Sneakers: Where a guy's soul meets the street
By Jenee' Osterheldt
Knight Ridder News Service
Footwear, that is.
Sneakers, or "kicks," are a beloved part of the world of hip-hop, especially among men.
"There's definitely a special relationship between men and their shoes,"
said www.kicksology.net founder Professor K. "It exists both inside and outside the hip-hop culture, but it's probably strongest in the hip-hop world."
Back in 1986, when Run-DMC released the hit single "My Adidas," kids were break dancing in shell-toed Adidas shoes and track suits. Today you can turn on the radio and hear Nelly singing "Air Force Ones," an homage to the 22-year-old brand of sneakers.
"The whole game changed after the 1985 Air Jordan campaign, when sneaker advertising became a billion-dollar industry," author Bobbito Garcia told Vibe magazine. "Prior to that, what people decided to wear was predicated by the street," said Garcia, whose book "Where'd You Get Those: The History of New York Sneaker Culture 1960-1987" will be released this spring.
From Adidas and Pumas to Reeboks and Nikes, kicks are the object of many guys' affections and often part of a large, cherished collection.
Almost every hip-hopper on "MTV Cribs" has a closet full of shoes, from $75 Nike Air Force Ones to $115 Air Jordans. (Many also have shoe endorsements and some have a term for that, "sneaker pimps.")
Log on to eBay and watch vintage sneakers go for as much as $500. In Japan they pay thousands.
Rappers aren't the only ones spending that cash. All across the country guys are buying, selling and collecting shoes. From the high school kid to the computer technician, males of all kinds spend hundreds and even thousands a year on kicks.
For some Honolulu sneaker collectors, it's about nostalgia for small kid time.
Blaise Sato, a club promoter who lives in Pauoa Valley, owns more than 200 pairs of Nikes.
"When I was able to pick my first pair of shoes when shopping with my mom, I chose the original Air Jordan One. That was in 1984 and I was a student at Iolani, so I picked the ones with Iolani School colors," red, white and black, he said.
All Sato's shoes are retro either original vintage shoes or remakes of old classics. When he falls in love with a particular style, "It becomes about buying it in all the colors; that becomes your mission."
It's not so much about the rappers as it is about style, said Edwin Martinez, 18, a Kansas City shoe fanatic.
"Shoes are a big part of hip-hop, because fashion is a big part of hip-hop," said Martinez, who has 27 pairs of Nike's, mostly Shox. "Shoes set off the outfit."
But for many, shoes are deeper than the attire. It's about a brand, a collection and a personality.
Collecting comes in levels. Some collectors order from other countries. Most are brand loyal. Many keep their precious footwear in the original boxes. Some even wear their kicks.
For Omar Saleem Muhammad, shoes are just as much a culture as hip-hop.
"Adi (Adidas) should be an element of hip-hop," said Muhammad, a 23-year-old Hartford, Conn., youth worker. "Adi's revolutionized the sneaker, they brought hip-hop and the way people dressed to another level."
Muhammad owns 30 pairs of Adidas, and after each wear he thoroughly cleans them. His newest addition: Jason Mizell Ultrastars, Adidas' tribute to the late Jam Master Jay.
"People have loyalty to certain brands because it says something about who they are," said Muhammad, an exclusive Adidas collector for six years.
"I believe people that collect Adidas are often into b-boying (break dancing), authenticity and original sneakers. I buy something Adidas almost every day, whether it's $2 socks, shoes or clothes."
Edward Haus, co-owner of Kicks, a hip shoe store on Makaloa Street, has more than 100 pairs of sneakers in his closet. He began collecting Adidas, but he's buying more Nikes now, mainly Air Force Ones and Dunks. He wears 15 to 20 pairs on a regular basis and leaves the others in the boxes, still laced up. "They're collectors' items," he said.
Dunks date back to the basketball games of the mid-'80s. A sign of their continued popularity: They are now in their 19th release.
Haus attributes much of sneaker-mania to MTV. When Nelly sang about Air Force Ones, he saw sales of the vintage shoes take off. Many customers come in asking for a pair in each color, and there are 15 different shades in the original 1982 style.
While many of Kicks' customers are Japanese, Haus said he also has a loyal clientele among locals.
Ian Ginoza, co-owner of Kicks:, said, "We're just as big a fan of the shoes as our customers are, so there's an authenticity about it."
Nike creates limited-edition shoes honoring certain regions. Among them: Puerto Rico, New York, the West Indies, Japan and Chicago. The company has expressed interest in working with Honolulu's Kicks to design a Hawai'i shoe.
Corey Peterson, a 23-year-old graphics technician from Virginia Beach, Va., is a hard-core sneaker collector and avid hip-hop fan.
"The great thing about shoe collecting is there are so many directions you can go in."
Peterson is walking directly toward Nike.
With 89 pairs of mint-condition Nikes, he estimates his collection to be worth $14,000. He plans on eventually buying a house with that collection.
One pair, the Nike Air Foamposite Ones designed for Penny Hardaway, are the highlight and possibly the bookend of his collection, he said.
It's the Foamposites he remembers most vividly.
"I bought them on June 11, 1997, for $179.99," said Peterson, who's been collecting since 1989. He recently posted the Foamposites, semi-worn, on eBay and within an hour sold them for $315. He then bought a brand-new pair for $399 and keeps them shrink-wrapped in the box.
"Now that I have the Foamposites, I feel like my collection is complete," Peterson said.
Although he notes that prices and values increase as availability decreases, Sato said he never thinks about selling any of his shoes: "I wear all of them. I don't keep any in 'dead stock' "(the term for pristine, unworn shoes that are still in their boxes or shrink-wrap). I believe they need to be worn, even if I only wear them once or twice a year."
Sato matches his sneakers to his outfit. When interviewed he was wearing a camel leather cap, white T-shirt with beige, camel and orange silk-screened design, khaki cargo shorts and, of course, Air Force Ones in camel, beige and white. "Our culture is based on comfort baggy shorts, big T-shirts," he said. "But the fashion statement comes with the shoes."
Staff writer Paula Rath contributed to this report.
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