SF Staff Picks: The Sneakers That Got Us Hooked
Everyone remembers their first sneaker love. You might have discovered it for the first time when your classmate's pair caught your eye, when you saw a professional athlete perform amazing feats of skill in them, or perhaps you miraculously stumbled upon them in a store. No matter the method of discovery, the feeling was the same – and, if you're like the SF staff, it kicked off a lifelong obsession. Here are the kicks that got us hooked.
Ross – Nike Air Force 1 Mid
I'm jumping right into the deep end and making a statement that I'm sure many of you will find sacrilegious: when I was a young whippersnapper first discovering the joys of a fresh pair of kicks, I was drawn to the Air Force 1 Mid instead of the Air Force 1 Low. To me, like so many others, the all-white AF-1 was the pinnacle of crispiness.
In my young mind, a fresh pair of white Air Force 1 Mids was what wealth looked like. I had a strict $50 shoe budget and got one new pair every six months, so the $90 the AF-1 Mid retailed for at the time was way above my limit. My budget would occasionally present me with an opportunity to score a lower-tier Nike model like the Air Prestige III, but even as a kid I couldn't do that because it felt like faking the funk. The only kids in my school who had them were either rich hockey players who preceded the dogged Air Force 1 trend by over a decade by wearing their pairs until the straps hung flaccidly by the sides and the midsoles began to turn up, or the 'fresh' kids who always had a new fitted cap and a crispy pair of Forces on.
I'd obsess over all-white Air Force 1 Mids in the pages of Eastbay, gawk at them through a window while I was at the mall with my parents, and enviously spot them in music videos on MTV and BET. It was the first time I can recall being enamoured with a product to that level. Eventually, I scored a job at Champs Sports when I was 15, and promptly blew all $100 of my first check on a pair of Air Force 1 Mids and a few Blizzards from Dairy Queen. I wore 'em with shin-length Jordan dazzle mesh basketball shorts, a white tee from the Champs five for $20 table (IYKYK) and a San Antonio Spurs fitted cap. The feeling was like no other, and although it's no longer the Air Force 1 Mid that gives me that feeling (I'm older now, and prefer runners for both comfort and looks), it was very much that feeling that steered me along the path I'm on now.
Seb – Y-3 Qasa High
I got into sneakers at the age of 13 and around that time Yohji Yamamoto and adidas’ Y-3 line was at its peak! I discovered the sub-brand through some of my fashion-savvy family members. While over at their house, I clocked two shoe boxes sitting on the floor next to their couch. Already a junior sneakerhead at that point, with a small collection of Air Maxes, I was intrigued. Pulling out these tech-ninja shoes sent adrenaline coursing through my body, it was like nothing I had ever seen before! I instantly fired up the ol’ iPod Touch and jumped on Google, transfixed by these blacked-out futuristic shoes. I soon learnt about who Yohji Yamamoto was, and showed all my friends these new discoveries. I also later found out about other high-fashion sneaker collaborators like Rick Owens and Raf Simons. The only problem was their high retail price point, which was way too much for a 13-year-old to afford. I tried to save up all my pay cheques from my cafe job, washing dishes, but I still couldn’t manage to cop at full RRP. My saving grace was the annual Australian Boxing Day sales!
Discovering the Qasa got me hooked on a whole different genre of sneakers, the idea of this ‘high-fashion sneaker’ that in 2022 is now the norm. It definitely helped shape my taste in footwear and taught me to appreciate designers and innovators who think outside the box.
Anthony – New Balance 993
I was wearing the wrong shoe size for most of my life. I have wide feet, so lengthwise I should be wearing a US 9 – but a traditional US 9 always felt like it was choking the life out of me. Every shoe in my collection was a US 10, perfectly comfortable around the soles of my feet but always a little too large at the toes.
One fateful day, I went to my coworker's apartment to buy a pair of 993s in US 9 2E (wide) that he was looking to get rid of. At first, I was sceptical. 'I've tried all the 9s a million times – this won't fit,' I proclaimed. He assured me that it would fit as New Balance made shoes in a range of widths. I was in disbelief. How come no one has ever told me that you could buy sneakers in a wider size? He slowly took the pair out of the pristine box, and I can still remember the way the paper crinkled that day, extra crisp. He got on one knee, loosened the laces and slipped the shoe onto my foot. A perfect vacuum sealed around my ankles. It was blissful.
From that day on no shoe has been as perfect, but I've become obsessed with recreating that moment.
Amber – Nike Air Mag
I was introduced to the world of sneakers through my older brother Duan, who began collecting in his early teens. Always wanting to get in on his interests, whether it was collecting Pokemon cards or watching Yu-Gi-Oh, eventually the same would happen with shoes. Out of all his pairs, he was able to miraculously acquire his ultimate sneaker grail: the Nike Air Mags released in 2011. (Maybe you even saw him at an SF Swap Meet or two!)
For me, that's where it all started. Having been a fan of the Back to the Future trilogy, seeing them in the flesh sparked a feeling hard to put into words and to this day, the deep-running connection that sneakers has with so many realms of pop culture remains one of my favourite things about it all. He no longer owns them, but who knows, maybe one day a DeLorean will bring them back to him.
Simon – Extra Butter x Reebok Pump AXT ‘AHCHOO’
A lot of sneakerheads hate a gimmick, they want to experience a design that has organically evolved from sketches, to prototypes, to the finished product. Not me, I love a gimmick, especially one that involves designing a whole sneaker based on a throwaway gag from a 90s Mel Brooks comedy. To mark the 4th anniversary of Extra Butter, the Long Island boutique retailer put out a colab with Reebok, inspired by Robin Hood: Men in Tights. This is one of those sneakers that shouldn’t work, and yet, the plush micro-suede and pigskin finished in purples, beige and browns... just works. The sneaker itself is inarguably dope. Showing once again, that sneaker retailers really love what they sell and just ‘get it’. Look no further than Up There’s recent New Balance 2002R colab.
The 'AHCHOO' gimmick may have got my attention, but the design and the details got me over the line into someone who loves sneakers.
Cesca – Nike Dunk High Womens Liberty Pack
Back in 2008, I wasn’t yet fully dialled into the world of sneakers, but I knew I liked them. It wasn’t something any of my friends were into, so I would peruse our local stores by myself, and spend a large portion of my meagre weekly pay on pairs that piqued my interest. And at that time it was loud high tops, Dunk Highs particularly. This Liberty print pair had me at hello - what can I say, I was a sucker for an all-over floral print. Even though Provider only had one pair left, two sizes above my own, I had to have them. Despite the outrageous roominess of the larger size, I LOVED them, and to this day refuse to let my mother throw them out from my old bedroom. Maybe it’s time to bust them out again?
Minh – Nike Shox NZ
Digital cameras weren’t really a thing yet 20 years ago, so there’s sadly no photographic evidence left of the sneaker purchase that became the first of hundreds since. However, burnt into my mind’s eye is that pair of Nike Shox NZ from circa 2003-4.
Like many first-generation immigrant families living abroad, brand name shoes were a foreign luxury – which was pretty ironic, considering that my cousins overseas were the ones manufacturing them. All I wanted was a shoe that had three stripes instead of four, and/or didn’t come from the suburban supplier Targét (say it with a French accent).
After a lifetime (11 years) of wearing pretty forgettable shoes, a shameless bout of begging finally convinced my mother to fork out the discounted $150 on them. They were likely on sale because of the blindingly period-correct colourway of bright blue synthetic and mesh, finished with ‘Electric Green’ Shox columns. I wish I could find a photo – over a decade of Google Image searches have found zilch – but I’ll never forget what they looked like. I’m glad I didn’t pick the Air Max Tailwind 4s instead that day, because they’d probably be taken off my 11-year-old feet soon after.
Shoes haven’t sparked joy in me the same way they did since the day I put those size 8.5 Shox on my growing size 7 feet. Chasing that original high is a futile exercise that’s only cost me tens of thousands of dollars and probably a few relationships along the way. Shout out to my mum for keeping me laced up though, brand name or not.
Lucas – Emerica Ellington
Nostalgia time! Let me take you back to December 2003. It was summer school holidays and I’d decided to get into skateboarding. In addition to my first setup, I also scooped some amp-up material to ignite my new found hobby: a DVD copy of Emerica’s This is Skateboarding that had just released. This exciting new skate flick incorporated a green filter, much like my favourite film, The Matrix (perhaps the reason I gravitated towards the cover so eagerly). Roughly 19 minutes in enters Erik Ellington, a tall, long haired guy who’s part is filled with big stair tricks, fierce frontside flips and the shoes that got me hooked: the Emerica Ellington. Relative to the era, the Ellington was a beefed-out skate shoe jammed full of tech. As an unemployed 13 year old who was quickly tearing up his shoes learning to kick flip, I started becoming fixated on the features that helped prolong the life of a skate shoe.
But it wasn’t just the stacked tech sheet I was after, colour has always been my fix, and the Ellington featured a design built for toe box colourblocking. The red toe box with grey heel that Ellington wears during a line in the film had me hooked. I didn’t even like red, but I was obsessed with the way they stood out on foot. I begged my friends who were going to America to hunt down a pair of the red-toed Ellingtons in the States. And to my surprise, they’d done it. They got me a pair of Emerica Ellingtons, not in the grey and red suede colourway, but in a leather version with a white heel and a radiating red toe box. A colourway that I later learned – via Ripped Laces' Then & Now documentary with Ellington – was inspired by Allen Iverson’s red-toed Reebok Answer 4s from 2000. It was only a matter of time before the greatest skate shoes of all time (in my opinion) made their way onto my board and began to wear away (at a much slower pace due to the tech), inevitably reaching their expiry date roughly a year later.
In retrospect I've learnt how much of an impact seeing that red-toed Ellington in a skate movie had on me. It was the beginning of me making shoe contact before eye contact, dressing from the feet up, and perhaps my infatuation with toe box colourblocking, as one of my all-time favourite shoes is the solebox x New Balance 1500 ‘Purple Devil’. Thank you Emerica Ellingtons.