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Sneakerheads

$42 billion-dollar industry for kicks

For much of the past three years, I dove head-first into the subculture of passionate sneaker collectors for my new documentary, “Sneakerheadz.”

It was a journey of discovery and it changed the way I look at kicks and the world in general.

Why sneakers? In 2006, I wandered into an Adidas Originals Store in New York City’s Soho neighborhood. I walked out with a pair of chocolate brown Superstars designed by the hip-hop group Run DMC. The Superstar was the sneaker I coveted most as a teenager. After all, they were worn, with trademark floppy white socks, by my favorite basketball player, “Pistol” Pete Maravich.

The problem then was my parents refused to buy them. They cost $25 and my folks said, “You can pay for fancy sneakers when you grow up.”

Forty-five years later, that purchase led me into a dense and fascinating underworld filled with blogs, websites, designers and artists, all united by their love of kicks.

Sneakerheads are an insulated community, they don’t trust outsiders, and they would never want to be associated with any book, article or movie that feels inauthentic.

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It turned out to be a hard world to crack. Sneakerheads are an insulated community and they all seem to know each other. They don’t necessarily trust outsiders, and they would never want to be associated with any book, article or movie that feels inauthentic.

To get to the real sneakeratti, my team and I wound up using intermediaries. These middle men helped us get to legends like “Frank the Butcher,” who designed the New Balance 999 “Kennedy,” and Jeff Staple, the man behind the “Pigeon Dunk.” New, they go for $6,000 a pair, if you can find a “deadstock” pair.

How many things in this world connect us all at once to fashion, hip-hop, sport and history? Kicks came all the way from the playgrounds of Harlem to the runways of Paris, where last year Chanel’s show featured models in high-end sneakers.

It may be a $42 billion-a-year business, but the underlying  thrill remains the same. As a kid, as soon as I got home from school I would take off my shoes and put on my Chuck Taylor high-tops to go out and play. And that’s what sneakers let us do. We get to play all day long.

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