For the Love of Shoes: 3 Different Types of Sneakerheads and Their Stories

What is a sneakerhead? The definition details someone who is a hardcore collector of sneakers, who makes it their mission to buy online, from outlets, attend parties, sneaker events, and more, if it means scoring the perfect pair of sneakers. A sneakerhead is a person who lives for loving and collecting sneakers. It’s something we’re fascinated by, as makers of shoes that incorporate modern sportswear technology — understanding what it is that drives people to love the timeless form of shoe that is no longer just about comfort, but appearance, rarity status, and individuality.

Each of the people we spoke with about sneakers has a unique perspective and style, but all share a love for sneakers. We found their responses to be not only enlightening on the importance of sneakers, but genuine in a way that is very easy to relate to, no matter how much or little you’re in tune with current (or past) footwear trends.

1. Adriana Marin, Creative Director & UX Designer
Website

When and why did you start collecting sneakers? Which shoe started your shoe collection?

I actually don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a shoe collection. My parents are very fashionable and always had a lot of shoes, so I guess at an early age they kept us well styled and that became our norm. I remember my younger brother and sister and I would write our Christmas lists to Santa and the first or second items on the list were always new sneakers and/or shoes. And as we got older and could afford to buy our own shoes the sneaker collection grew. The best time of my life, sneaker wise, was when I was about 15 and my little brother and I had the same shoe size, because it meant I now had double the sneakers. In this era some of my favorite shoes were the Scottie Pippen’s Air More Uptempo (all black with the white outline around the AIR lettering), Nike Air Penny II (my brother and I used to get into huge fights over the Penny’s because I always wanted to wear them), a pair of classic shell toe adidas that were all black, and a pair of burgundy, suede Nike Cortez.

What do shoes mean for you? How do your sneakers reflect your character, lifestyle, etc.?

Sneakers are an extension of my personality and my mood. I usually have a pair of “everyday shoes” that I’ll just put on without much thought, if I’m in a rush. Currently my “everyday shoe” is a pair of black Nike Blazer Mids. Prior to those, my everyday shoe was a pair of black, white, and grey Nike Air Max 90 Essential. I wore those 90’s till they died and it really hurt to part with them. When I’m not in a rush I usually choose the shoes I want to wear first and then build an outfit based on the shoes.

I think sneakers should be worn. I buy sneakers that I find visually appealing. In my (somewhat humble) opinion I think the “hypebeast” culture is annoying. I do pay attention to the “latest drop” but I rarely try to purchase those. Standing in line to buy sneakers just doesn’t work for me. If I am traveling in other countries I will look for sneakers that I like but have sold out in the States. For example, I really liked the Adidas Original Tokyo NMDs. The year they came out I was traveling in Medellin, Colombia and was able to stroll into an Adidas Original store at the mall and just buy a pair for the original price, about $130. It was stress free and I was able to find and easily buy sneakers that I loved. When I got back to NYC I was stopped on the street by someone asking to pay $350 for them on the spot. No thanks…

I ordered a pair of Flyknit Vapormax’s that just arrived today, and I can’t wait to wear them.

(Photos via Complex)

Are sneakers ever a conversation starter for you? Any noteworthy conversations you’ve had because of sneakers that you can remember and would like to share?

Sneakers are definitely a conversation starter. I always look at what sneakers people are wearing. Whether on the subway, at work, or a party, etc. I can tell by what type of sneakers a person wears if I will get along with them and (back when I was single) if I would date them. If a guy tried talking to me and he had dirty, unkempt sneakers then I new that I couldn’t take him seriously.

What’s your first sneaker memory?

The first sneakers that I remember owning were a pair of teal Chuck Taylors that were then handed down to my little brother when they no longer fit me. I loved the bright color.

What role does technology play in sneaker and shoe development, in your opinion? Do you find that you’re interested in sneakers that use or interact with technology in innovative ways?

I think the role that tech plays in sneaker and shoe development can only continue to make shoes better. For example, by making running shoes that provide even more support and last longer. I have really high arches and the Nike Flyknit Racer is so light and airy, it is one of the most comfortable shoes that I have ever worn.

I haven’t used a lot of sneaker apps but the two that I like the most are the Nike SNKRS app and the Adidas Confirmed app.

2. Sebastian Speier, Creative Director & Product Designer
Website

When and why did you start collecting sneakers? Which shoe started your shoe collection?

The first pair of shoes I bought that really got me into sneakers were the Nike Air Force 1 High. I grew up in a really working class household and my mom could never really afford to buy me more than one pair of shoes at a time, so I never really got into sneakers at a young age. I know even some of the least affluent kids in the world still save their allowances and scrape funds together to collect shoes, but it was never really on my radar and it never even occurred to me that someone would want to have more than one pair of shoes at a time.

It wasn’t until college, I had a design professor who asked us to pick an everyday object and write a design-focused paper about its form, its function and its value. I randomly chose this pair of Air Force 1’s that I had been wearing all winter—you can see a photo of them below. They were completely destroyed, or “cooked” as they say in the vernacular. But upon analyzing their value and their legacy as a historic design object, I really became enamored with them, and I started to think about sneakers as a platform for storytelling. I started going to sneaker stores and sneaker events, and around this time there just happened to be a new resurgence of sneaker culture, and that’s when I decide to start collecting shoes. I’m not the kind of person who has a giant collection of shoes that I never wear. I wear almost all of my sneakers and when they wear out, I get rid of them—either by donating them, selling them, or recycling them. My closet is at capacity now, so when I get a new pair of shoes I have a one-in-one-out policy. There are definitely people who buy two pairs—one to rock and one to stock—and they’ll have a closet full of deadstock shoes that have never been worn. That’s definitely a category of sneakerhead that’s above me!

What do shoes mean for you? How do your sneakers reflect your character, lifestyle, etc.?

For me, while I really like the storytelling aspect of each shoe I own, I primarily buy and collect them for their style. I like having statement footwear that I can pair with various outfits as a method of expression. There are sneakerheads who buy shoes primarily based on their story, and they’ll keep them in a box as a collector’s item, but I just like wearing them! I think personal style is all about expressing signals and it’s an easy way to identify the kinds of people who have the same values as you.

Are sneakers ever a conversation starter for you? Any noteworthy conversations you’ve had because of sneakers that you can remember and would like to share?

They are definitely conversation starters! If I wear a pair of rare sneakers into a streetwear boutique, I will definitely get comments and people will point them out and compliment them, which is always a little bit embarrassing or weird. Sometimes people want to take photos of the shoes I’m wearing which is also weird. Those are what I would call “good” conversations. But once I was in a Key Food and the guy who was sweeping the floor saw that I was wearing a pair of the Air Jordan I ‘Banned’ and he stopped me to talk about how he remembered when these shoes first came out. How they were Jordan’s first signature shoe with Nike and how everyone wanted them, especially after the NBA prohibited Jordan from wearing them because they broke the NBA’s uniform regulations (hence garnering them the nickname ‘Banned’). He just wanted to talk about Michael Jordan for five minutes and it was such a great moment to connect with someone I otherwise would have never had a chance to talk to. It really made me realize that little cultural values can go a long way in connecting people.

What’s your first memory related to sneakers?

My dad took me to buy a pair of shoes when I was seven years old and I remember this very vividly because it was usually my mom who bought me all my clothing and my shoes. My dad took me to a department store and let me pick out a pair of shoes from a wall that my mom normally wouldn’t shop at. Usually she would buy me shoes that were a little more minimal, functional, and probably less flashy – but the ones I picked out were a pair of white and red Air Jordan V’s and again this was way before I knew what sneakers were, but I remember wearing them to school and a bunch of kids thought they were really cool. I didn’t really understand why they were cooler than the other shoes I normally wore, but I remember really enjoying them a lot until they wore out and then it was back to wearing my mom’s choice of really boring footwear, haha!

Do you think technology plays a key role in sneaker and shoe development? In what ways?

Yes and no. I think technology definitely affects the styles and the performance aspect of athletic shoes. Nike Vapormax and Adidas Ultra Boost are two examples of functionality playing a big role in a new sneaker’s story, but ultimately these shoes end up being popular because of their adoption by cultural influencers. Both of these shoes were designed as a functional performance-first athletic shoes, for running, but neither of them are actually the best technology for running despite being the most popular running shoes in their class. People are buying them for the style and cultural value they hold. That being said, I think what sneakerheads really want are stories and cultural value – and that’s why Nike does so well launching retros, which are reissues of shoes that came out decades ago… the stories on those silhouettes already exist and its easy to leverage them. I think technology can influence trends and styles, but it’s not the main reason why people are collecting sneakers.

3. Eliott Sanchez, Program Manager
Website

When and why did you start collecting sneakers? Which shoe started your shoe collection?

I started collecting sneakers from the age of 12. The first ill pair of sneakers I ever bought were the all white Nike Airforce 1 mid with the strap. I still remember the feeling I had when I was walking down the hallway and it felt like everyone was saying, “Damn kid those are fresh” that feeling alone had me hooked. That memory made Air Force 1’s a staple in my collection ever since and was also how I ended up collecting Air Maxes. Every time I’ve gone back to seriously collecting shoes an Air Force 1 was responsible. It always feels like I come back to that shoe.

What do shoes mean for you? How do your sneakers reflect your character, lifestyle, etc.?

My sneakers are really a sense of expression. I pick the shoe by how I’m feeling that day or whether I need to flex or chill that day. In sneaker culture, we see the shoes you’re wearing first before we even approach someone. It was really the first way I ever found to express myself. With sneakers there aren’t barriers, it doesn’t matter how you look, what sex you are, how you identify your gender, your weight, or anything. Shoes are made for everyone and that’s what makes them special. For me they have two sides, the really conservative and smart casual professional look, and the in your face kinda look. So I have muted tones and lots of blacks and whites in my sneakers, but also loud and crazy colors that are expressive of who I am. Anyone who knows me knows I’m about my business but also a fun guy who clowns a lot. I’d say they would also brand me a city guy. Most of my shoes are comfortable and great for walking.

Are sneakers ever a conversation starter for you? Any noteworthy conversations you’ve had because of sneakers that you can remember and would like to share?

Sneakers are definitely conversation starters for me. Funny story is that’s actually how I found out A$AP Ferg was my downstairs neighbor. I’m chilling in my elevator with my dog Patches, a lovable Daschund dog that has spots all over him, and we’re waiting for the door to close after I clicked the button for my floor. One of my neighbors catches the door last minute. I had decided to wear my Space Jam Jordan 11’s that day. My neighbor looks at my feet as he gets on and he says, “Those are clean man, I like those what did you think about the 9’s that came out?” You know we’re talking, and this whole time I hadn’t realized, he was wearing the Vlone Air Force 1’s that hadn’t released yet. I took a closer look and realized it was Ferg and remember Bari on their crew owned that brand. I laughed nervously after we were in mid conversation, and said “You’re Ferg, and I hadn’t even realized.” He laughed and told me he lived on the floor below me and could never leave Harlem. People who don’t believe me when they visit me now and we have the occasional “Hey how’s it going” convo — my friends freak out.

What’s your first sneaker memory?

Oh man, I’d gave to say the first pair of Chucks I bought. Man, converse were the shit in middle school. Mine were all black and I wore those shoes until the soles were flapping. I painted them, I drew on them. I made them my own. I remember talking my mom into them and being ecstatic when I got them. I wore them the next day to school and felt like a million bucks. I remember doing just about everything in those shoes. They might not have had much arch support but I felt like they held me up and got me through the two first years of middle school. I remember I basically had to make a 20 slide keynote to convince my mom I should have them, and I made them last.

What role does technology play in sneaker and shoe development, in your opinion? Do you find that you’re interested in sneakers that use or interact with technology in innovative ways?

I think tech plays a huge role, especially now as brands compete to make the next best thing. Whether it’s flyknit, or boost material, or even how they are using tech to make shoes. Tech has engrained itself into this culture as it has grown. Not only is it involved in manufacturing of sneakers but also in the accessibility of sneakers. The way sneakers sell online and in appa makes it possible for everyone to have an opportunity to get them. Even in places where people historically haven’t had access. I think the combination of how tech is affecting manufacturing, access, and even the interactions between the physical sneakers and digital will shape the way we perceive and value sneakers in the future. When you think about it, it’s kind of crazy that tech has become such a huge part, shoes even have their own stock market that tell you the costs of retros and any given shoe at a given time. People are so passionate about sneaker culture and I wouldn’t be surprised if the sneaker juggernauts like Nike and Adidas continue to push the envelope and add more tech to their shoes. My dream shoe is the Nike Air Mag, the sneaker boot from Back to the Future. I was blown away when Nike dropped a limited number of them, the shoe actually did what it did in the movie. It was self lacing and would adjust the pressure of the sole and the shoe based on the amount of space your foot took up. That was wild, they then applied that system to a collection of shoes that was limited. That was awesome, and I’d say I’d like to see more of that.

What are some of your first memories with your favorite pairs of shoes? Let us know about some of the shoes you hold dear to your collection, in the comments!

And be sure to check out Adriana, Sebastian, and Eliott’s websites to learn more about each of their lives and professions!

Header image by Adriana Marin

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