Average read time: 8 minutes.
Brainy theologists will tell you that a cult is a religion but without political power. So, where does that leave cult fashion and specifically sneakerheads who get-those-shoes speak louder than words? It’s high time for ASA to talk sneaker truth to sneaker power and truly discover if sneakers are really the answer to all of life’s questions.
Sneakers, kicks, trainers and, in the South African lexicon “takkies”, have been around forever, in fact, since the turn of the century, when a new type of rubber invented by Charles Goodyear (yes, the car tyre guy) was used to make rubber-soled shoes. Brands quick off the mark were Keds (1916) and Converse Converse(1917) and they’re still popular.
These superstar labels launched the concept of functional shoes, which today we know and love as sneakers. So, what started out as sporting gear went far beyond, morphed into everyday casual wear, becoming embedded into streetwear and hip-hop culture, and ultimately going on to become status symbols and a way of expressing your unique self. Now, an everyday essential, everyone from your gran to your trendy Gen-Z cousin is rocking them. In fact, the global sneaker market is valued at $72 billion.
Lolo Ndlovu, Founder and CEO of The Sneaker Shack, a specialist laundry for your takkies, trainers, tennis shoes, runners, plimsols and gym shoes says that they processed more than 26 000 sneakers last year. The demand for custom cleaning is on the rise because everyone loves a great pair of gleaming, clean sneakers and of course, there’s our newfound Covid fear of germs and phobia about sanitising. The desire for hygiene is so great that Ndlovu is rolling out four new outlets this year.
The fact that a dedicated decontamination service even exists for these kind of shoes shows a passionate fan-base exists that verge on the cult-like – proving that life is certainly too short to wear boring shoes.
The top three international brands landing up in the laundry are Nike, Adidas and Converse, with local brands Bathu and Drip all cleaning up too. South Africa has a strong sneaker game and some serious collectors too. Ndlovu says that a couple of aficionados have collections running into the hundreds of pairs; he’s only an amateur since he’s cut down to “about twenty pairs.”
Zimbabwean media darling Kim Jayde houses her formidable sneaker collection in a custom-designed closet. The multi-award winning TV host, presenter, model and influencer made it onto the prestigious Forbes Africa #30 Under 30 list. Admitting to a “fierce collection” of 150 pairs of trainers, she recently did a sneaker detox and donated 70 pairs to the Special Olympics.
“There are always new drops and I like to look fire,” says Kim. Her devotion to finding and featuring the latest silhouettes are chronicled on her YouTube channel, Kickin’ it with Kim Jayde which is about to launch its second season. The channel features international and local guests who talk about culture, fashion, entertainment and of course, sneakers.
Watch it below.
Kim’s grail kicks are J Balvin Air Jordan 1. On release, this collaboration sold out almost instantly. The original price tag was set at $190 but those hunting down a pair will now pay up to $900.
“I see my collection as a long-term investment and plan to sell some of it off in the future,” explains Kim, “that’s why I keep the original boxes, not just for storage, because that ups their value on the secondary market.” Savvy.
As a model, Kim is down with beauty routines and is also pedantic about keeping her sneakers clean and in good condition. Cleaning her sneakers is a ritual that she enjoys doing herself. No fancy detergents or equipment for Kim—it’s back to basics with a toothbrush, cloth and fabric washing powder.
Scoring 350 pairs would put you in the super-collector category, and Nick Herbert’s (Founder and CEO of Shelflife) secret sneaker shelf generates some serious FOMO. Popular store Shelflife satisfies sneakerhead desires with exclusive collections and international collaborations. Herbert says that Nike, Jordan, Adidas, Converse, New Balance, Vans and Puma lead the sales pack.
If you don’t work in a creative environment, then you might not have considered wearing sneakers to work, but Herbert confirms that young professionals who want to be street-stylish and smart are snapping up Nike Airforce 1, Adidas Stan Smith, New Balance 990 and showing these off these in the boardroom.
“You’re never too old to get into sneaker culture”, says Herbert. Apparently, silver sneakerheads are more into “retro-leaning styles”, which are more minimalist and ooze nostalgia. Youngsters after more extroverted kicks are into Jordan 1, Jordan 4, Airforce 1- and these are the ones showing up on the secondary market at inflated prices.
Two months ago, Shelflife was retailing the Jordan 1 Hyper Royal for R2799. Now, if you’re feeling lucky and scour the internet, you might pick up a pair for R15 000. Any financial advisor will tell you that’s not a bad yield, especially for a pair of shoes.
The younger generation is driving sneaker culture. They’re the ones embracing brand hype, market trends, and reselling, which is cool. According to Herbert, the next big thing in sneakers is “sustainability for future generations”, with consumers becoming savvier about their closets’ environmental impacts on the environment. The only remaining question is: what do your sneakers say about you?