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realtalk

Real Talk: Cheerleaders, Benchwarmers and Fashion Victims

Date: December 26 2017

By: Sneaker Freaker

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Dear you. Yes, you! The kid who’s reading this while simultaneously scrolling Instagram for info on the latest Yeezys. Can I borrow your attention for a moment? You might even have to put down your phone. I know it’s a scary prospect, but I promise you’ll be okay. Alright? Alright. Over the course of the past 12 months or so, I have overheard (and taken part in) numerous conversations about the younger generation of so-called sneakerheads that have alarmed me. I’ve heard small talk on the tube, in bars, at events and on the web in the form of basic clickbait lists. But the general consensus is the same – kids these days don’t know jack shit about history!

It was 1989 when rap duo Nice & Smooth said ‘Ladies shake your derriere. Homeboy, this ain’t a fashion fair,’ yet, unfortunately, in the ensuing 28 years, that is exactly what the culture has become. If you don’t recognise that you, dear reader, are an advertising executive’s wet dream, then you are part of the problem – and not the solution. Harsh words, you may think? Well, maybe you should find your own style and designs and fashion them into your own culture.

These conversations offered up a number of less than complimentary arguments about how blokes my age are out of touch, how we’re all a bunch of grumpy old men and fundamentally, how we have no right to take part in sneaker culture. Of course, this is an affront to the generation of middle-agers that just enjoy rocking dope kicks. These attitudes are offensive to the very pioneers that have helped to build up a worldwide community since the mid-80s. They’re divisive, and highlight the vast chasm of opinion between the submissive sneaker youth and the generation that created – and kicked off – the culture.

Younger cats have no references when questioned about the backstory of where the culture started, yet they consciously and pointedly deliver shots at the older gen. Part of it is because they just don’t care, and I can appreciate that – to an extent. Not everyone is open-minded at 18 years old, but you know the beardy middle-agers that you see wearing shoes that you want, but can’t have? That’s us. You know when you see someone that looks like they are your dad’s age, and they’re sporting fresher kicks than you? That’s us. We are the backstory. Myopic attitudes assist no one, and your generation needs to understand this. We don’t wish to scare you kiddies, mainly because we support your hunger for fresh kicks, but you have to remember that you’re tourists in our world. That’s right, it’s ours – not yours. You’re nothing more than wide-eyed adventurists, literally finding your feet within our adolescence.

'You know when you see someone that looks like they are your dad’s age, and they’re sporting fresher kicks than you? That’s us. We are the backstory.'

You’ve grown up with the world in your pocket. You use your phone to find answers to questions and you’re used to instant gratification. See, we had far more avuncular teachers that went out of their way to add some cool to a kid’s existence. Remember, we can attribute the origins of our fascination with kicks to hip hop. We looked towards LP covers and Yo! MTV Raps for sartorial stimulation. Remember – the information regarding shoes, was the shoes. There was no Niketalk with top 10 lists of ‘Shops to Check’, there was no Instagram and there was no way of knowing what was new or what was hot.

Sure, if we were lucky we might’ve spotted the odd image of a specific silhouette in a magazine like The Source, Mass Appeal or SLAM, but most of the time it was a form of sneaker lottery. One of the only other ways to discover a new design was to listen to rap lyrics. We were addicted to the soundtrack of hip hop, and we’d buy mixtapes just to catch the latest bangers. If rappers were talking about certain kinds of kicks, we’d take notes for our next shopping trip. That’s a passion that you can’t comprehend, simply because in today’s environment, there is never a moment when you aren’t aware of the hottest shoe of the day, month or year. That’s not your fault, it’s just reality.

I know that the common myth about millennials is that they’re lazy, but in reality – you aren’t at all. You’re aware of commerce in its most basic terms, and you know how hustling works. For that alone, I’ll always give you respect. You’re used to grinding, to doing something as alien (to my generation) as queuing up overnight to get your fix. That’s ambition, and I don’t care whether it’s for fashion-based beliefs or financial gain. You’re perceptive, prescient and sharp-witted enough to recognise that if you can somehow buy a pair of Hyperstrikes from somewhere, you can possibly resell those puppies for twice what daddy agreed to. In my day, if I wanted something I couldn’t afford (such as a pair of crispy PUMA Malibu in baby blue), I grafted. I went to my neighbours and asked them if they needed their lawn mowed, I delivered newspapers for the summer. Months later, those Malis were mine and I was the toast of my block. Times have evidently changed, and the reality of a 13-year-old exercising patience and waiting for a pair of kicks seems highly unlikely these days.

Before you get too salty, what you have to recognise is the fact that my generation are the very people that inform your purchasing decisions, the same faces employed by the brands that your obsequious ass submits to. We are the ones working for the most popular sneaker resources and the biggest companies. We’re the ones enlightening you to designs, colours and materials that date from before you were ‘swimmin’ in ya daddy’s big nuts’ – as Grand Puba of Brand Nubian once put it. We have knowledge of kicks and colourways you’ve never heard of, and we have stories for days about the culture. Funny stories that you should listen to, because we cultivated the very industry that created your hunger for kicks.

On that note, I can confirm that the culture in 2017 is perfectly healthy. Very few of my peers see things any other way. We know that we aren’t the target audience any longer, but we don’t care.

'We have knowledge of kicks and colourways you’ve never heard of, and we have stories for days about the culture. Funny stories that you should listen to, because we cultivated the very industry that created your hunger for kicks.'

Don’t forget, we’re getting a second time around on a lot of silhouettes as well. And if a dope design that we wore in the early-90s drops without so much as a whisper on the Gram, all the better. Now, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been eyeing up some of those Primeknit NMD designs, or checking out the HyperAdapts, either – it’s about the preservation of the old and the progression of the new. Us actual gate-keepers of sneaker culture give as much of shoes, as well as rocking old ones. Don’t forget, you can only wear one pair at a time. Some days it’s vintage, some days it’s a next-school soon-to-be classic.

There is a glorious history – an almost never-ending backstory – that we older folk enjoy talking about. I’m almost 50 years old and I know I’m sporting some freshmode that’ll have you hypebeast kiddies doing double takes, and equally, turn old heads with a nod of respect. A couple of weeks ago, I was rocking some crispy OG Air Mad Max in grey and burgundy, from the 1996 NDestrukt series. Some random bloke in a van stalled his entire lane of traffic to ask me where he could grab a pair. He pulled over to break bread about a pair of shoes from two decades ago – now that’s passion! Do you think the same thing is going to happen for your hype-of-the-month what-ever-the-fucks in 20 years?

I can calmly and confidently say that the only thing we elders are intolerant of is short-sightedness, a lack of respect for history and contextual rationale. I’m happy as a pig in mud when I see a kid sporting some new colorway of a model I was wearing in 1992. It’s that longevity that keeps the brands, the designs, the looks and the vibe of streetwear culture alive. Just look at one of the most important lyricists in a minute, Stormzy, sporting that Royal Tenenbaums adidas look. Haters gon’ hate, but I’m happy that the community still has its variations and specific looks, designs and vibes. It’s healthy and strangely cathartic, and if it wasn’t for the sanguine approach of truckloads of us older trainer nuts and industry insiders, you wouldn’t have this culture today. On behalf of all of us, you are most welcome.

Written by Craig Leckie

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