‘Sneakerheadz’: A glimpse at the soles of obsessive shoe collectors

OPINION: The 2015 documentary explores the subculture of sneakers and the people who collect them.

“Sneakerheadz” (Screenshot/IMDb)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

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One of the joys of being born in the 1970s is watching sneaker culture grow up. When I was young, sneakers were all white and weren’t really a way to express yourself. In the early ’80s, things began to change as the NBA and hip-hop, and the street began to shape the world of sneakers into something much more dynamic and powerful. We started to get colorways, silhouettes and sneakers that defined what sort of person you were. When the Air Jordan came out, it redefined sneakers forever—they were beautiful, they were coveted, and they linked the athletic world and street culture. 

More than that, they created something new—a subculture of people who were obsessed with sneakers and how they could be used to represent who you are. Sneakers became the center of the young male fashion universe. They were the thing we planned our outfits around and were the fashion item we spent the most time and money on. They were critical to how young boys expressed themselves in the world. Yes, there are now sneakers for women, and lots of women rocking all kinds of sneakers, but young women have a whole world of fashion to think about. For young men, there is no other item of clothing that makes as many of us get emotional as sneakers.

If you love the world of sneaker culture, then Sneakerheadz (2015) is a very cool documentary about some of the most interesting aspects of sneaker culture. The doc takes a global look at sneaker culture, spending a lot of time in Tokyo explaining their aesthetics and how their market is far more detail-oriented and sophisticated. Throughout the doc, many older sneakerheads bemoan how buying sneakers is so much easier in the era of the internet. In the ’90s, you had to know the right person to get certain shoes. You had to engage in a hunt. Back then, acquiring sneakers was about more than just having money and taste. It was about knowing where to go to get the heat. 

Sometimes, you even drove to another city to find things no one in your city had. All of that’s gone now. People buy sneakers through the internet. There’s no hunt whatsoever, and there’s virtually no knowledge gap separating different sneakerheads. But part of the old sneakerhead culture was people camping out for days to buy a new sneaker, and that was dangerous—it sometimes led to people stampeding into stores and running over people to get pairs. Many people got mugged over sneakers. The doc notes that over 1,000 people die over sneakers each year. When the demand for a product is so powerful that people will kill over it, then we have a massive societal problem. 

The doc also touches on the fact that lots of men buy sneakers with plans to never wear them. Is this a hoarding disorder? I’d never thought of that—I always thought hoarders were dirty. Sneaker collectors are clean, and their collections are usually immaculate. Part of the game is having a gorgeous sneaker closet where you can showcase everything that you’ve collected. But men who buy hundreds of pairs that they will never wear are hoarding or at least collecting obsessively. 

Sneakers are art, athletics and fashion all wrapped into one, and they’re something most men love talking about. Are you a Jordan guy? A shell-toes guy? A Yeezy lover? An Air Max man? Each of these iconic shoes says something different about you and what you want the world to think about you. The moment I see someone in a pair of sneakers I respect, I get the feeling that I’d enjoy talking to them. If you’ve ever felt like that, if you’re bonded to your friends because of your sneakers or if you have pairs that you bought with no plans to ever wear, then Sneakerheadz, an insider’s look at the culture, is a great doc for you to watch while you clean and arrange your shoes.

Touré, theGrio.com

Touré hosts the podcast “Touré Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books.

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