Virgil Abloh may have sounded the death knell of streetwear, but as far as Alan Vinogradov is concerned, the worldwide craze for sneakers has only just begun. The co-founder of the world’s biggest sneaker show, Sneaker Con, is putting his money where his mouth is: In June, he and his partners will mount the show’s biggest-ever edition in Singapore.
Though it has toured 40 other cities, the Sneaker Con here will boast some big numbers and names: over 180 vendors; more than 30,000 guests from all over South-east Asia; celebrity sneakerhead Sean Wotherspoon designing the show’s layout, key visuals and exclusive merchandise; and a skate park and basketball court featuring local and regional stars of the sports. Sneaker Con Southeast Asia is presented by sports fashion retailer JD Sports.
In 2003, Mr Vinogradov, an American visiting Tokyo, came across a rare pair of Bathing Ape x Neighbourhood sneakers at the specialty store Foot Soldier in Daikanyama. Though the pair was in size 14 – too large for him – he bought them anyway and put them up on eBay as an experiment that evening.
It was snapped up within a couple of hours, prompting Mr Vinogradov and his brother Barris to return and stock up on more unique designs they thought would excite global sneakerheads. Over the next few years, the brothers visited Tokyo about 30 times and, after some trial and error, learnt to make a living – and then a killing – by reselling sneakers.
In 2009, the brothers and business partner Yu-Ming Wu organised the first Sneaker Con in New York, a huge success that rapidly expanded to other cities and attracted over a million attendees to date. Today, sneakers are sold not just by sports brands, but also luxury houses such as Balenciaga (whose 2017 Triple S sneakers arguably kicked off the high-end sneaker craze), Ermenegildo Zegna, Hermes, Chanel and Louis Vuitton.
The sneaker revolution has already started to invade boardrooms, with some executives deeming it appropriate to complement their suit with a dope pair of sneakers. Do you reckon it might one day be as ubiquitous as jeans?
I’m already seeing that trend in the US. You walk into offices and there’s a guy wearing a pair of Yeezys, another guy wearing a pair of off-white Jordan 1s, and so on – and they’re all wearing suits! The fact is, the value on some of those shoes have become much, much higher than some designer shoes. And people want to show they’re able to get them. Part of what’s fuelling this craze is the fact that people can access these sneakers on a much larger scale now. Before, it was very difficult to get your hands on this stuff. But today, you know exactly where to go, who’s getting this stuff, and what’s a good price for it. There are many sites reselling sneakers – though my concern about these platforms is that the authentication methods to ensure these are originals and not fakes are not optimal. But if you buy a pair at Sneaker Con, we have data-driven authentication methods to make sure those sneakers are the real deal.
What would you recommend wearing with a suit or a tuxedo?
I think the Yeezy Wave Runners have a lot of flash and flare that go well with suits. They’re bulky and not sporty-looking, but they’ve got the boost in there to make them really comfortable. For tuxedos, I’d recommend Jordan 11 Concord (which are in black and white). I’ve been to weddings where the grooms and the groomsmen are all wearing 11s. It’s becoming super common to see that.
Virgil Abloh, CEO of Off-White and artistic director for LV menswear, gave an interview with Dazed magazine in which he proclaimed streetwear is “definitely” going to die and that “its time will be up” in 2020. Sneakers is not all of streetwear, but it’s definitely a subset of that. What do you make of his remark?
With all due respect, it’s easy for him to say that because of all his achievements. He’s a true godfather in the sense of what he’s built for the streetwear community, whether through footwear or the clothing brands he’s associated with. But the reality is, he’s very wealthy. He’s excelled in every aspect of his craft, and maybe things are looking a little stale or repetitive. He may think streetwear in its current structure needs a revamp.
But from where I stand, what I see is that the sneaker craze is only just beginning, and I’ve been watching this industry for years now. I’m seeing new designers, new things and new moments to celebrate all the time. Kanye West, together with Abloh and Don C, triggered a whole trend around streetwear. Conversely, the late Kobe Bryant was such an impactful figure in sneaker culture, that you’re going to see people customising shoes and printing T-shirts to memorialise his tragic death. These trends can pop up at any point and be driven by different people with different creative thought leadership. From where I stand, I don’t think sneaker culture is ever going to die.
Do you have a theory of trends? How do they come and go? How do they catch on? Why do they stay and why do they die?
That’s a really great question. I think trends are all relative to whatever is happening in society. So let’s take a recent example: In 2017, you had the rise of the social influencer, the person that was creating really unique content on YouTube or Instagram that thrilled people around the world. Now this was already building up from 2014 onwards. But 2017 really cemented this person as a key opinion leader of whatever they loved. And one trend that developed off of that was these opinion leaders were not comfortable wearing just a T-shirt and jeans. They wanted something a little bit more so that other people could see that whatever they were doing was always a bit different. So we saw influencers buying the LV x Supreme stuff, and the LV x Supreme stuff quickly becoming a trend. LV x Supreme was having a moment, and that moment was amplified to global audiences. In order for a trend to develop, you need different parts of the world to kind of meet somewhere in the middle and build this thing up. And then you have this other thing that’s just formulating and buzzing. And when those two things kind of get in each other’s way, that’s when a trend is born. But that’s a simplified version of it. Usually it’s more like seven or eight different elements that come together to become this big thing. So you see, trends are not easy to fabricate. It depends on several independent things happening at the same time.
Sneaker Con Southeast Asia will be held on June 20 and 21, 2020, at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.
This article was originally published in The Business Times.