4 Tricks To Find The Sneakers You Want : Life Kit Being a sneakerhead looks different in a digital world, where shoes sell out in minutes and YouTubers review new kicks. NPR's Jeff Pierre shows us how to navigate it all — and trust your inner sneakerhead.
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There's Never Been A Better Time To Be A Sneakerhead

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There's Never Been A Better Time To Be A Sneakerhead

There's Never Been A Better Time To Be A Sneakerhead

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SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: Hi there. If you listen to LIFE KIT, chances are you're looking for ways to make life just a little bit better. That is no small task in 2020. Finding small pockets of joy has never been more important. That's why we've done so many episodes that help you do just that. Maybe one of our episodes inspired you to start journaling or camping or biking, or maybe you started a little garden or found yourself doing more art projects than you used to. Or maybe you just finally perfected your morning coffee, or you've given mindfulness a try. If LIFE KIT has helped you breathe or inspired you a little bit more this year, then we have a favor to ask. Please consider donating to your local public radio station. Supporting them helps support LIFE KIT. To make a donation of any size at all, go to donate.npr.org/lifekit - that's donate.npr.org/lifekit - so we can keep the good advice coming in 2021. Thank you.

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JEFF PIERRE, HOST:

This is NPR's LIFE KIT. I'm Jeff Pierre. And growing up, sneakers for me weren't just something that went on your feet. They didn't feel like they were just a part of the culture. They almost felt like they were the culture. It was one of the best parts of my childhood. From the colors to the way people wore them, something as simple as a clean pair of shoes gave a lot of us the confidence to walk down high school hallways with our heads held up high and me a way to connect with people in a new school. I even remember spending hours on Jamaica Avenue in Queens, N.Y., as a kid going in and out of shoe stores, trying to talk down the price of sneakers so I could get the final piece of my first day of school outfit.

But there are people who wear sneakers and then there are sneakerheads. The sneakerhead world was something that I got back into while we were all stuck at home looking for ways to ride out this pandemic. But the sneakerhead world was also a lot different from what I remembered, and I wasn't the only one who thought so.

JEN CHAMBERS: Well, first of all, in my day, you would wait outside at NikeTown - right? - and get your sneakers.

PIERRE: That is Jen Chambers (ph). She isn't a sneakerhead, but she's watched her son Kian (ph), who was 15, fall in love with the culture. She remembers, like me, long lines on the day of sneaker releases, people talking in line, sharing stories about shoes they want or had - building that community. But today, those long lines at retail stores, like a lot of things, are changing with smartphone apps and technology. Sneakers can now sell out in a matter of seconds online. It wasn't just the pandemic. The spirit of the sneakerhead hunt was slowly fading away. And it felt like it was harder to get in, for me and especially for kids like Kian.

KIAN: I got into this because, like, all my friends are into it. And it, like, started out as, like, insecurity, I guess, because I wanted to, like, have good shoes like everybody else.

PIERRE: And I felt that. Being a kid can be rough. And everyone has to find something to connect with other people.

KIAN: But then I just, like, got this love for it. And now all my friends are out of, like, their sneaker phase.

PIERRE: And so on the day I met Kian - on October 29, to be exact - we weren't sneakerheads or sneaker collectors. We were two people who put our names into a sneaker lottery for one of the biggest and most exclusive releases of the year.

KIAN: The Air Jordan Off-White 5s.

PIERRE: The Air Jordan Off-White 5s. And the thing about these sneakers, which were exclusively released through Nike's sneaker app, it wasn't a matter of if sneakerheads wanted the shoe. It was almost now a game of chance, one that Kian and I both lost that day. It brought us together - true - but people like me and Kian - and even Jen - have felt that being a sneakerhead can be an unwinnable game sometimes. Nike doesn't put out how many shoes they released for each sneaker drop, so it's even harder to know your odds.

CHAMBERS: It does feel like no one ever wins. And they're just tagging people on Instagram and boosting their social pages.

PIERRE: The they that Jen is talking about is what feels like an exclusive pool of Instagram influencers and celebrities. But you don't have to be either of those things to be a sneakerhead. So if you're hitting a wall, this podcast is for you. And if you're like Jen, Kian's mom, trying to understand the sneakerhead in your life, this is for you, too. We're also going to talk about ways to rethink the industry and how to find cheaper alternatives. So stay tuned.

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PIERRE: For a lot of sneakerheads out there, there are pretty much two options - win one of these lotteries and pay the retail price for a shoe, or if you miss out from that, buy the shoe from a reseller. And if you're buying from a reseller, you can expect to pay a lot more for the sneaker. So if you can't get access to an exclusive release, it might be easy for you to think that it's just a harder time to find nice shoes. But that was my first lesson about sneaker culture today.

JACQUES SLADE: There's sneakerheads and there's hypebeasts (ph). And in today's market, there are entrepreneurs that are really masquerading as both.

PIERRE: That is Jacques Slade. He's a YouTuber based in Southern California, and he makes videos reviewing the latest shoes that come out.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "EXCLUSIVE: 1 OF 1 ADIDAS BOOST SNEAKER PACKAGE UNBOXING")

SLADE: Hey, guys. What's popping? It's Jacques Slade, back with another unboxing. And this is something totally different than I have ever done.

PIERRE: Brands like Nike and Adidas, for example, sent Jacques new releases in these big, lavish boxes. And here in this video, Jacques is opening up a YETI ice cooler.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "EXCLUSIVE: 1 OF 1 ADIDAS BOOST SNEAKER PACKAGE UNBOXING")

SLADE: Oh, my goodness. There's literal smoke. That is so dope. Look, look, look. (Laughter) That is amazing.

I don't think it's a hard time to be a sneakerhead. I honestly think it is a hard time to be a hypebeast.

PIERRE: Which brings us to our first takeaway - you don't have to ride the hype train. So there are people who love sneakers and sneaker culture. That's your traditional sneakerhead. But the hypebeast was born through social media. They could be influencers on Instagram or just an average person. And they aren't necessarily in it just for the, quote-unquote, "hype." But their brand is new and exclusive products.

SLADE: The hypebeast is a person that buys things just because they think it's going to give them some sort of social clout.

PIERRE: So when you say it's, like, not a hard time to be a sneakerhead, what do you mean by that?

SLADE: The reason I say that it's not hard to be a sneakerhead is because there are so many opportunities for you to get sneakers in the world today. You don't have to get the hype stuff.

PIERRE: And that's another important point. Because so much of the industry is focused on hyped-up releases, there's actually less of a demand on other staple and iconic shoes. So if you missed out on the Off-White Air Jordan 5s like Kian and I did, you could actually get the Air Jordan Fire Reds, which have a very similar white, red and black color pattern. And if you're missing out and you find yourself getting frustrated, this is also an important time to reflect on how the industry works today.

ADENA JONES: You know, ask yourself why you want that shoe.

PIERRE: That is a Adena Jones. She's a co-founder of a new platform called Another Lane.

JONES: Was it fed to you? Was it an algorithm? Was it a hashtag that made you want this shoe? Most likely, if some hashtag or algorithm or social media trend told you you want it, it's going to be scarce and it's going to be difficult to get.

PIERRE: So Adena and her husband Chad created Another Lane as a way to bring sneaker culture back to the sneakerhead, as opposed to being built around the release of certain shoes - back to the roots in a way. Outside of being a resource for resellers, Another Lane also digs into the history of sneakers, something we'll get into in a little bit. But Adena says understanding the sneakerhead past can help you stay grounded in today's world.

JONES: Sneakers are what you make of them. Back in the day - and I still even believe now - it was about how you rocked your shoes, what kind of swag it gave you, how you...

PIERRE: How you laced them up.

JONES: ...How you laced them. Was the tongue on the outside? Was it, you know - were you letting it flop? Like, what were you doing and what kind of fit did you put together with it? That's what it was about.

PIERRE: So you've unlocked your inner sneakerhead. You've found your zen, your balance and peace. But as a wise person once said, you got to treat yourself sometimes. So what do you do when you want that hyped-up release and you've missed out on a lottery?

JONES: We are so conditioned to that. If something is sold out online, it must be sold out everywhere. Like, the Internet is reality. When, in fact, right outside your door, there may just be your size sitting on the shelf.

PIERRE: So even though you might have heard on our Planet Money podcast, for example, that brick-and-mortar stores are slowing down, it doesn't mean that the people inside those stores are less of a resource, which brings us to takeaway two - trust your local sneakerhead community. They know when the truck shipments are coming or if they're coming at all. They know what shoes been sitting in the back because there might just be one size left.

JONES: Definitely look at your local outlets. I would suggest consignment shops, also. You may pay an upsell, especially on sneakers. But once again, you can go in. You can touch. You can talk to people.

PIERRE: So go out and talk to people. Tell them what you like and what you're looking for. Build those relationships, but also be confident in what you like and who you are.

SLADE: Find the things that you like. If you like Air Max shoes, start by buying Air Max. There's tons of them out there. If you like Jordan 1s, start by buying the Jordan 1 Low or the Jordan 1 Mid. Or if there's an Adidas shoe that you like, like, find the history behind all of these shoes and really use that to define your - almost like define your angle into what it is that you like.

PIERRE: And your style doesn't have to be only about sneakers. Let's say, for example, that you like shoes but were studying environmental engineering and something like sustainability was important to you.

SLADE: A lot of sneaker companies are digging into the world of sustainability and realizing their impact on the environment. And they're starting to make shoes that take advantage of some of the new technologies that are more efficient or that are biodegradable or that are recyclable and things like that. Shoes cause a lot of waste. And a lot of companies are really being active in that lane.

PIERRE: But finding your own style can be easier said than done. So I asked Jacques for some advice.

SLADE: I would tell people to get bits and pieces from everywhere. Like, don't just use your circle as your influence. Get these bits and pieces from everywhere and use all of those to inform how you dress, how you put on a shoe, how you tie a shoe versus not tying a shoe, how you rock certain colors, how you pair a hoodie with a pair of slacks, or how you wear a pair of jeans with a button up. Like, let all of those things kind of inform your style and that will help you become more of an individual.

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PIERRE: OK. So far, we've talked a lot about tips on how to find shoes like your Jordans or your YEEZYs by Adidas. But what do you do when you're just starting out your sneaker collection? Where do you go first?

JONES: So from what I remember from chemistry class - right? - like, there are basic elements in the world, right? So there are these basic element shoes that, like, if you're trying to build a collection, it would behoove you to have these because they're classic staple shoes that will take you from a boardroom to the basketball court to a party, you know, to maybe your - what was it? - my baptism.

PIERRE: (Laughter) Takeaway three - don't forget your classics. Actually, you should rely on these iconic sneakers, and they should be where you start your sneaker collection.

JONES: On an everyday basis, you need staple sneakers that can go with your jeans, with this blue shirt, this white shirt, and you can have them throughout the week. And then, yeah, toss in, like, a lime-green something or something with, you know, animal print on it. But for your everyday wear, you need to have sneakers that can rotate easily.

PIERRE: These classic shoes, they're classic for a reason. They each have their own history, and they've been styled in so many different ways throughout the years. So what sneakers fall on this classic list?

SLADE: You have sneakers like the Converse Chuck Taylor.

JONES: A Stan Smith.

SLADE: There is the Nike Air Force 1, which is a classic shoe that came out in the '80s.

JONES: Where I come from, we call them Uptowns. Another one I would say is a simple black-and-white Chuck Taylor.

SLADE: Air Max 1.

JONES: Lastly, the Nike Cortez.

PIERRE: Growing up, personally, my favorite were the Air Force 1s and the 1973 Puma Clydes. Now, we can make this list a lot longer because there are so many sneakers out there etched in history. And if you look into these shoes, you'll start to see how deep sneaker culture goes. Like, if you don't know what a pair of Nike Cortezes are, just think about the shoes that Jenny bought for Forrest Gump.

JONES: I'm saying they're classics. So people are like, oh, they must be hard to get. No, they're not. Like, these are the shoes that are mass produced. They are there for you to get. So, yeah, you know, you can look classic and be in sneakers for a low price.

PIERRE: You can also think of these sneakers as your neutrals that can go with any outfit. And the nice thing about these shoes is that they're always in style. And if they're not, you can help bring them back.

All right. So you're well on your way to becoming a sneakerhead. You found a pair of sneakers that really speak to you. And you put together the outfit, and someone on the train even stopped you to tell you how they wore those same exact sneakers during their high school state championship game and swore that they were good luck - sneakerhead success. But what do you do when something like this happens?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DO THE RIGHT THING")

GIANCARLO ESPOSITO: (As Buggin' Out) Not only did you knock me down, you stepped on my brand-new white Air Jordans that I just bought.

PIERRE: This is, of course, Buggin' Out, a character from Spike Lee's 1989 classic "Do The Right Thing." It's a dilemma that we could all be faced with as sneakerheads.

How do you keep these shoes fresh? What advice do you have for people?

JONES: So, yes, there are, you know, expensive things you can buy to keep your sneakers clean. In the Another Lane household, we are a Palmolive, toothbrush and something to get into the grooves of your shoe.

PIERRE: There's a whole science to cleaning shoes, and there are even YouTube channels dedicated to restoring old vintage shoes, like the 1985 Chicago Jordan 1.

JONES: So those are some of the tools. Also, we have a horse hair brush that you would use to, like, brush down suede because if you are thinking about reselling and you have worn your shoes, you definitely want to, like, take care and cleanse the bottom of the shoe. And if you are wearing your shoes, after a wear, take them off and dedicate a day that you're going to clean them.

PIERRE: You can actually go a long way with a simple toothbrush, water and dish soap. And you don't need too much. You also don't want to scrub too hard. And when you're done, a wet washcloth to wipe down the surface will do you just fine. You can also throw your shoelaces in a washing machine.

Another thing that can hurt the resale value of sneakers are creases near the toe of the shoe that form when you take steps. When I was younger, I would take a pair of socks and stuff it into my shoe. But today, you can actually buy plastic crease protectors that you can slip right into the shoe.

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PIERRE: OK, so confession time. I've been trying to get a pair of shoes on Nike's SNKRS app since August, but I can report to you guys now that my days of taking Ls are over. While I was making this podcast episode, in the middle of an edit, I got the chance to buy my first pair of shoes on the app. It was a vintage remake of the Nike Blazer '77s with an asparagus-snakeskin-green swoosh. So I haven't decided if I want to sell them yet. But the one thing that I know is that sneakerheads, and even the non-sneakerheads out there, don't stop shooting your shot.

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PIERRE: OK, let's recap. Takeaway No. 1 - you don't have to ride the hype train. You don't even have to be a hypebeast to be a sneakerhead. And the exclusiveness of some shoes doesn't mean that it's harder to get all shoes.

Next up, takeaway No. 2 - trust your local sneakerhead community. It's really a thriving ecosystem of people all over the world. You can meet a new friend, or you can meet someone who helps you get insider information.

And takeaway No. 3 - don't forget the classics. They're always affordable. And most importantly, they're always in style.

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PIERRE: For more LIFE KIT, you can check out our other episodes. We have one on how to make the perfect playlist and another one on how to give great gifts. You can actually find those episodes at npr.org/lifekit. And if you love LIFE KIT and want more, make sure to subscribe to our newsletter. That's at npr.org/lifekitnewsletter. And if you have a good tip, leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823 or email us a voice memo at lifekit@npr.org.

This episode was produced by Sylvie Douglis. Meghan Keane is the managing producer. Beth Donovan is the senior editor. Our digital editors are Beck Harlan and Clare Lombardo. Shoutout to my dog C-Lo (ph). And our editorial assistant is Clare Marie Schneider. I'm Jeff Pierre, and thanks for taking this trip with me.

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PIERRE: I just wish I didn't have the Student Podcast Challenge podcast music in my head as I was reading this 'cause, like, our ender music is like (vocalizing). And I'm like, nah, nah, nah. Nikes on my feet, keep the cipher complete. That's what I need.

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