meh. Fine. Good. We love it!!!)
Nike - Meh. I can't hate them because they have lots of classic models and occasionally make good shoes, but they bore me to death. I'm tired of their monopoly, and they know they can get away with it because of their market share.
Adidas - Meh. Frankly, they don't know what they're doing. The fact that they hinged everything on Kanye and now sort of have to crawl back to him and say they're giving money to charity — it’s just pathetic.
Pumas - Fine. I don't go out of my way to get Pumas. But they've gotten back into basketball, and they make good running shoes, apparently.
Skechers - Fine. I don't think it's very expensive. They get sued for stealing designs. Skechers sponsors Doja Cat now, and she's wearing straight up Air Max 90s — that's another lawsuit coming.
Under Armour - Fine. They squandered all their momentum by trying to get too big, too fast. Now they're trying to get out of that hole. Eventually they'll get away from the uncool logo, ugly shoe reputation.
Reebok - Good. They're not hype, but they know their classics and what people want. Their classics are more comfortable than a Nike Air Force 1 or an Adidas Superstar. You can get a Reebok Club C and it feels great right out of the box.
New Balance - We love it!!! They're by far the best and have been for years now. Their quality, collaborations, and comfort of their lifestyle models are much better than Nike and Adidas. Their creative direction is 1,000 times better. They got it all.
Hoka - We love it!!! It's comfy, even though people used to think it was ugly. They're ahead of their time. Their colorways are innovative. Now they're reaping the rewards of that.
Asics - We love it!!! They’re great running shoes, tennis shoes. None of their stuff feels cheap and uncomfortable.
Crocs - We love it!!! It's comfortable and easy to get. And now they got Salehe Bembury with the fingerprint Crocs. They're releasing slides of those. Cool stuff that everyone can have, that’s the vision.
What else have I not asked you about that you wanted to mention?
Since I've had knee issues, my injuries made me more aware of how shoes affect your legs, and I’m now more interested in how they function over the look. Comfort should be the most important factor.
For the uninitiated, “colorway” is the term for the different colors a particular shoe comes in—so I am asking Christian here whether he likes the more hyped-up special collaborations between shoe companies and fancy designers, or whether he prefers the more regular quest to just get a normal shoe in lots of different colors.