Photography by Ting Yang Shan
Art Direction by Joyce Lim
Tapping into the sneaker scene in Malaysia is like entering a container with RM50 bills flying around you; you may grab as much as you can, there is still plenty more you could have gotten a hold of. This month, August Man Malaysia attempts to dive into the expansive sneaker culture that is still growing today. We speak to five personalities with soles in their souls, and learn a thing or two about flips (or resale) and brand preference, especially when it comes to the arguably over-hype that is the Adidas Yeezy Boost by Kanye West, a phenomena that is hard to steer away from whether the person is for or against it.
Avid sneakers collector
What is it about sneakers that got you so hung up over them?
There is just something about them that makes me happy, I don’t know how to explain it (laughs)! But I suppose, it’s pretty much a hobby to me, something that I am passionate about. Back when I was a student, I could only hold them in my hands and appreciate them, but you couldn’t bring them home with you. It’s not until just two years ago, when I have a stable income that I can truly own them. I’m someone who is quite fashion savvy, and I believe that the footwear has to go along with everything else that I have on. People say that there are three things you would notice on a person first — the shoes, the watch and the belt — although they are considered to be complementing accessories.
For me, the sneakers that you wear provide a window to your personality. It speaks volumes about the kind of person you are. If you wear a pair of Christian Louboutin with spikes all over, the impression you give off is perhaps your bold personality, whereas someone who likes darker colourways tends to be more reserved in character. I wouldn’t say that I’m necessarily an extravagant or a loud person when it comes to style. I’m more of a conservative and safe type, but sometimes I like a bit of uniqueness in my style. I wouldn’t mind a full-black shoe, with hints of yellow going on, which I believe speaks a lot of the kind of person that I am.
Adidas versus Nike — which is your preference?
I started off as a big Nike fan, after my bout with designer shoes with unjustifiable price tags. But ever since Adidas came up with the Boost technology, it seems like they are the only shoes I would wear, so much so that I seem to have become their unofficial spokesperson (laughs)! I’ve torn my ligament muscles before, you see, and I have gotten picky with the shoes I wear; if they aren’t constructed properly, they might cause an uncomfortable pain on my lower back. With Adidas, I can go travelling with them, as well as on my runs, especially with the stylish designs that they have come up with, especially with the Adidas Originals. However, when it comes to sports footwear, I still tend to lean towards the Swoosh. The Air Jordan, the Huarache, the Roshe… I feel that the functionality of their shoes are more suited towards my sports lifestyle.
What are your most recent sneakers purchases?
I’m guilty as charged with the Adidas Yeezy Boost (laughs). I’m on the hunt for the latest re-release with the zebra upper. Some people might say that the shoes are overhyped, but I find them to be real comfortable kicks, with designs that are easy for me to match with my outfits. Besides that, I have my eye on the upcoming Nike VaporMax with a triple black colourway. I have already bought two pairs of Adidas sneakers which are not available in Malaysia; I had to “camp out” online to cop them. They were shipped to the UK, so I can’t wait to pick them up when I go there for my honeymoon this month!
What is the craziest you have done to cop a pair of sneakers?
What I’ve done is probably not as crazy as what some people out there have done, but I’ve been crazy enough to wake up at 5am just to get in line to wait for up to five hours for the chance to buy a shoe! Even so, I’m already taking a step back, and asking myself, “These are just a pair of shoes, what are you doing?” (Laughs) I guess, when you’re passionate about something, be it in a bad way or in a good way, you’d do whatever you can to get your hands on them. But you know, the journey that I go through with every shoe comes with a story — how I got them, where I got them. It’s that little satisfaction it gives me along the way that gets megoing with my growing collection.
Which shoe would you say holds the fondest memory, and what memory would that be?
It’s really hard to pick just one, but one of them was the Adidas PureControl. It was a pair of football boots that I was obsessed with when it first came out, and my friend managed to cop a pair and gave them to me as a birthday gift. Another one would be the Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 Triple White. Mainly because I have never had the chance to win a raffle before, and after entering maybe 40 raffles, I managed to score one, which was quite a novelty to me.
Co-Founder of Masses and SneakerLAH
What is the first memory you had on your very first pair of sneakers?
I would have to say that New Balance is my gateway into this whole new world of sneakers. It wasn’t until my 19th birthday that I copped my first pair. My mum and I were taking a stroll in The Gardens Mall, and we walked past the New Balance store there. I pointed out to her about a shoe that was on display that I liked, and she bought them for me there and then. I was hooked from then onwards, and I proceeded to buy a few more pairs of New Balance shoes from Sole What; back then, it was the only store that has a good selection of sneakers, especially New Balance. The first pair that I bought for myself would have to be the Shaolin pack: the design motif has a Chinese calligraphy aesthetic all over, and at the back of the sole, and the shoelaces have monk beads on them.
Does New Balance remain your favourite till this day?
My current favourites are the Vans Slip-Ons. If I am being honest, I’m just old, fat and lazy to bend down to tie my shoes (laughs). I’m at the point of my life when I’d much prefer the simpler designs in the sneakers sphere. My everyday go-to pairs are still Vans and Converse, as their designs are easy to match with my personal everyday style. Even if I want to go a bit crazy, I’d just expand towards Nike and Adidas. I suppose it’s a cycle as well: when you’re younger, you want to stand out, and you want people to notice you, so you cop as many pairs that catch your attention. When you grow older, you don’t really need that kind of attention anymore, and thus, I don’t feel the need to buy sneakers as often. I used to own more than 200 pairs! I had to cut down on my collection and give half of them away because I lost weight for my wedding a few years ago. My shoe size dropped and some of my shoes became too big for me.
What is your take on the recent Vans x Marc Jacobs collaborative collection then?
I think I’d totally rock the shoes! Weird is cool, and I believe that’s what everyone is going for right now. It used to be a point when back in late 1990s and early 2000s towards the mid-2000s, if you have a pair of funky sneakers on, you’re the talk on the streets. The trend sort of died down towards the start of the 2010s, when everyone opted for plain white sneakers with brands like Common Projects and the comeback of the Adidas Stan Smith. Right now, we’re back at that point when it’s all about funky sneakers again.
Something like the Adidas Yeezy Boost perhaps?
To be honest, I’m not too crazy about them. Design-wise, it’s just disproportionate, in my opinion. Canvas shoes these days aim for designs that wrap around your feet like socks. Whilst the Yeezy has achieved that, it has sort of stepped on its own toes with the big soles at the bottom. Sure, the thick soles are meant for the wearer to look taller, but they end up looking like a horse’s hooves! You have to dress a certain way to pull it off, and I feel that it’s not very versatile.
Why do you think it has garnered such popularity over the years despite that?
The fact that it’s from Kanye West plays a part, for sure, but I think it’s the resale value that turns the wheel. They only have limited pairs released, and you have more than 10,000 people wanting to buy them. If you’re one of the lucky ones to win a raffle for a chance to buy the shoes—it’s not even a certainty that you would get them, but if you did, it will already cost you some RM999. The very instant you walk away from the shop, someone who is still queuing to get his/ her pair is already willing to buy it from you for as much as RM3,000. That’s triple the price on the spot! Everyone wants a piece of the cake regardless. I’m pretty sure most of them don’t even know or care who the heck Kanye West is, as long as there is a high demand for
it, there is a bit of money to make.
The annual SneakerLAH event returns later this year on 7 October, and Malaysia’s biggest sneaker event is going to be bigger with a two-day event at the prime location of the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre.
How is the Masses team getting ready for this annual project?
No one has ever done a sneaker event this big, at least not in Malaysia anyway. The fact that we can aim for a two-day event this year just goes to show that the sneaker scene in the country is really growing, which gives us a sound reason to try and push the boundaries of the scene. This year is the first of the three-year plan we have with Future Sound Asia, one of the best event companies in Malaysia right now. I feel that this collaboration would really help elevate us to achieve bigger things. For our part, we know what the sneaker-heads want, but when it comes to the organisational or executional part of things, it isn’t our forte and that’s when the other party steps in. So, hopefully, we’ll be able to grow together each year, and by the end of the third year, SneakerLAH will be able to become a full-fledge convention.
Co-Founder of Grailcop
How did it all start for you?
Nike has always been my aspiration brand since I was young. Some of the biggest athletes to endorse Nike such as Eric Cantona and the “fat” Ronaldo were my personal heroes. It stuck to me as the brand to go for because all my heroes were wearing it. I had the opportunity to work part time at the Nike head office when I was about 19 or 20 years old, in its marketing department as part of its event and setup team, and that added on to my loyalty towards Nike.
Which Nike sneakers were your first?
It was the Nike Dunk SB pack for me. Back then, the Dunk skateboard versions were the trendy ones, and one of them that caught my eye was the one designed by Mark Ong of SBTG, a Singaporean custom shoemaker. Back then, he was still in the Nike forums and his design for a Nike shoe won a Nike competition. Nike collaborated with him to produce a limited run of the shoe just for Asia, and that was when he shot to fame in the sneaker scene. At the time, the resale value was about RM900, and it was a hefty price tag then. But it was a shoe that I really, really wanted, and when I got my first proper job, I cashed in my first pay cheque to get it.
What is it about Nike that appeals to you?
Till this day, there are still a handful of shoes that the sneaker enthusiasts still collect, namely the Nike Air Jordan 3, 4 and 5, the Nike Air Max Zero, 1, 90 and 95. They are all designed by Nike’s iconic designer Tinker Hatfield. All these shoes are still selling today and at least once a year, there is a new release for the revamped model of the original designs. Besides that, as I got older and I started my own business, I have gained a better understanding behind Nike’s business philosophy. It has only been two elements for them: technology and athletes. Kanye West’s very first Yeezy was with Nike, but when he got a little out of hand, Nike was brazen enough to drop him, despite knowing that he has the power to bring in the big bucks. Mainly because Kanye isn’t a sports personality, and Nike doesn’t need him as the face for the brand. That was a strong move, but I admire that about Nike. They stick to their guns, and remain focused on what the brand has always been about.
Tell us a bit more about Grailcop that is about to get an official launch sometime this month.
I’m starting a new initiative called Grailcop with the tagline: “Cop your grails, no fakes.” It’s a mobile marketplace, where anyone can list the shoes that they have to anyone else who is interested in buying. You could say that it’s something like Carousell. However, the difference is that we at Grailcop acts as an active middle person, whose job is to make sure that the shoes are genuine, before releasing them to the buyer. If not, the buyer will get their money back, and the seller will be penalised. Nowadays, whenever you hit up the sneaker forums or social media, there are two words that are constant: legit check. With the resale scene at its peak right now, fake products tend to emerge at places we least expect them to be. I believe that it is our duty at Grailcop to provide a safer and more secured place for people with the spending power to get what they desire without being ripped off in the process.
How much expertise does one have to have to be the person who is making sure of such an important element of a purchase?
Well, firstly, there are no true experts out there when it comes to shoes, unless the brands themselves are interested to help out with our little science project here, and provide us with top secret data from their labs. But I suppose, knowledge is power. There are sneaker enthusiasts out there like myself and my team in Grailcop who know enough about a product to run the checks. Even on the Internet, there are tons of videos out there teaching the common public on how to authenticate their shoes.
Wouldn’t that be an arduous process to go through every single shoe to make sure that it is authentic?
Of course it is a troublesome and longer process to go through every pair of shoes that comes our way. However, one of the key things that we’re working on for Grailcop is a machine that functions solely to authenticate shoes. I can’t go into the details of that at the moment, but I’d say that we’re moving away from authenticating shoes by mere sight; we are going to authenticate them scientifically. We will be making the process more automated, and going through different parameters that will be faster and more reliable than the human aspect.
In the meantime, are there any quick tips that you can share with us when it comes to spotting fakes?
There are the ads that follow you on Facebook. There have been instances when the new Nike VaporMax was going at a really unreasonable and unbelievable lowered price. Like they say, if it’s too good to be true, then it probably isn’t. Just by the pricing alone, you’d know that it’s off, because there is no way that it will be so cheap, so close to its recent release. There is no supply to handle such a demand. Another dead giveaway is the layout interface of the website; if it looks like an unprofessional website from China, you’d know what it is selling is fake.
DJ Neshtro and Aaron Lee
Radio hosts for ‘So So Fresh’ on Aforadio
What is the first memory you had on your very first pair of sneakers?
N: It was during the mid- to late-1990s, and it was the Nike Air Flight that got me started on the whole obsession for sneakers.
A: Since I was a kid, I never really had a hobby. While my friends were off collecting stamps and comic books, I was instead fixated on footwear. It was the LA Gear Lights that first caught my attention when I was about 10 or 11. I knew even back then that it was something that I wanted, and not just that one pair, but the few colourways that they had available. I was already one of those people who collect a few colourways of the same sneakers! It wasn’t until I was 14 that I started working part time just so I could get myself a pair of Nike Air Force One and the Adidas Superstar. Those were the shoes that officially kick started, so to speak, my love for sneakers.
Personally, what do you think it is about sneakers that got everyone so hyped up about them, especially ones like the Adidas Yeezy Boost by Kanye West?
N: Nowadays, kids are exposed to the various social media available, and they are just lapping it all up, whether it is good or bad. Just because they see Kanye West onstage with a pair of Yeezy, or a picture of him strolling on the beach with the Adidas Adilette slides, they yearn for that kind of lifestyle without actually knowing why they want it in the first place. Personally, each shoe has to have a certain level of sentimental value to the person, and it has to affect you emotionally some way or another. Secondly, is it worth it? Is it worth blowing a hole in your pocket? At the end of the day, let’s be honest, it’s still just a pair of shoes. They may be dope, but you have to draw a line somewhere.
A: Generally, true sneaker enthusiasts don’t cop a pair of shoes just because everyone else likes it. When they head to a store and see a pair of shoes that they like, they make the purchase decision without any outside influence from the social media or peer pressure. Nowadays, the younger ones feel like they should get a pair of shoes just because everyone is hyping it up, and owning it makes them cool. But the truth is, hyped-up sneakers have ceased to be a part of the sneaker culture that we are familiar with, but have instead become a business scheme. Hyped-up sneakers breed resellers — people who aren’t sneaker enthusiasts, and they’re just buying the shoes to resell them to make money, and a lot of the younger ones fall prey to that. It’s not to say that the resale practice is new; before Yeezy came into the picture, probably four or five years ago, people buy shoes and flip too, but at a much more reasonable price, and not as frequent. They do it because they needed to fund something else, mainly for another pair of shoes that they want. Now that it has become a business, how much you appreciate sneakers don’t mean much anymore, as long as you can make money out of it.
Which is your favourite pair of sneakers that you own?
N: It would have to be the Reebok Kamikaze 2 “Breast Cancer Awareness” pack. My younger sister passed away at the age of 32 to breast cancer. I got them as a tribute to her some three or four years back when it was released.
A: For me, I don’t really have a favourite pair. Someone once asked me if my house was on fire, which shoe would I save, and I said I’d save all of them. I have over 100 pairs of shoes, and I live in a condo, so I’d probably throw them out the window (laughs)!
What is the most you have spent or will spend on a pair of sneakers?
N: At this moment, I’ll cap at RM1,000 on a pair of sneakers. The most expensive I’ve bought is the Nike Air Jordan “Space Jam” pack, which I had to buy off a reseller at the mentioned price, including the shipping, which to be honest, is quite a hefty price to pay.
A: I’ve spent RM3,500 on a pair of Nike Air Jordan 2 Just Don pack. It came in a special box that’s red in colour. Inside, there is a premium leather cap and a Jordan pin to go with the shoes. The initial plan was to wear for my wedding. It’s supposed to be pretty limited, but I’ve seen too many people wearing them, and the novelty has died down for me. I’ve not worn them before, and right now, I don’t know what to do with them! I’d probably resell it for what I paid for years ago.
Are there any upcoming releases that you are looking forward to cop?
N: That would be the Air Jordan x Converse pack which was released late last month. It’s a combination of the Nike Air Jordan 1, and the Converse basketball shoe Michael Jordan wore in his university days, way before he was drafted into the NBA.
A: I actually want to cop some old releases instead, like the Nike Air Jordan 1 Chicago and the Asics Gel Lyte III Reigning Champ. The latter came out in three colourways — grey, black and navy, and I’m looking for the grey one.