Three Black women on what sneaker culture means to them

sneaker heads

By Kiah Olowu

From waiting for the seemingly inevitable ‘didn’t get ‘em’ notification from the Nike SNKRS  app, to price increases, battling with bots, the procurement of sneakers is becoming more difficult. Despite these changes, sneaker culture is flourishing especially within the Black female community. Fashion is a big part of identity and sneakers have always been an important part of Black culture with women contributing largely to this. 
sneaker
My sneaker collection

My love for sneakers was somewhat inevitable because of my ‘sneakerhead’ dad who has at least 150 pairs – we’ve both lost count. Streetwear has always been a big part of my identity and how I express myself and being gifted trainers has helped me build my style even more. Since then I  have started building my own collection, but as I am still quite new to the developing culture I asked three Black women to give me their insights about sneaker culture and tell me how it reflects their identities. 

Ngozi aka Kez, 38
3D Producer and Interior architect
Middlesex 

From a woman’s point of view how has sneaker culture changed? 

The contributions of women in the sneaker industry have been more apparent, I don’t know if it’s because we’re actively seeking out who’s behind some of the designs. All the different platforms that are being created like Sneaker Sisterhood, Sneaker Magazine are showing us the people that contribute to the industry which are good sources of understanding and growing knowledge. They show how the sneaker scene is evolving and how women are a part of that. 

If you had to wear one shoe forever what would it be? 

The Air Max One OG Red – it’s a staple, it goes with everything. 

Kez’s sneaker collection

Where do you see the passion for sneakers going? 

Sustainability is important. The average sneakerheads has like 200 pairs – I know people that have 6/700 pairs, but that’s going to go to landfill eventually. 

Nike are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, so their technologies and shoes have to work towards that. There’s only so long that they can create their shoes with the original materials. I think they tried doing a Jordan 1 with recycled materials and they just sat there – no one’s ready for that kind of balance of new technologies with old silhouettes. Until we as a community accept it, we’re not going to keep having these shoes. 

How do sneakers add to your identity? 

People know that Ngozi and sneakers go hand in hand. It probably started when I was like 10-11. I was one of four and my older siblings would always get Nike airs and stuff like that.

Before you’d tell people you’re into sneakers and they’d be like “you’re one of those people,” now it’s like, “did you see the ones that just dropped!” It’s more than just you being crazy and collecting loads of sneakers there’s a story behind a lot of the shoes you’re buying. 

I probably spend 80% of the time talking about trainers. I’ve got books that I’ll read over and over – it forms a big part of your life. Collecting allows you to be part of a community and I’ve made a lot of new friends, good friends.  

Sekinat, 21
Aspiring filmmaker
East London 

When did you start collecting and why? 

2015. I’ve always liked sneakers, the culture and streetwear, and I had my own money then so I could get whatever I wanted. I’ve always been interested in having something that has a history and a meaning. Sneakers have such a big influence in every creative industry. You can see the impact Michael Jordan and the Jordan brand have had on Spike Lee and his work and how he’s been able to connect to the culture in his films. It’s bigger than just trainers it’s about culture, identity, where you’re from and what it represents.  

If you had to wear one shoe forever what would it be? 

I have to think of comfort, durability – I have to wear this to weddings, to funerals, to nights out… everything! It has to be the Air Max 97 Bordeaux.

Sekinat’s sneaker collection

How does sneaker culture in the UK differ from that of other countries? 

Talking about Nike specifically, if you see the collabs that Skepta does for example, they’ve all been iconic Air Max shoes which shows the cultural differences between the UK and US collabs. 

In JD the general release shoes are mainly Air Max whereas in America it’s basketball shoes, New Balance, shoes like that. There aren’t many places in the world that are really into Air Maxes like that, it has a special place in Europe, the UK especially.  

Even when I was in Korea they’re into 90s, 2000s style so they thought I was a local because of my shoes.  

How do sneakers add to your identity? 

Sneakers are reflective of your interests and your passions depending what shoes you like. When I was younger, I had these baby blue Reeboks and I wanted them so badly because Tracy Beaker was wearing Reeboks. My personality and who I am at that stage is reflected in what I wear. I’m really happy to have the Air Max one City Pack in my collection because now I’ve got two things that represent a bit about me; UK and Netherlands. I just hope they do another Nigerian shoe!

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Yoshe Rose, 24
Singer-songwriter, Model, Stylist
Kent  

 How do you feel about resale culture? 

I don’t support it. I feel like new school resale culture is what killed the community. Reselling has always been a part of the culture but there was an etiquette before – there were unwritten rules. There were coveted drops, Off White, Yeezy, but now it’s everything, you can’t even get a pair of Nike dunks for £90 without them selling out or having to do raffles and draws. I appreciate what stores like Offspring do though – they have long winded raffles but it’s to get the shoes into the hands of the community.  

If you had to wear one shoe forever what would it be? 

Jordan Bred Fours – it would be hard to style them wrong.  

As a content creator how important is it for you to stay on trend?  

I don’t give a heck! Having four older brothers instils individuality into you. We all have the mindset of if you see it, you like it, cop it! Don’t ask for anybody’s opinion. I don’t follow trends I wear what I want, and I don’t need to wait for someone to wear it before I can. I wear what I’m comfortable in and feel empowered in. 

Yoshe’s sneaker collection

Where do you see the passion taking you? 

I want to be a source of inspiration for women to try something new; go thrifting, to charity shops, kilo sales and put a whole different outfit together. I want to meet more women like me that are fashion savvy and daring. I want to connect and tap into the female community, but also  connect with men too and let people know it’s not a men’s game; women are very present. There wouldn’t be a sneaker culture without women, we play a really big role in it.  

How do sneakers add to your identity? 

That’s where an outfit begins, the trainers you wear say so much about you. There’s so much that can be said with an outfit: daring, bold, simple, bespoke, confident. It just depends on what you decide to wear. Everything for me is expression, it’s more than just putting on shoes – it’s how I introduce myself. 

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