by Pete Forester
One of the things that makes sneaker culture unique is that you can buy yourself into it. If you jump on Flight Club, troll NikeTalk, monitor sneaker discussions on Twitter, and cop a few or the “right” pairs, you can buy yourself legitimacy in the community.
I met dozens of self-proclaimed collectors at a sneaker show last year, many of whom just got into sneakers less than two years earlier and were already dumping their collection for the next obsession. There’s nothing wrong with that. We all go through phases.
The issue is when the shoes aren’t about an expression of personality, but become code for status. When status can be bought with currency is when we get into trouble. Whether it’s overcompensating by minimizing other essential expenses or taking it out on personal identity, ascribing value to the self through sneakers is problematic.
Kendrick Lamar’s work with Reebok points towards using sneakers to build bridges. Kanye West spoke about getting his shoes to everyone who wants a pair. But the fact is that these products are being built and directed towards kids who aren’t able to get them.
Sneaker culture is inherently self-destructive. Marketing and demand creation are pointed at a group of people who are socioeconomically disenfranchised and aren’t going to be able to obtain the lifestyle these brands are selling.
This has the potential to teach kids that if they want something they’re going to have to earn it for themselves. Either they get a job or they make different choices about how to spend their money in order to get what they want. In the world that we live in, you have to make choices in triage to get what you want.
Shoes are oftentimes equated with status, making the transaction flow both ways. Cool people have Yeezys. So if you have Yeezys, you’re cool. When it’s reciprocal, we’re all feeding into the collective hype. The only question we really have to grapple with is if we should even care.
It’s not your job to be a sneaker regulator. Just because someone isn’t being 100 percent genuine or authentic doesn’t mean it has to ruin your day.
There are plenty of reasons to get mad. Either they got the shoes you wanted (blame brands who aren’t producing enough stock), they’re buying them just to resell them and make money (blame people buying from resellers), or they’re buying them just to look cool (blame the culture they find themselves in). But none of these options are going to change the outcome for yourself.
If people feel the need to buy inclusion into a group, let them. False entry doesn’t last long. If a relationship is founded on a shallow reason, it will end. If a shallow reason distracts you from finding out you don’t like them, then maybe you shouldn’t use sneakers as a way to judge people in the first place. And sometimes, false entry can even lead to true passion.
You don’t need to pass a quiz or have a special license to enjoy sneakers. Of course it’s grating when someone buys Air Max 1s and can’t name the Nike shoe they’re wearing. But this is about letting people like what they want.
Sneakers aren’t being ruined by the 14-year-old kid who wants a little bit of popularity at school and has parents that are happy to pay for it. If anyone is ruining anything, it’s the people who pull the ladder out from under that kid in this cultural environment. We agree to this collective delusion. We don’t have to.
Just because someone makes a decision to buy something to seem cool doesn’t mean they’re a lost cause. Usually, when someone wants to be cool or buy into a culture it’s because they’re looking for commonality and aren’t sure how to do it. We’ve all done it.
We’ve all bought clothes that we liked, but felt a little embarrassed to wear. Or showed up to a party not really knowing how it was going to go. Or walked into a museum having no idea what we’re going to see.
Style is messaging, even if that message is: “Fake it til you make it.” But if you take this person aside and let them know that they’re walking in sneakers that are known and loved, not only do you get a smug feeling of righteousness, you’re also educating those behind you.