The 25 Most Influential People in Sneakers Right Now

Ranked, 25 to 1, everyone you need to pay close attention to.

Someone else has convinced every one of us to do something we never intended to do at one time or another. It’s called influence, and it happens for various reasons. Maybe you purchased a sneaker because an athlete wore it during a game or bought a piece of footwear because a singer laced it up on the cover of a magazine. Whatever the case, the sneaker industry relies heavily on endorsements and powerful people convincing the general public to buy product.

These folks come from many walks of life. Generally they’re athletes and those who get paid to endorse a brand, but there are also CEOs, designers, celebrities, and those with pull on social media. To come to a conclusion on this list, we only selected those who are changing or bringing people into the sneaker industry—not just people that are decent at their jobs at a powerful company.

This is a collection of movers and shakers. It’s the people who are swimming against the stream and bringing followers along with them. Without this group of men and women, the sneaker world would be drastically different. Here are the 25 Most Influential People in The Sneaker Right Now.

25. James Harden

Image via adidas

Shooting Guard, Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets guard James Harden hasn't even been with adidas for a full month yet, but he's already making waves. Signature on-court product is at least a year away, and no doubt he's yet to even try on everything that adidas dropped off at his Houston home. But here's the thing: Harden and his quirky off-court aesthetic has found a willing partner in adidas to turn some of his dreams into reality. The anticipation alone—could Harden be adidas's on-court answer to, say, Rick Owens—not to mention the scope of the deal is another W for adidas. And for those who think the 26-year old can't go from being a role player on one team to a superstar on another, why not? He's done it before. RB


24. Rihanna

Image via Puma

Recording Artist and Creative Director at Puma

In December 2014, Puma named Rihanna their creative director, which immediately raised a lot of questions. Granted, at that time she was frequently photographed in a wide variety of Jordans, adidas Originals and even New Balance 574s, but could she make waves in the industry beyond being arguably the best looking human to ever rock a pair of J's? Another brand choosing a high profile celeb as their "Creative Director" begs questions around involvement in the process and actual influence to push units before whether or not the design will actually look good is considered. Now we can see what Puma saw. Following her FENTY introduction, we found out that she collaborated with known sneaker customizer Mr. Completely on the refreshed Puma Suedes look with his signature creeper sole and got her homie Travis Scott to pose in the campaign before selling out within hours of dropping. Rae Witte


23. Don C

Image via Hypebeast

Designer, Just Don

Kanye West isn’t the only one in his crew making major moves in the sneaker game. His road manager and right-hand man, Don C, turned sneaker culture upside down when he collaborated with Jordan Brand earlier this year. Leveraging his wildly successful Just Don clothing line, he gave the Air Jordan II a high fashion makeover that only he could pull off. Don C brought the Jordan II back to its luxury roots and took inspiration from the quilted texture of a vintage Chanel handbag. It wasn’t until he came into the picture that people started to really care about the II, which went largely ignored for years despite being made in Italy for its first release. Leave it to someone from Kanye West’s camp to make an often overlooked Air Jordan cool. John Marcelo


22. DJ Khaled

Image via Complex

Producer

There have been many criticisms about DJ Khaled being a shoe celebrity. Some might be valid, but they're primarily from people who take themselves too seriously. Khaled, on the other hand, is able to make us appreciate sneakers and laugh at the same time. Not many sneaker entertainers are able to do that. He's literally taking the piss out of everyone who tries to stunt on Instagram by doing it harder and in a more ridiculous fashion. He's the antidote to everything people hate in sneakers. Oh, and did you see his sneaker closet, too? If not, you played yourself. Matt Welty


21. Jon Buscemi

Image via Hypebeast

Owner and Founder of Buscemi Footwear

It’s tough to sell a $895 sneaker when your brand name doesn’t end in Laurent, but Jon Buscemi is living proof it can be done. The Buscemi brand has become a go-to for those looking for an alternative to the casual look of everyday sneakers, without being as stiff as high-fashion sneakers. At top-tier retailers like Barney’s, Buscemi's have been getting copped a lot quicker than those from LV, Gucci or Prada. The well-thought out design behind clean silos, the 100mm, 150mm and low-top 50mms can regularly be seen courtside on your favorite rapper or athlete, but when’s the last time you noticed what sneakers Larry Flint was wearing? And that’s the thing, Buscemi’s marketing moves are well-calculated and they know how to create moments (Flint also appeared on the brand’s first billboard). We’re waiting to see what the brand is cooking up next, but it’s clear, Buscemi’s a safe bet.  JLP


 

20. Gary Aspden

Image via Hypebeast

Consultant, adidas

Few people understand adidas' archives like Gary Aspden, the man behind the brand's Spezial range, a collection based off of soccer casuals in the 1980s, but plenty of other industry people have their own lines, too. What makes Aspden valuable is his knowledge of adidas, which he was turned onto growing up and later developed into working with the brand, doing entertainment promotions. After leaving adidas, Aspden, working as a consultant, pitched the idea to rediscover a part of the company's history, and the folks listened. At the same time, he's been continually tapped by Show Studio to be the reasonable voice of sportswear and footwear as the fashion industry adopts these looks, even if ever so loosely. Given his background, he's also able to put things into the proper context on how products made for athletes were adopted by subcultures as well. In a time when the sneaker industry is looking towards what adidas is going to do next, it's worth paying attention to the man who understands what it's really about. Matt Welty


19. The Kardashian/Jenner Family

Image via Cosmopolitan

Reality TV Stars

Between Kim, Kris, Caitlyn, Khloe, Kourtney, Kendall and Kylie they have the attention of roughly 200 million Instagram followers alone. In addition to the multiple reality television shows based on their lives, magazine covers, runways, front rows of fashion shows, their appropriately influential family member, Kanye West, laces them all with every colorway of every pair of Yeezys produced. What the fam has that differs from 'Ye is their reach. Your mom, aunt, baby sister, little cousin or even dad for that matter may not be up on Virgil Abloh's latest 'gram but you better believe they've seen Kylie's, Kendall's or the latest commercial for Caitlyn's show all of which have repeatedly featured Kanye's sneakers putting an entire new wave of of people onto the Yeezys. With Season 2 behind them and winter upon us should we start placing bets on who will be the first of the squad to drop a selfie in the Yeezy 950s? Rae Witte


18. John Geiger

Image via Davin Gentry for Complex

Designer

It's hard to bounce back up when you hit rock bottom, but that's what John Geiger has been able to do. Once known for being Darrelle Revis' business manager, Geiger has become the leading mind in the custom sneaker space with the help of The Shoe Surgeon. Their designs, most notably, center around the "Misplaced Checks," an Air Force 1 with multiple Swooshes made from premium fabrics. It didn't stop there. Geiger and The Shoe Surgeon have also put zippers on midsoles, mismatched uppers with various sole units, and created dream combinations for sneaker fanatics. It's a peculiar way to catch people's attention, but it's worked so far. Matt Welty


17. Deon Point

Image via Hypebeast

Store Manager/Buyer, Concepts

Very few people are doing sneaker retail better than the guys at Concepts right now. They made a leap of faith and set up a pop-up store in New York City, far away from their Cambridge, Mass., roots, that's only open for the shop's collaborative projects. Both their home base and NYC pop-up include a brand-new buildout of the storefront, including a construction of a traphouse, scenes from the Boston Tea Party, and more. There's not one person responsible for all of it, though. Deon Point is the face of the shop who's known for popping bottles, not sleeping, and living life to the fullest. He gives a balance to the shop's collaborations that center around perfectly executed color schemes and back stories and allots them a street edge. Simply put: Deon is Boston as it gets, and he solidifies Concepts as a hardknock alternative to high-end sneaker shops. Matt Welty


16. Yu Ming Wu

Image Courtesy of Yu-Ming Wu

Founding editor, Sneakernews, Freshness Mag, founder of Sneakercon, Partner Stadium Goods

In the era of chest-beating on social media, Yu-Ming lets his resume do the talking. He’s been a mainstay in the digital era since Freshnessmag.com, and now he serves as the head-honcho on the ever-evolving Sneaker News, and the jumpman-obsessed JordansDaily.com. Besides the websites, he’s taken his Sneaker Con event on the road, filling venues city-to-city with kids and adults slinging sneakers to each other. As if all that wasn’t enough, he’s also one of the main partners behind Stadium Goods, the new consignment shop in downtown NYC that’s about to make a lot of noise in the retail space. Jian DeLeon


15. Jon Wexler

Image via Holly Andres for Complex

Global Director of Entertainment and Influencer Marketing, adidas

Jon Wexler's technical title is adidas' Global Director of Entertainment and Influencer Marketing, but colloquially, his awesome job could be summed up as the Three Stripes' resident "celebrity whisperer." A low-key shotcaller with a healthy social media following, Wex will humorously answer your requests for Yeezys or all-white Ultra Boosts while RTing the growing cadre of adidas fans who are giving the sneaker brand its new sense of relevance. The self-proclaimed "problem solver, brand builder, dot connector" got his start at his current gig in 2008, bringing in people like Katy Perry, Missy Elliott, Run-DMC, David Beckham, and Jeezy to work on an adidas campaign. Since then, his Rolodex has only gotten considerably stronger, with the likes of Nigo, Pharrell, and some guy named Kanye West on his speed dial. — Jian DeLeon


14. Raf Simons

Image via Business of Fashion

Designer

Even though it seems like sneakerheads were only recently made aware of Raf Simons' existence, the legendary designer's oeuvre has long embraced covetable footwear in many forms. Long before he was reinterpreting the Stan Smith, the Belgian fashion designer was reinterpreting the Nike Vandal silhouette into upscale reinterpretations with the Velcro strap on the shoe's upper—sans Swoosh, of course. He followed up with models like the Astronaut sneaker with a baggy pouch on the back, and also has made convertible sneakers that transition from high-tops to low-tops via zippable panels and a zip-off sole. This was years before John Geiger and The Shoe Surgeon took that concept to the Air Force 1. He isn't afraid to get a little meta in his adidas collaborations either, referencing astronaut spacesuits in the Ozweego 2 or tailoring his colorways to complement his season's menswear collections. If you look beyond his best-selling "R"-perforated Stan Smith models, there's a wide world of weird Raf sneakers elevated sneakerheads can enjoy. Part of the challenge is figuring out how to rock them—his most aggressive kicks, like the De Stijl art movement-inspired high-tops—certainly haven't scared off dedicated Simons-heads like A$AP Rocky. Jian DeLeon


13. Hiroshi Fujiwara

Image via Hypebeast

Designer, fragment design

Hiroshi Fujiwara had already established himself as a streetwear heavyweight, but his ongoing relationship with Nike has only added to his legendary reputation in the culture. While his catalog with Nike is long and storied, it seems he’s been putting in extra work lately. We saw back-to-back years filled with numerous fragment design collaborations, including the coveted Air Jordan 1 and a bevy of Sock Dart retros. He further expanded on his relationship with Nike through the HTM collective, giving updates to the Kobe IX and X as well as Cristiano Ronaldo's street-ready Free Mercurial Superfly. John Marcelo


12. Peter Poopat and Flavio Girolami

Photo by Justin Chung for Business of Fashion

Owners, Common Projects

When they first founded their minimal sneaker brand a decade ago, Common Projects actually wasn't a sneaker brand. Creative professionals Peter Poopat and Flavio Girolami merely wanted to make cool shit in their spare time, and already had impressive resumes in the fields of media, fashion, and brand consulting. The ubiquitous Achilles model was born from a love for white sneakers like the adidas Match Play and Stan Smith, a knowing nod to architecture, and the fact that designed sneakers from brands like Prada felt a little too overdesigned. Thus, the Achilles, an amalgam of luxurious Italian leather and construction with the kind of minimalism that would make Jil Sander proud. Its only indulgence to branding are the telltale gold letters imprinted on the size of each shoe, denoting the size and style number of the quiet kicks. Since then, Common Projects has not only branched out into more models and collaborations with designers like Robert Geller, they've set the standard for an industry they created. Now luxury sneaker brands touting clean aesthetics and quality manufacturing are a dime a dozen, to the point where smaller labels are trying to beat Common Projects on price. But ironically, Girolami and Poopat's provenance in their self-made market lends them the same cachet that sets them squarely above their competitors. No one can bite that. Jian DeLeon


11. Ronnie Fieg

Image via Andy Hur for Complex

Owner, Kith

On the Internet, Ronnie Fieg has been a polarizing figure (just read the inevitable comments), but no one is going to stop his momentum. This past year alone he dropped $2 million to renovate his Brooklyn store, adding a cereal bar in addition to hundreds of hanging cast Jordan 2s, courtesy of Snarkitecture. He followed that up with a recent slew of Puma collabs done in conjunction with High Snobiety to celebrate their 10th anniversary. Oh right, and did he mention he's already working on opening a third retail location? This time around, he's got the ladies in mind. With that kind of retail Triforce in his hands (don't forget his ill SoHo store), Ronnie Fieg is gunning to become street culture's premier New York City retailer. Jian DeLeon


10. Kobe Bryant

Image via Nike

Shooting Guard, Los Angeles Lakers

In the last two seasons, Kobe Bryant has missed a combined 123 games due to injury. Despite this, his impact on the sneaker landscape has been unwavering and arguably as strong as it's ever been. With 10 signature sneakers with Nike under his belt, the basketball veteran proves that he’s one of the Swoosh’s premier signature athletes. His most recent release with the Kobe X set the standard for what performance sneakers should be—high performance meets high style. Nike took the shoe to the next level with the Kobe X HTM, which reintroduced Flyknit technology to the Kobe line. It was a sneaker that proved Bryant’s staying power, commanding over $2,000 in the resell market. John Marcelo


9. Pharrell

Image via adidas

Musician/Designer

Remember when Pharrell was pretty much the poster boy for patent leather Bapestas? He's evolved since then, but his kick game hasn't gotten any less eclectic. Whether he's drawing on a pair of Stan Smiths or wearing Swarovki crystal-encrusted Superstars to the GRAMMYs, Pharrell is as relevant to sneaker culture as ever. He's transcended the lane of putting people onto cool things and instead uses his platforms to promote nobler pursuits, like equality and acceptance for all. How many globally popular celebs do you know using their fame and product endorsements to the same end? — Jian DeLeon


8. Kevin Durant

Image via Nike

Forward, Oklahoma City Thunder

Kevin Durant is in a position to be successor to LeBron James as the face of Nike Basketball. If it wasn’t clear just how valuable Durant is to the Swoosh, last year’s bidding war for the former MVP between Under Armour and Nike definitely answered that. His squeaky clean image, elite play, and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s prominence in the NBA makes him an easy choice for kids, parents, and sports fans to get behind. It’s no wonder that in 2014 his signature line only trailed LeBron James with $195 million in sales, according to Forbes. And despite last season's injuries, go to any sneaker event, mall, or basketball court, and you'll see just how much love KD's sneakers still receive. John Marcelo


7. Tinker Hatfield

Image via Hypebeast

Vice President of Design & Special Projects, Nike

Midway through his fourth decade with Nike, designer Tinker Hatfield seemingly has nothing left to prove. He designed all the best Air Jordans (including the nearly universally agreed upon best sneaker ever, the Air Jordan III), established the cross-training category, made Air Max a thing, and turned inspiration from Mexican sandals and water skiing booties into Huarache. He pushed sneaker design forward so far, so fast that Nike set up the Innovation Kitchen, where he and a select team are thinking years out in a space that most of Nike's employees can't even access. Not bad for a guy who started out as a corporate architect. But Hatfield did something else—by making design an act of storytelling, he positioned himself as one of the industry's best storytellers. A Hatfield-designed product is special, hearing him tell why it is the way it is even more so. Which is why we continue to await his next story. RB


6. Steph Curry

Image via Under Armour

Point Guard, Golden State Warriors

Not only did Steph Curry lead the Golden State Warriors to an NBA championship, he led Under Armour into uncharted territory as a serious competitor to Nike and Adidas less than two years after signing with the Baltimore-based company. According to Business Insider, Under Armour’s basketball sneaker sales saw a dramatic increase, growing by 754% at the end of June. This all came after Curry won the MVP award and led the Warriors deep into the playoffs and to an eventual championship—all in front of national television audience. Not too long after that, Under Armour extended Curry’s contract to 2024 and awarded him with an undisclosed amount of equity. Numbers don’t lie—and Under Armour’s growing sales are just another sign of Curry’s status as one of the game’s elite. John Marcelo


5. Drake

Image via Apple Music

Rapper

Drake's sneaker cred was once mired by the disproven rumor that he rocked a fugazi pair of Jordan Vs, but since then he's become a huge figure in the sneaker community. The Jordan cosign makes sense if you think about it, there are photos of him working out in Air Jordan IIIs, he's stylish but absolutely not as caught up in the fashion world as other rappers, and happens to be the best in the game. In other words, he's the kind of dude most guys in sneaker culture can universally fuck with. He's equal parts accessible and aspirational, and even if you don't connect with his music you can't help but admit his shit is catchy. Plus, he just made one of the illest tracks ever dedicated to a sneaker brand. Jian DeLeon


4. LeBron James

Image via Nike

Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers

No Nike athlete will ever top the legacy that Michael Jordan built, but LeBron is coming in at a close second. At 30 years old with a few more years in the NBA ahead of him, LeBron is 13 sneakers deep, and there’s already been talks about possibly retroing his sneakers. According to Forbes, LeBron was the top-selling basketball player of last year, bringing in $340 million from his signature sneaker line. His body of work in sneaker culture speaks for itself, and no one in the NBA right now is even coming close to his impact. John Marcelo


3. Mark Parker

Image via Nike

CEO, Nike

The future of Nike is all about athletics and innovation, and the man behind that unstoppable train is none other than the brand's CEO, Mark Parker. Some thought he was offbeat during his feud with Kanye West, but Parker ended up proving his point in the long run. He's there to push Nike forward, and he's done so with technology such as Flyknit and picking the right collaborators for the brand. Parker's the top guy at the biggest sneaker brand in the world. For anyone interested in what Nike has on the horizon, Parker's the guy to keep on the radar. Matt Welty


2. Kanye West

Image via adidas

Musician/Designer

If Kanye West sneezes in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, are the nearby trees with possible bits of his spittle still worth anything on the resell market? West is influential period, but the strength of his brand is especially felt in the sneaker world, where his shoes almost always command a hefty price on the aftermarket. And it's a fact that more people are excited about his sneaker designs than his clothing designs, as much as that may begrudge him. The adidas x Kanye West partnership lived up to the hype in some aspects, and fell short in others. Not everyone was able to get Yeezys. The adidas Confirmed app bricked for more people than it helped. Yeezy Season 1 is going to cost as much as rent—maybe even more! But one thing you can't fault West for is that he really does get the people going. He is a walking "where'd you get those?!" moment any time he wears an unreleased or super exclusive pair of sneakers. Hell, he might be the guy to convince sneakerheads that swaggy duck boots are the move this winter when the Yeezy 950 drops. — Jian DeLeon


1. Michael Jordan

Image via Nike

Retired NBA Player, Namesake of Jordan Brand

Sorry ‘Ye, there’s only one Michael Jordan and in 2015 he’s still the GOAT when it comes to sneakers. We can go on forever about the Saturday releases that sell out in seconds, but it seems this year Jordan is embracing how impactful the Jumpman brand really is. “It’s much bigger than Michael Jordan. It’s going to outlive me in terms of what I did for the game of basketball,” he told USA Today in a recent interview. Men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t, and Forbes had Jordan Brand sneaker sales up 17 percent from 2014-2015, clocking in $2.6 billion. In addition to all the sales figures and pull-quotes, MJ gave us the Tumblr image of the year in the Supreme tee. — JLP


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