Today, "media" means something completely different than it did just a few years back, especially when it comes to sneakers. In the early 2000s, sneaker media consisted primarily of a tight knit group of writers with friends in high places at sneaker brands and retailers. As platforms like Twitter, YouTube and Instagram have changed the way consumers discover new styles and trends, brands have looked to experts in their respective fields to help connect with their potential customers.
Not to say that traditional media is any less important now than it was then, but these new platforms allow people to customize the way they consume information. That means "media" can also refer to people who use platforms like Snapchat or Periscope to live stream an event or document new drops. Therefore, we have taken into account things like how much access a person has, where they contribute, what companies they partner with and their personal following in order to determine The 15 Most Influential People in Sneaker Media Right Now. [Editor's note: The writer is not a Complex employee.]
15. David Fischer - Founder, Highsnobiety
David Fischer didn't start Highsnobiety to focus on sneakers exclusively, but his site has become one of the go-to sources for footwear readers. This year saw his site's 10th anniversary, which set the stage for Fischer to collaborate with Ronnie Fieg on two pairs of Pumas: One for Berlin, where Fischer lives, and the other for New York City, Fieg's hometown. To cap off the project, Fischer and Fieg had a lengthy conversation with sneaker historian Gary Warnett about the state and history of sneaker and lifestyle blogging. On top of that, Fischer sets himself apart from other media types because he's actually involved in the retail trade, too, as he's the owner of Soto, a boutique in Berlin that is a representation of the grander scheme of what Highsnobiety represents.
14. Wendy Lam - Founder, Nitro:licious
Sneakers tend to be a male-dominated hobby, and that's clear from the lack of female representation in the blogs that write about them. There are a few ladies representing their love for soft-soled footwear, though, and no one is doing it bigger than Wendy Lam, who runs the Nitro:licious blog.
Lam has amassed a huge social media following, with over 130K followers on Instagram. Her style sense falls somewhere between being a fan of retro footwear—think Air Jordans and Air Maxes—and high-fashion shoes that her female audience can appreciate. But, where Lam's site truly succeeds is in the balance. It's not overly sneaker-focused, giving readers sneakers as part of a lifestyle, rather than the sole focus. She also had a feature in the first edition of Sneaker News, outlining how she got into footwear and is able to define her own niche within the blog world.
13. Matthew Kish - Reporter, Portland Business Journal
If nothing else, Portland can claim its place as home of the modern sneaker biz. With Nike and adidas (among others) calling the city their North American home, the region is where news begins. Matt Kish covers footwear for the Portland Business Journal, meaning that when Nike makes an announcement, Kish knows—often before anyone else does. With experience covering footwear in Portland, he has established himself as the go-to voice for news for the rest of the sneaker media. His proximity to the breaking stories and connections often allows him to be first on the scene, reporting stories Nike suing Ralph Lauren or Phil Knight stepping down as Chairman of Nike. It might seem obvious, but Kish is an actual journalist, too, which puts his work, at least factually, above the legion of collegiate bloggers who rehash everyone else's work.
12. Ben Osborne - Editor-in-Chief, SLAM
By now, you know that Slam and Kicks are two of the most important publications in the sneaker business. And that alone makes Editor-in-Chief Ben Osborne one of the most influential people in sneaker media. If you don't believe it, just try to find another media outlet that got a shout out from the greatest basketball player on the planet. Eight years after he started at Slam, Ben has also parlayed his success into partnerships with corporate giants like Foot Locker. He's helped debut the Nike LeBron 13 on the cover of his publication, and if anyone needs anymore convincing of Osborne's influence: His Twitter avatar is him interviewing Michael Jordan.
11. Simon "Woody" Wood - Founder, Sneaker Freaker
While most people will try to tell you that print is dead, Simon "Woody" Wood would say otherwise. Woody has piloted Australia's Sneaker Freaker to the top of the list of sneaker-focused titles, debuting exclusives and creating must-read content for 12 years running—all at a time when most print publications have been reducing their number of issues or folding altogether. Sneaker Freaker has been able to transcend itself past a strictly a magazine that gets the first look at sneaker collaborations—the publication has set up outposts in Russia, Spain, and Germany, allowing for regional exclusives and a global view on shoes. Besides just the magazine, Sneaker Freaker has become known for its own collaborative projects, too, and the biggest as of late being this year's work with Packer Shoes on the Puma Blaze of Glory. These shoes, of course, followed up recent favorites like 2013's New Balance 998 "Tassie Devil."
10. Gerald Flores - Editor-in-Chief, Sole Collector
As the Editor-in-Chief of Sole Collector, Gerald Flores oversees the biggest dedicated sneaker blog on the Internet, which continues to be a driving force in the sneaker community more than 12 years after its print issue. Flores previously served as an editor for Footwear News, before coming over to Complex at the end of 2013. Given his hard-reporting background, he's turned Sole Collector into a news source rather than just another sneaker blog, with hopes to re-launch the publication's print edition in the near future. With a decent run in the industry, Flores is able to leverage connections and deliver stories such as an interview with adidas NMD designer Nic Galway or writing a profile on a legless sneaker fan. He's also passed this torch over to his staff, forcing them to focus on better original content.
9. Matt Powell - Sports Industry Analyst, NPD Group
Matt Powell might not be your typical sneaker enthusiast, but he's carved out a unique niche in the industry. Powell's business is numbers, and he is consistent about sticking to his expertise. As the Sports Industry Analyst at The NPD Group, and a former analyst for Sports One Source, Powell connects the dots between mainstream business and sneaker media. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes, where his "Sneakernomics" column analyzes the sneaker business on a regular basis. That strictly by-the-numbers approach to thinking has won him a ton of fans. His opinions are divisive and he's previously penned articles and expressed views on why athlete endorsements are bad for brands and why Kanye West has little influence on the footwear industry. Tensions may run high on his Twitter feed, and many people consider him a grade-A troll, but it's hard to argue his numbers—even if he thinks Skechers is an important footwear brand.
8. Gary Warnett - Writer
Gary Warnett is a walking history book when it comes to footwear and sportswear. Brands often enlist him to help convey the stories being their archival product, which has afforded him to do work with Nike and recently write a book for ASICS. He's even recently interviewed Nike CEO Mark Parker and former Nike, now-adidas designer Marc Dolce. (He also moderated a discussion between Ronnie Fieg and Highsnobiety founder David Fischer on their Puma collaboration.) When he's not doing things behind the scenes, Warnett has his own blog, Gwarizm, and will occasionally pitch in stories for Complex. If there's a forgotten piece of sneaker lore, expect Warnett to dig it up, then write about it, too.
7. Russ Bengtson - Senior Editor, Complex
Russ Bengtson is essentially the guy who started it all. If it weren't for him, most of the people on this list wouldn't be doing what they do for a living. Russ' first piece for Slam was published in 1995. From there, he worked his way up to Editor-in-Chief and helped Slam establish one of the most important and influential print publications in sneakers, Kicks. Nowadays, Russ holds it down for Complex Sports and Sneakers, lending his basketball and sneaker knowledge when it's needed. In turn, he's educating a generation of readers who were just a twinkle in their parents eye when Michael Jordan leaped from the free-throw line in 1988. As you can imagine, Bengtson's connections go way back, and because of that, his opinion is one of the most respected in the industry. He's recently scored interviews with Dwyane Wade, Tinker Hatfield, Eric Avar, and Air Jordan 1 designer Peter Moore. He's not afraid to champion an unpopular opinion on sneakers, which he holds plenty, and will express it on his satirical and honest Twitter account. He's the sort of guy when he rants, er, talks, everyone listens, even if he already has the loudest voice in the room.
6. George Kiel III - Editor-in-Chief, Nice Kicks
George Kiel III serves as Editor-in-Chief of Nice Kicks, but also earns a place on the list because of his work on-camera. He spent the last seven years establishing YouTube channels for Nice Kicks, and hosts Sneak Peek, Kicks On Court, Kicks For Cause, and Sole Access, shows which are looks at what NBA players are wearing, what sneakerheads are holding in their closets, and what teams have in their locker rooms. His videos put him in front of a huge audience that allows him to claim a space as one of the most recognizable authorities for the modern sneaker consumer. He's recently gotten interviews with Andre Iguodala, Mayor, and even gotten an exclusive peak into the Arizona Wildcats' storied equipment room. As if that weren't enough, George also founded the Kick & Roll Classic, a sneaker-themed, 3-on-3 basketball tournament to benefit the Kiel Colon Cancer Foundation, which has become one of the most highly anticipated annual sneaker events.
5. Jacques Slade - YouTube Personality/Blogger, Kustoo
Even though you might also know him as "Kustoo," you surely know Jacques Slade. As the host of a daily YouTube series on his own channel, and the host of Finish Line's The Week In Sneaks, Slade has built an incredible following that he's used to launch big time partnerships with Yahoo Sports' The PostGame, Pepsi, Sam's Club and Nike, among others. Prior to his solo success, Slade spent time as a contributor for Kicks on Fire, Nice Kicks, Sole Collector, and Complex Sneakers. He also finds time to host events for the aforementioned partners, giving him 1-on-1 access to athletes like Kobe Bryant and Deion Sanders, and even hip-hop artists like Nas. Still, even with all of that, Slade's crown jewel might be his visit to Michael Jordan's Chicago mansion, which has currently garnered over 3.8M YouTube views. Not bad for an independent guy.
4. Matt Halfhill - Founder, Nice Kicks
Nice Kicks has had its ups and downs as a sneaker blog. The content had a span of down months. So what did founder Matt Halfhill do? Well, he went and got some of the best guys in the industry. He promoted George Kiel III to editor-in-chief and brought in Nick DePaula, who previously had served as the editor-in-chief of Sole Collector, and he made sure there was a focus on video content, while licensing the Nice Kicks store to a footwear retailer to focus more on the website. This is has all resulted in the site being a top-five sneaker blog on the Internet, and it's mostly thanks to Halfhill's guidance.
3. Joe La Puma - Director of Content Strategy, Complex
Joe La Puma isn't just a sneaker guy—he's gained notoriety writing a multitude of cover stories with the likes of Justin Bieber, Kid Cudi, and A$AP Rocky—but, at the heart of it all, he's got a serious thing for footwear. La Puma serves as the face and taste level of Complex, where he's currently the Director of Content Strategy, but many people in the sneaker world know him for his YouTube series, Sneaker Shopping. On the show, he's interviewed everyone from Chris Brown to Fat Joe to 50 Cent to, most recently, Rick Ross, taking them to multiple store fronts and discussing everything from shoes to life. But that's not the only thing La Puma does that's sneaker-related at Complex: He also helps write and strategize the site's lists, even dishing out a hot take when he finds it necessary.
2. Nick DePaula - Creative Director, Nice Kicks
Nick DePaula's post as Creative Director for Nice Kicks makes him one of the most well-connected people in sneakers, but it's what he does with that insider access to the biggest brands in the world that makes him truly influential. Before Nice Kicks, he served as the Editor-in-Chief for Sole Collector for a number of years, providing direction for some of the best sneaker collaborations with Nike and other brands. His inside connections, most notably with now-adidas designer Marc Dolce, has provided DePaula with exclusive content for Nice Kicks, usually in the form of signature basketball sneakers. On top of his creative content, DePaula's sense of footwear style is often admired and imitated throughout the sneaker community: His "Uncaged" Ultra Boost is a perfect example of how to set a trend, resulting in Hypebeast collaborating with adidas on actual pair based off this customization.
1. Yu-Ming Wu - Founder, Sneaker News
There's rarely a sneaker event invite Yu-Ming Wu doesn't receive, and for good reason: As the founder of Sneaker News and a partner in both Freshness Mag and the world's biggest sneaker event, Sneaker Con, Wu has logged nearly a decade in the game and is continually building. Sneaker News has amassed over 4 million followers on Instagram, and he also owns the Jordans Daily site, too. With the Sneakers News magazine printing quarterly and the launch of his newly founded Stadium Goods, he's as more influential than ever before—and always just as respected.