In 1984 Nike created a pair of basketball shoes for Michael Jordan, the then star of the Chicago Bulls and the NBA. Shortly after this the shoes were released as a line of basketball sneakers under the name of the superstar basketball player himself; The Air Jordan I. It is a testament to the success and impact that these sneakers have had that they have been re-released 3 times, totalling a period of 11 years, since their first release in 1984. Today, Air Jordan have released 29 versions of the original AJ1’s in 1984.
It was this range of sneakers that started the boom in the sneakerhead culture across the USA and Europe a little later. It was also what sparked a young Runner Wally’s interest in sneakers. Like many other children of his generation, he saw Michael Jordan and the way he wore his AJ’s and found them irresistible. After bugging his mum for months on end he finally found himself with a pair of the most hyped sneakers of the time. Now, he doesn’t tend to buy into the hype surrounding certain sneakers preferring to get the ones he likes for whatever reason, “I just want the ones in my collection that I like. I don’t follow the trends or hype about certain sneakers. I don’t give a shit whether Kanye West has designed them or whatever.” While his interest in trainers and sneakers has been constant, Runner only started collecting sneakers in earnest 5/6 years ago. The pair that ignited this new obsession were a the Air Max 1 Chilli Red’s and they are more important than any of the others “the Chilli Red’s are like a family member – the sneakers that started it all. There are a lot of memories in this pair. I know every spot of dirt and how it happened. All my other pairs have a price, they are just things, but the chilli red’s have sentimental value.”
Asiscs Gel Lyte III, Air Max 1 Classic (Light bone/black cherry), Asics Gel Lyte II, Air Max 1 x Patta Premium QS
Sneaker collecting is a hobby like any other. Rarities and exclusives are most sought after, conventions and trading take place regularly, and some pairs are so elusive and rare they achieve an almost mythical level of fame. One of the major differences between this particular hobby and, say, collecting Nutcracker dolls is how undeniably cool it is. But even as sneaker collecting is strongly aligned with the subcultures of hip-hop and skating, the collected items themselves maintain an inherent mainstream appeal. The brands that often produce the most sought after sneakers also hold majority stakes in the street and sportswear market. I would name them but that would be advertising.
Despite the mainstream aspect of collecting sneakers today much of the collecting and trading is still done by the few hardcore collectors like Runner Wally and it still retains that nerd quality all collecting hobbies should do. I mean, come on, they even have an official Hamburg Sneaker Heads club. With a president. “We started Sneaker Friends Hamburg because 3 or 4 of us used to meet at our home sneaker shop every Friday just to nerd about sneakers. But as more and more people were interested, we made it an official club and we now have 15 or 16 members.” But the sneaker head world is mostly found online, rather than in clubs like Runner’s. Instagram is an important tool for those who obsess over sneakers – new releases, limited editions – and for those who wish to share their collections with the rest of the community. As Runner’s own instagram’s following grew and grew, he started a website showcasing his own collection as well as posting on release updates and events. “Instagram got me into photography and I soon realised that using a better camera would show off the sneaker better. So to show people the full image it was better to show them using a website”.
With the advent of tools such as facebook and instagram and the widely available home-design website platforms, people like Runner are able to reach larger and larger audiences; the community as a whole becomes more connected. Brands and retailers have direct lines to their consumers through their own channels but also through indirect promotion by the instagram sneakerhead community. Runner Wally, however, only wants to share his extensive collection with like minded collectors and avid sneakerheads who will appreciate the effort he goes to in order to showcase them.