Sneakerheads of Hong Kong explain their unique subculture
Text: Abid Rahman
Ask any sneaker freak about their addiction and they'll tell you it's all harmless fun. Ask their partners, on the other hand, and the answer probably won't be complimentary.
"We've got to keep our voices down, my wife might hear us," says Brian Siswojo as we check out his home stash of 100 or so pairs that is part of his current rotation. There's another 800 or more in storage. "I'm a sneaker whore, I'm aware of it and not ashamed to say it," he says with a hushed laugh.
Siswojo might be familiar to some as a member of Hong Kong rap group 24Herbs, but he's also the brains behind 8five2, one of Hong Kong's earliest street and skate fashion stores.
"When I was a kid I would often go to Mong Kok to window shop, then save up two or three months for a pair shoes. But when I got money, man, I went nuts. I was distributing shoes through 8five2 and I would take a pair or two for me and then five for the shop. I was easily buying 20 pairs a month. The guys in the stores would give me VIP treatment," says Siswojo.
There are two types of people in the sneakerhead subculture: those who buy just to collect - meaning the shoes are never worn - and those who actually put the shoes to use. Siswojo is the latter, and he considers the former group "posers".
"Those who just go for the latest hype shoes to post them all over Instagram, they don't really know or understand the history of what they're wearing," he says.
He peppers the conversation with sneaker trivia; for example, Michael Jordan was a huge Adidas fan coming out of university, but signed with Nike because they offered more money.
For sneakerheads, knowledge is almost as important as the shoes.
The collectors bible is Where'd You Get Those?, a book that charts sneaker culture from 1960 to 1987, considered by many as the "golden era" of sneakers. The book is written by Bobbito Garcia, a legend in the sneaker world and a member of New York breakdancing crew Rock Steady. Garcia was also a radio DJ who gave then-unknown rappers such as Jay Z and Nas their first airplay.
"The book is autobiographical as much as it is a document of the 27-year period that was the emerging sneaker culture in New York, which the rest of the world followed," says Garcia.
He adds that sneaker culture has grown from its roots in hip hop and basketball into something that is a little more commercial.
"Today, collecting is completely different because there's a new element to it, which is the reseller, and their drive is about economics. Now it's not, 'Oh this shoe is beautiful'. It's strictly about buying the shoes to resell for 10 times their original value."
Garcia doesn't see it as a necessarily negative development, however.
"There are people who have a lot of fun with it, just as they would with comic books. If someone is reselling or if there's a sneaker convention and there's 50 tables or something, it's fun," he says. "It's like trading baseball cards."
Billy Pang is another Hong Kong sneaker addict who has turned his passion into a thriving business. Like Siswojo, he makes sure he gets first dibs on the rarest sneakers. Pang is the owner of DaHood, a chain of 10 sneaker stores in Hong Kong. He also writes the "Sneakergram" column for local magazine Tao.
Pang was always destined to be a sneaker collector. "I was born into the sneaker business," he says. "My dad was one of the guys who turned Fa Yuen Street in Mong Kok into 'Sneaker Street' some 35 years ago."
Hongkongers' love of distinct colours and prints helps drive the love of sneakers, Pang adds. "But the real collectors from around the world come here because Hong Kong has no sales tax and no export tax," says Pang.
"I have a customer from Japan who came into one of my stores and bought 60 pairs of sneakers all for himself," he says.
As for his own collection?
"I think I have more than 1,000 pairs now. But I can't really keep track," says Pang, who doesn't believe in reselling shoes, and has had to find outside storage for his collection. He's also infected his whole family with the sneaker bug.
"I got married two years ago and my wife now has 200 pairs. My two-year-old daughter has about 100 pairs now," says Pang.
New sneakers marketed endlessly before release by big companies. Popular with casual fans and those looking to stay current. Think Nike's signature lines named after basketball greats LeBron James or Kobe Bryant
Someone who gobbles up hype sneakers and wants the world to know about it.
Original sneakers from their first years of release
Deadstock or DS
A shoe that is OG, but new and never been worn
Air Jordans, arguably the line that took sneaker collecting and wearing as a statement to the masses
Skateboard shoes, associated with the Nike SB line of skate sneakers
LE, SE and PE
Limited edition, special edition and player edition; each can vary drastically in price
WHERE TO GET YOURS
Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok
Commonly known as "Sneaker Street", it is globally recognised as one of the best places to get what you want. Expect to see everything from the latest hype to rare colourways and reissues.
Star Street, Admiralty
Kapok is always stocking fresh sneakers and great reissues like Reebok Pump. F.I.L. sell hard- to-find Visvim sneakers.
Kickz.com is huge and all the big brands sell their shoes online and deliver straight to your door. EBay is still the place to go for the widest variety and rare collectable sneakers, but beware, you could find that ultra-rare pair of Nike Dunks in the sickest colourways at a ludicrously cheap price or you can get ripped off on a pair of fake Adidas Gazelles.
Nike Factory Store, 21-53 Wharf Road, North Point
Truly committed Nike fans will search high and low for bargain shoes, and you may find a few gems in this outlet store.