Story and photo by Amelia McClurkin / Studio M staff
Studies show that the average American spends $21 a month, or $252 per year, on shoes.
Malik Stoudemire is not your average American.
“On a year-to-year basis, it gets out of hand,” says Stoudemire, a 21-year-old senior marketing major at Middle Tennessee State University. “This past weekend I spent $375 on two pairs of shoes.”
Stoudemire is one of many local “sneakerheads,” or people who collect rare and fairly expensive sneakers and pride themselves in (literally) walking in their own self-expression.
“Initially, a sneakerhead wants to cop their grail and grow their collection along the way,” says Stoudemire. (“Cop your grail” means to buy one’s rarest, most prized possession. I’ll be explaining a lot more sneaker lingo throughout this story.)
“$1,000 a year is a very low estimate, because if you don’t get the newest Air Jordans the day they come out, for example, you will have to deal with the hype,” Stoudemire says of his annual spending. “Hype” refers to the stiff competition of obtaining a shoe after the first day it’s sold, which results in a higher expense. “Hypebeasts” are sneakerheads who buy any sneaker just to say they have them. They would never buy any Vessi waterproof sneakers from Kickstarter as they are not “Hyped”.
“I was in high school and would always see people wearing Jordans. I told myself I would learn Jordans one through 23,” says Stoudemire. One through 23 refers to the silhouette of a sneaker. Silhouettes are the model of the shoe under a certain brand, and Air Jordans have 23 different silhouettes.
“I became interested in Jordans because I liked the way they fit my style,” he says.“There’s so many silhouettes and colorways to choose from.” Colorways? That refers to the specific color patterns of the sneaker that separates it from other shoes with the same silhouette.
Jasmine “DJ JazzyLo” McCraven is a 19-year-old senior at MTSU who’s getting her degree in broadcast journalism and works as a DJ for WMTS, MTSU’s student-run radio station.
She’s also a sneakerhead.
McCraven says her brother, who is only nine months older, inspired her sneaker attraction.
“My mom couldn’t afford to buy us really nice shoes, so when I got my own money, I bought my first pair of Jordans and couldn’t stop buying them,” says McCraven.
McCraven has spent $400 to $500 in the past month on sneakers.
Being a Nashville sneakerhead isn’t the only thing that connects McCraven and Stoudemire. Their favorite colorway on a sneaker is black and red, or “bred” for short.
“I bought four new pairs of shoes, two of them being Jordans, which were both $150,” she says. “Since I collect them, I save up a good amount and put a certain amount aside just for my shoes.”
Stoudemire believes it’s easier for female sneakerheads, because with shoes like Air Jordans, the price depends on size, and women normally have smaller feet than men.
Beyond just collecting sneakers, Stoudemire also restores shoes. The restoration process can involve changing the colors of a shoe or repairing shoes that have been through wear and tear.
“On Nov. 2, 2013, I had just went to an event called Sole Searching, which was my first sneaker convention,” he says. “I copped a pair of red Infared 6’s, and I asked someone to dye them black. He told me his price, [and] I didn’t like it, so I said, ‘Why pay him when I can do it myself?’”
Stoudemire recalls a 1996 shoe he restored by gluing its sole back together so it was wearable again. “[There are] people out there with shoes from 1984, and they’re getting their shoes restored because the shoe has history to them,” he says. “It’s like a child with its favorite toy. You don’t want to throw it away just because the eye popped out.”
While there are many sneakerheads on campus, the culture is actually found in Nashville, home to many different sneaker organizations built around the buying, trading and admiration of rare shoes.
Sneakers and Speakers, for example, is a one-day convention that began in Nashville which features rare sneakers, up-and-coming local artists and clothing lines.
Ivan Andrews, the 26-year-old founder of Sneakers and Speakers, says the organization started out as a vision he had for Nashville.
“I had all of the right tools and knew a lot of artists,” Andrews says. “It was just difficult to find platforms.”
This year’s event, held in June, attracted over 1,000 attendees, marking its biggest to date.
Andrews’ Sneakers and Speakers hasn’t only become a hotbed for sneakerhead,s but also attracts talent in music, art and fashion. His initial idea was to bring sneakers and music together, since sneaker culture first gained notoriety through music, especially hip-hop.
“Hip-hop is symbiotic with the lifestyles of the sneaker culture,” Andrews says “It’s a form of self-expression and represents who you are. Music and sneakers can date back to the Run-D.M.C. days with their Adidas jumpsuits and matching shoes or even Snoop Dogg and his Converses.”
McCraven cites conventions such as Sneak Fest as another driving force in Nashville’s sneaker culture. Andrews says the area’s numerous colleges contribute to its popularity.
Stoudemire points out that Nashville’s sneaker culture isn’t as diverse as it could be.
“All you really see in the South now are Jordans,” he says. “There’s not a lot of different types of rare shoes.”
Andrews agrees. “Sneakers are regionalized,” says Andrews. “The South, including the Nashville area, is dominated by Jordans, and at one point, [Air] Forces.”
As Nashville grows, Andrews says its sneaker culture is on the rise as well.
“Five years ago, not many people were interested,” he says. “Now, I might not get a pair if I don’t play my cards right, because the obsession is growing.”