Just for Kicks


Jahan Razavi and Michelle Wong

Nike Air Max. Adidas Yeezy. Air Force Ones. Over the past decade, brands such as Nike and Adidas have skyrocketed in sales as their shoes, specifically sneakers, gained increasing popularity. This rising trend since the 1980s has grown into a community known as “sneakerhead” subculture.

Sometimes it only takes one shoe to trigger an interest in this culture. For senior Kevin Tong, it was the Adidas Stan Smiths. After seeing the pair his freshman year, Tong began collecting sneakers and became integrated into the culture’s community.

“I guess the choice to partake in [the community] is your choice,” Tong said. “But I’d say sneaker subculture itself is more the idea that you’re interested in this certain thing that maybe people aren’t necessarily as interested in.”

But for Tong, it’s the aesthetic and silhouette, or the shape, that captivate him. One of the sneakers he especially admires is the Alexander McQueen Exaggerated Sole sneakers.

“I just like it because it’s so unique,” Tong said. “It looks kind of like a Stan Smith, but it has a very exaggerated sole and that’s part of the aesthetic that I really, really like.”

In contrast to Tong, senior Spencer Zou’s interest in shoes began when he was much younger. After Zou’s cousin’s interest in shoes sparked his own, he was introduced to a specific sneaker that drove him into collecting — the Free Mercurial Superfly HTM.

These sneakers were released in celebration of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, consisting of the upper cleat from one of Nike’s soccer shoes and the sole of the popular Free Run. Although Zou was unsuccessful in obtaining the shoe when he went to New York to find it at the NikeLab, his interest in sneakers continued.

Along with learning about the history of different shoes, there are other aspects of sneakers that Zou appreciates.

“I like putting together outfits. I find it’s a good way to express yourself,” Zou said. “I like models that have a background and a performance aspect. I like learning about why people like certain shoes and who made them, what was their idea behind making it and knowing different models of shoes.”

Sophomore Roshan Gampala also likes to collect shoes in order to complement his outfits. After seeing his friend wearing a Supreme hoodie and Adidas UltraBOOSTS, his friend gave him advice on fashion and shoes which drew him into the “sneakerhead” community. Gampala’s reason for collecting shoes follows the same paths as other collectors: for fun and to enjoy an attractive sneaker, although those two aspects are not the only things that matter.

“Everyone has their own hobby,” Gampala said. “Some people collect stamps and some people collect other stuff like that. I like to collect shoes that look nice and complement the outfit I’m wearing.”

Along with the rise of the “sneakerhead” subculture has been hypebeast culture, which is when people wear expensive, trendy clothing, in some cases to impress others. Often, the two are considered to be the same. However, Zou explained that the stigma behind hypebeasts is that they are not as appreciative; rather, they opt for quantity over understanding their shoes.

“What I consider a hypebeast is someone who doesn’t know about the stuff they’re buying,” Zou said. “They’re not really making conscious decisions about what they’re buying. They’re not really developing their own tastes. They buy something expensive and think it’s a status symbol.”

Both Tong and Zou say they keep roughly 20-30 pairs in their collections. While Tong has kept the first pair of Stan Smiths he bought his freshman year, he doesn’t always keep the sneakers he collects. He makes sure to balance the new additions by selling some of his older pairs, buying roughly two pairs of shoes a month with the money he makes from his sales.

“As strange as it sounds, there’s a sneaker budget that I have for myself,” Tong said. “I will buy, I’ll sell, buy, sell so I have a very confined amount of money, so it’s not like I spend $500 a month because I don’t have an unlimited source of income.”

As with any collection, shoes run the risk of high expense. Frugal buyers such as Zou usually purchase sneakers when they’re on sale and make sure to keep them in good condition so that they last longer. Tong acknowledged that while there’s a risk of falling into the grasps of consumerism and spending a lot, there are ways to collect shoes while still saving money.

“Just be patient,” Tong said. “Don’t rush to buy a shoe that’s not your size. Don’t rush to overpay for a pair of shoes.”