A documentary film in the vein of 2005’s Just for Kicks, Sneakerheadz examines the world of the sneaker collector. A sneakerhead is a kind of expert shoe nerd, they spend tons of money and time acquiring certain pairs of sought-after sneakers.They are obsessive collectors of sneakers and sneaker knowledge. In the world of a sneakerhead certain coveted shoes such as original Air Jordans or limited edition Air Max’s, attain legendary, almost mythic status.
I am not a sneakerhead. In fact I own exactly two pairs of sneakers, Saucony running shoes and an ancient pair of all-black Convese Chuck Taylor low tops. Besides the fact that I am really not a shoe person with vintage clothing and signed first edition books are my current vices, I really never gave athletic shoes much thought besides their functionality. The sneaker is an uniquely American cultural product. Sneakerheadz underscores the idea that the rise of sneaker culture really has its roots in American culture. Basketball, an American invention [technically an American-Canadian co-invention, it was invented by a Canadian at an American college – ed.], gave rise to the modern athletic shoe. Hip hop and skateboarding culture popularized sneakers, and now they are a ubiquitous, global phenomenon.
Sneakerheadz is overall an oddly compelling and entertaining film. Slickly edited and produced, it is impossible not to get a contact high from watching this film. The bulk of the documentary’s content is interviews from sneakerheads and shoe designers such as Rob Dyrdek, Hommyo Hidefumi, Samantha Ronson, and Frank “the Butcher” Riveria. The collectors featured all speak with tremendous passion and enthusiasm. These are people who have entire rooms and storage units to house their shoe collections. They have reverence for the shoes they own. Watching this documentary makes you start to understand why someone would camp outside of a store to buy a sneaker.
That said, the documentary does touch on the violence that can happen around in-demand sneakers. The release of the Nike Pigeon Dunk – a collaboration between Jeff Staple, the founder of Staple Design, and Nike – caused a small riot in the streets that made the cover of The New York Post. People have been trampled in stores when particular, limited edition shoes are released. Other people have been jumped for their kicks– beaten up and robbed of their shoes. Even more tragically, people have been shot and killed over the shoes on their feet. Sneakerheadz illuminates some efforts by shoe companies to make sneaker culture safer but that seems little more than lip service from an industry that makes $22 million dollars a year in the United States alone.
Sneakerheadz is more of a celebration of sneaker culture than a critique of it or the consumer industry. The film does spend a little time on the rise of the ultra luxury sneaker from fashion houses like Gucci or Chanel, but it never really concerns itself with issues of class differences or cultural appropriation. And while it does mention the possibly addictive aspects of collecting, terms like hoarding are introduced and then quickly laughed off. Still, Sneakerheadz is an enjoyable, well-crafted film regardless of the state of your kicks collection.
Sneakerheadz will be available on demand from Vimeo starting August 21st, but you can pre-order it now.
Francesca Lyn is a digital media scholar and artist. Originally from Florida, she attended the University of Florida and is now a lifelong gator. Currently a graduate student in Virginia, her academic interests include online communities, gendered representations in new media, and digital media learning. For fun, she likes to see how many references to reality television she can get away with in the classroom. She has contributed to xoJane, writes incredibly infrequently for the website Comics Bulletin and also tweets excessively @francescalyn.