Eddie Huang may not be a household name, but that probably won't be true for long. Any attempt to pin down his occupation is an exercise in futility: He’s a bar-certified lawyer, chef, best-selling author, restauranteur (NYC's Baohaus), streetwear alumnus and the star of his own VICE digital series Fresh off the Boat (not to be confused with his book of the same name). And he’s a lifelong lover and hustler of sneakers. Eddie came up in a time in kicks before twitter RSVPs and before campouts, what some heads would argue was the golden age in sneakers. A time when palms could be greased, connections could be plucked and a young man could pay his rent while attending law school off the commerce of kicks. Currently in the middle of a press blitzkrieg for his New York Times best-selling memoir Fresh off the Boat, Eddie took some time to talk kicks with us in his East Village apartment - which is filled floor to ceiling with sneakers.
So what was the first pair of sneakers that got you started?
The Air Jordan V, the Fire Red Jordan V with the 3M. It’s in the book, there’s actually a whole chapter about it, I remember seeing the 3M and thinking man this is crazy. Some kid in school had them and I had to have them.
Were you surrounded by sneaker culture growing up?
My parents lived in Fairfax County, but we moved to Orlando when I was like 9. I remember when the Shaqnosis came out, people were really big on the Shaq Reeboks, but I wasn’t. I thought they were ugly shoes. I just always liked sneakers, I guess kids just like Jordans everywhere but there wasn’t a huge sneaker culture in Orlando – I remember when Dunks started to get popular there would be really dope pairs of SB dunks just sitting on racks in the outlet malls. People from New York would actually call down to get people from Orlando to cop them and then send them back up.
Is that when you started flipping shoes on eBay?
Yeah when I lived in New York and would go back home to Orlando, I was like yo, nobody is picking up these sneakers and you could pick them up and flip them. I remember they re-released the Pennys and Foams and people weren’t really copping them like that.
Was there and end goal for flipping kicks?
In New York I was doing that because I needed a way to pay my rent when I was in law school. It was tough to have a separate job and go to law school at the same time so that’s when I did a lot of the sneaker streetwear shit – and it paid my bills. I would call stores off the Nike website. I’d be like look, you’re in the middle of nowhere, people don’t know what’s good with the SBs, you call stores in Vermont, Iowa, you call stores in small towns and they were like yeah people aren’t lining up for SBs and we’d just get them to ship us boxes. I remember the first one was the Mork and Mindy
You look like a sucker as a grown man waiting in line for sneakers.
Dunks. I had a case of them before the drop date and that’s when people were like yo, we need to cop from this kid, he’s always got sneakers. I remember the Dinosaur Jrs too, I had 60 pairs of Dino Jrs the day they dropped and I had people lined up outside my apartment ready to cop. People would start to just line up on Saturdays because they knew I had whatever was coming out.
How did you get that rep?
From Craigslist and my boy Steve would put it up on ISS. A lot of kids from Queens too, a lot of kids would come down from Queens and cop at my place.
So what’s your take on resellers now – is that something you still do?
I just buy now, I never sell sneakers now. Even shit people send me that I don’t like I won’t sell. I also just never wait in line for shit. Like when I was a kid I wouldn’t wait in line, I’d figure out some scheme to get them without waiting. I think that’s the fun part of it. Also you look like a sucker as a grown man waiting in line.
So the Kanye West line “You gon’ see lawyers in Jordans,” how much does that resonate with you?
Man, I remember we had this company outing and they were like 'it’s cool, dress casual, you can wear a polo shirt, leather shoes and khakis, it’s whatever.' So I rolled up in a black velour polo shirt and the all black Jordan IVs, the suede joints and I came out and they were like 'Eddie, what are you wearing?' And I was like 'Yo, I followed the dress code, leather shoes and the shirt is a polo' and they were like 'it’s velour and suede!' And I was like 'well then, you need to put on the dress code no velour and no suede and we’ll be all set, but until you close that loophole I’m gonna rock velour and suede to your events.'
Don’t get it twisted though, I don’t like people wearing sneakers and suits. You’ll see people wearing 59/50s and sneakers with their suits and I always thought that was very Russell Simmons, and I’m not tryina look like Russell.
What’s your take on chefs in crocs?
No lie, if I know I’m just bustin' ass and I’m in the kitchen and there’s no front of the house work to be done I’ll wear Crocs because that shit is comfortable. If Ghostface rocked Crocs in the kitchen he’d be like Crocs comfortable chocolate frosting.
Do you see chefs being positioned as tastemakers beyond food into style?
No, I think it’s like there are some chefs that have swag — I don’t even like that word, I don’t know why I said it. I think some of the blogs want to make chefs into that, like now they’re trying a little too hard. For me it was different, I’ve just come up that way, it wasn’t like I had my manager whispering in my ear like, 'yo sneakers are cool,' it’s just something that I’ve always done. Like there will be magazine spreads and they try to pair you with a stylist and I just don’t work that way.
Do you ever anticipate a time when you’re not wearing sneakers?
No, hell no. Like no lie, I love sneakers and I’ll never stop wearing sneakers. Luckily I don’t have a job that requires hard-bottomed shoes.
How has the hunt changed as you’ve gained notoriety?
Yeah, people send me shit but I only rock what I like. Like I’m appreciative of the free gear but if I don’t like it, I’m not gonna rock it. The hunt has changed because like now I’m like I’m gonna be out of town I need this pair and they can hold me down. The people at Nike know I’m a big LeBron fan so I get the LeBrons, Adidas always hits me with shit. The FILA Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I was like yo I need to have those and they were nice enough to send a pair.
So what’s next?
I’m goin' to San Fran then Seattle then Portland then L.A. then Houston, then I’m back, then I’m back out to LBC then I’m back, then I’m back out to Austin. In the next two months I’m home for 10 days total, like I looked at my schedule I fly out to San Fran at 8 am do my event then I’m out that night…it’s crazy. I’ll let you know if it was worth it when I get back.