I love sneakers. A lot. I obsess over them everyday. I can rattle off random facts about collaborations and years that things were released. I also tend to remember which sneakers I wore during significant moments of my life. But there's something that I value more than what I'm lacing up on my feet: The people I've met through sneakers and the experiences I've shared with them.
It's too easy to get self absorbed, care about your sneakers, and forget about everyone else. Sneakers are inanimate objects after all. When you're feeling down, you still have your collection to look at and hang your hat on. But sneaker culture is chock-full of weirdos who would rather discuss the proper shape of the Air Max 1's toe slope, and going places with these people, discovering hidden sneaker stores, and getting to know them outside the world of footwear is better than what you buy.
From 2006-2010, I used to spend almost every other weekend in Boston with my best friend, Dave. It was a special time in the city—Bodega was becoming internationally known, Concepts was still located in the back of The Tannery, AWOL and Re-Up had both just opened up in Allston, Karmaloop was constantly remodeling its store on Newbury Street, and The Weekly Drop—a podcast by Jeff Carvalho, Rob Heppler, and Frank the Butcher—was interviewing some of the biggest names in streetwear.
I also bought a lot of sneakers in this time period, and I still wear them. But when I look back at this portion of my early 20s, it's not the sneakers that stand out to me. It's going to the stores, meeting the people who worked there, and getting to explore a city with a friend. I haven't gone sneaker shopping in Boston since then, and I'm lucky if I get up there more than once a year now. Still, though, my strongest memories of that area—the ones that have led me to a career in the sneaker industry—are of the excitement of getting immersed in the local scene and the people I've met along the way.
According to self-proclaimed "sneakerologist" Matt Powell's numbers, sneakerheads might be a small sliver of the sneaker-wearing public, but that's what makes getting to know people with the same interest so much more powerful. You might be the only kid in a town full of oldies wearing Air Monarchs, but if you meet a couple people who dig the same things as you, that's all that matters.
What's the fun in something if you can only enjoy it by yourself? That's how I feel about sneakers and sneaker culture. My favorite part of the job isn't seeing all the new kicks that pour into the office. Don't get me wrong, it's fun. But it's much more fulfilling to interact with people who are just as adamant about something as you are. Sneakers are made of leather and rubber. They'll eventually fall apart and crumble. Friendships can last way longer than an Air bubble or midsole.
There's only so much enthusiasm a sample can bring you. But knowing you've connected with someone halfway across the world just because of sneakers? That's almost irreplaceable. No matter the scrutiny they receive or how corny they're labeled, it's no wonder sneaker conventions keep growing in popularity and at astounding rates: It's how people interact IRL who have strong feelings for footwear. They might go there to score a pair of Jays they missed out on, but I'd like to imagine they're like me and Dave eight years ago—going to these events because they felt like there was nothing cooler to do than be around a bunch of people who love sneakers. And they're not stuck in their rooms, staring at stacks of Air Max 95s and Gel Lyte IIIs by themselves.
Matt Welty is an editorial assistant at Complex and you can follow him on Twitter here, just don't send him a Facebook friend request.