Her sneakers were the first thing he noticed.
“She’s always had really good taste in shoes. That’s why we clicked the first time,” said Nick Mysior of his girlfriend of several years, Emily Trinh. “At my friends house I saw her shoes at the door and I thought, ‘Whose are those? Who the fuck is this with these sick shoes?’”
They point out various piles of collections in their small west-end apartment: hats, toys, books. The most prominent is the mountain — a hundred or so sneaker boxes – that snake up the western wall. It looks like the back storage room at Foot Locker. He spends about fifty percent of his disposable income on trainers. In the last year he averaged between 1-2 pairs a week.
Mysior got hooked on sneakers when he was 11. He vividly remembers a kid at school sporting some Nike Air Max 90 OG “Infrareds.” He wanted them but couldn’t afford them. He dreamt about them, would spend his time drawing shoes, and fantasized about becoming a shoe designer. “I wanted to basically dress like I was in a rap video. And now I do.”
People have obsessed over – and even killed for – the humble sneaker. Its evolution from simple tennis shoe to cultural artifact is an extraordinary one. In the 2008 documentary Just for Kicks, Bobbito Garcias noted, “Basketball was definitely responsible for the whole sneaker culture. Hands down. Hip hop was responsible for it becoming a staple style though.” Sneakers became a style statement. For those without means, it became a way to establish status. Maintaining a fresh look was essential, even if that demanded scrubbing your shoes with toothbrushes. The right sneakers, combined with the overall outfit, grew to epitomize a flamboyant lifestyle. They were worn by drug dealers and rappers and basketball stars. In turn, sneakers were snapped up by the masses. Their popularity exploded in the 90’s. At one point, according to Just for Kicks, 1 in 12 Americans owned a pair of Air Jordan’s. This meteoric trajectory has been traced in a recent exhibit at the Bata Shoe Museum: Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture.
As soon as Mysior could afford to, he started building his vast collection. His preferences lean towards “the right colour ways, a bigger heel and a visible air unit.” He never trains in these trainers, though. He will typically order them, unwrap them, lace them up, photograph them, upload the photo and then place them back in the box, sometimes forgetting their very existence. The couple are getting a storage unit to house the shoe overflow.
He wears a new pair every day, changing into ‘shittier ones for going out to the bar’ and reserving the ‘top tier’ for when he goes shopping – for more shoes. He has coordinated shoe colours to specific holidays. A stranger stepped on his shoes last week in the subway – a grievous infraction to which he issued a stern admonishment. He’ll spend nearly two hours a day seeking out new releases, checking out others’ shoes, and ordering from suppliers. He spent nearly the equivalent of a month’s rent to order the Nike USATF Air Max Series from Sweden. There is a measure of territoriality when it comes to rare trainers. He keeps certain sellers secret. The thrill lies in hunting down a pair that no one else has, or owning a pair before everyone else.
“People would rag on me. They just wouldn’t get that mindset, saying, ‘You’re buying so many shoes, you’re just like a woman.’ I would just laugh in their face.” Mysior concedes that eventually, he may have to curtail his shopping in order to have money to buy other things. “I’ll have to start focusing on real people shit. Like driving a car, getting married. I’ll have to ease back for a bit.”
The appeal of sneakers is undeniable to some. It’s unfathomable to others to the point of sneering derision. At the heart of the fixation is the pride of acquisition, of owning a little piece of the pie and achieving a particular type of status. For many who have grown up wanting for nothing, this fixation may be difficult to comprehend.
“One of the big things is I was never able to get what I wanted when I was a kid,” says Mysior. “And I’m still making up for that as an adult. And making up for, my childhood, basically.”
Dismissing sneaker collecting as a juvenile pursuit ignores the sneaker’s wider cultural significance. For the individual collector, they serve as pop culture regalia – artifacts that represent the culture we live in. The shoes have always looked like little spaceships to me, they have a sculptural quality. As fashion items, they lend themselves to individual artistic expression, no matter how commodified the source. In the end, says Mysior, “I still want to look really good.”