Inside the Secret World of Facebook Sneaker Groups

Sneaker conversation once flourished on message boards such as NikeTalk and Sole Collector, but now it's happening on Facebook in a private way.

Flyknit France

A collection picture posted on Flyknit France Club. Image via Facebook

Flyknit France

There was once a dark age where you had to learn about sneakers or find out their release dates from going to a store and asking an employee -- if you were in the know, you’d read SLAM’s KICKS edition. But the rise of the Internet eventually gave birth to message boards, such as NikeTalk, Sole Collector, and Crooked Tongues, where sneaker connoisseurs and insiders could share early images of shoes and potential launch dates. These forums didn’t only serve as an information hub for footwear collectors, though -- they were a meeting place where the idea of a collective sneaker “culture” could spread to people who didn’t live in major cities and didn’t have access to the latest Air Jordans or limited-edition shoes. Then came the advent of social media, and, slowly, people started to migrate from the forums and have discussions on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, with the later become the go-to place for people to buy, discuss, and share their sneakers. But it’s also a bit mysterious, due to the private nature of the pages.

The majority of sneaker-related pages on Facebook are closed groups and require members to request membership before they can view or post on them. This was a drastic change from NikeTalk and Sole Collector, where people could lurk without ever joining either forum. It also allows the administrators to be more selective in who they choose to add to their groups. Moderators on the forums played a big role, too -- they’d often ban members or delete threads -- but it gives a bigger onus on the Facebook admins to curate their communities. Even with the increased difficulty of getting into to these groups, some are able to grow at a rapid rate.

Yeezy Talk

Yeezy Talk World Wide, a group that’s been set up for the discussion, buy, sell, and trade of Kanye West’s Adidas Yeezy Boosts, currently has over 140,000 members. The page isn’t only viewed as a place for resellers to unload the latest Yeezy release, but it’s also a place to find out what the latest pair looks like or when they release, as early information usually surfaces on there.

The group started off small but grew rather quickly, due to the immense popularity of everything that Kanye West does with Adidas. “Yeezy Talk branched off a sneaker group called Sneaker Myth, because of an influx of Yeezy interest and questions. It was around the time of the first [Yeezy Boost] 750s back in 2015, and we had a one thread for just the release, and it had nearly 2000 comments,” says 20-year-old Vivian Frank from London, who founded the group. “We decided to create the group so we could release information and buy and sell on there. From then on, it just grew in numbers larger than any other groups I own or am in.”

That was only the start for Yeezy Talk, as the group would then grow to Twitter and Instagram to become one of the prominent names in community that’s fanatic about Kanye West’s sneakers and serve as a source for sneaker media sites looking for early information. “Our group then branched to Twitter and Instagram where we used to share latest Yeezy information early,” says Frank, but the growth of the group made him want to slow down on putting out the information to the public. “We later then stopped, as we wanted to work alongside Adidas, not against them as we been told by my friends at [the brand]. They didn't like us leaking a lot of the stuff we did at the time. We only do it not so often now.”

Frank’s strategy has been able to help him and his group grow partnerships with key players at Adidas, including Jon Wexler, the brand’s director of entertainment marketing, who brought Kanye West to the brand. “We have multiple friends who work at Adidas from designers to people running their social accounts,” Frank says. “We don't directly work with them, but we’re just cool with them. We’re also cool with Wex, who follows us and tends to post our posts on his Instagram story or retweet us.”

Not all groups on Facebook are gargantuan in size, some serve as smaller communities where like-minded people can talk about the sneakers they’re passionate about. “Our group is like a fraternity,” says 29-year-old Pierre-Emmanuel Zamane from Cannes, who is an admin on Flyknit France Club, which has over 4,000 members and is solely dedicated to Nike’s Flyknit technology. “You have some friends who are already members in the group who vouch for you to enter, because there are a lot of people who want to enter who don’t have common friends. You don’t know if it’s someone coming in with a fake profile.”

Flyknit France Club

Zamane came up with the idea of starting Flyknit France Club with his partner in the group, Majib Brera, after camping out for the “Milano” version of the famed HTM Lunar Flyknit Trainer in 2012 and wanted to form a group specific group for fans of the technology to discuss the latest news of their footwear niche. What separates Flyknit France Club from other Facebook groups is that there is no buy/trade/sell option on the page. “We decided to make it a non-sale group, because we wanted to keep a really good atmosphere. Money is the devil and people start to talk bad when it’s for business purposes,” he says.

Flyknit France Club has since opened up a marketplace, which has made Zamane’s job more difficult. “Honestly, the worst part of the job is to moderate and delete people who try to scam other addicts,” he says, although he admits that his job isn’t as hard as those who work on bigger pages, specifically the Yeezy-only ones.

Zamane’s had to deal with other problems, however, like banning a long-time member who used the page to promote a Flyknit page he had started on his own. He also recently kicked off a member he had friended who was posting racist opinions on their personal page. “I can’t let people like that in this group, where you can find every race and religion,” he says.

The success of Facebook’s sneaker groups isn’t just their accessibility, but their ability to serve every corner of the sneaker-obsessed market. While forums such as NikeTalk and Sole Collector did have sub-forums that were dedicated to Adidas, New Balance, and other brands, they were mainly dominated by discussion that revolved around Nikes and Air Jordans. This made it difficult to find useful information on other brands and even harder to buy or trade sneakers if you weren’t into Swooshes or Jumpmans. One group that caters to fanatics of old-school Adidas models, which have a cult following in the UK and with football casuals, is Casual Clobber - Footwear Only. The page was formed to create a more inclusive page where nearly everyone could learn about and obtain sneakers. What makes it different from Flyknit France Club and Yeezy Talk World Wide isn't just its subject matter; it's not a "closed" group that simply requires a request to join the group -- it's a "secret" group that the public can't see. You need to be invited to the group by a member to be on the page.

“I started it about four or five years ago,” says 48-year-old Ged Russ, who’s originally from Salford, a borough of Greater Manchester, England. “There were only a couple of pages [like it] around at the time. They were too cliquey, people were stuck up each other’s asses. So me and my mate said, ‘We’ll start something else. We’ll do a page where everyone feels welcome, whether you’ve got 50 or 500 pairs.’”

Russ says he now spends upwards to 30 hours a week on the page, and he views it as a sanctuary for those who are looking to escape the bullying and elitism that’s often associated with sneakers on the Internet. “The biggest problem is stopping the bullies. Someone who posts a pair of trainers might think they’re great, but to the majority they’re not,” he says. “I try to make it so everybody’s happy and not getting shit. I’m trying to stop the snobbery.”

Casual Clobber - Footwear Only has over 17,000 members, and the majority of the page’s posts are from people trying to buy, sell, or trade their sneakers, which presents its own problems for Russ and his need to keep a close eye over the group. Luckily, he works with people who run other groups, and they have a central information bank for everyone to try to avoid those are trying to get one over on other members. “We’ve had people come on our page who are scammers, and they got kicked off right away,” he says. “There’s a page with a lot of administrators on it, where it has listed the names of people who have been blacklisted from other Facebook groups. We’re there to look after the lads. The more you’re clued up, the better you have a chance of looking after the lads.”

Casual Clobber Footwear Only

Russ has gone as far as sending sneakers to members who have been scammed on his page. “Someone messaged me and said, ‘I’ve been had off for a pair of trainers. He owes me 60 quid and he’s not responding.’ I’ll send them a pair. I’ve been at this game quite a while, and I know most of the people on Facebook, so we’ll usually get things sorted,” he says. “The more people you know, the better chance you have of getting your money back. We encourage more people to pay through PayPal, so if they get scammed, they can get their money back.”

There are a few things that make Russ’s page different from others on Facebook: The largest one is that although the site is geared for people looking to sell their sneakers, it looks down upon those looking to resell their shoes for massive profits. Instead, it’s a network for people looking to unload shoes they don’t want or trade them for something of equal value.

“We’re not there to make money off people. We have old-school values, and we stick to them. That’s the way it should be. People think, “Oh, because it’s Facebook, I can act like a cunt.” But at the end of the day, you act like on Facebook like you act in real life,” Russ says. “You should treat people with respect and help them out if you can. We want people to pay reasonable money for trainers, rather than pay fucking eBay prices. If people want to profiteer off their shoes and charge prices like that, you can fuck off to eBay.”

The second thing that makes his group glaringly different from others is that women aren’t allowed on the page, which can be controversial to many. But Russ doesn’t want to hear the critics of his own rules. “How it started was that my missus was a bit paranoid with me being on Facebook. I said, “Well, to be honest, I’m not going to have any women on [the group],’” he says. “The lads welcome it, and they don’t want to have their missus on there and see what they’re buying. I got shit for it at first, but I said, ‘Well, this is my group. If you don’t want to stick to the rules, then fuck off. There’s no women, and if you don’t like it, don’t come on it.’”

While there are groups to serve everyone with an interest in sneakers, not all groups are here to stay. But one thing’s for certain -- at least for the time being -- that Facebook is where people are going to talk about and sell their shoes. “I think Facebook will always last as your go-to place for sneakers, rather than blogs for info or eBay to buy and sell,” Yeezy Talk’s Frank says. “You will have some Facebook groups die out, but there will be a big few groups that will withstand the time as the community grows and the sneaker scene gets bigger.”