"What's it like to be a sneakerhead in South Africa?"
It goes without saying, the mania surrounding sneakers like YEEZYs and NMDs stretches far beyond streetwear capitals like London and New York, but aside from that, what trends and fads characterize a place like South Africa, and which stores are local sneakerheads relying on to stay laced up?
These were the questions on our mind as we reached out to local collectors and heads Hakim Malema, Hayden Manuel and Mkay Frash. As you might have guessed, most of the country's sneaker culture exists between the coastal city of Cape Town and further north in Johannesburg, the two biggest metropolises.
In your own words, what makes South African sneaker culture unique?
Hakim Malema: I like that there are people who collect different types of sneakers for their own reasons. Sneakers are like music, everyone has their own preferences. There are the big bubble fiends, the guys who hunt classics, the Nike heads, and the YEEZY kids who end up having to cop NMDs and other Boost products because the YEEZY raffles in South Africa are rigged. It's about personal taste.
Hayden Manuel: I think what makes us unique is the fact that South Africa is one of those first world places that is still developing at the same time. We get all the knowledge as it comes out, we have the funds to cop, but due to outside perceptions of our country, products don't come our way as much as they should. This being said, a lot of what we do is still DIY, mixed with our African flair, so it's a combination that you'll never find anywhere else.
Mkay Frash: The sneaker scene in South Africa is still defining itsself, the sneaker lines are getting crazier and crazier. Kids were fighting during the Air Jordan 1 "Banned" drop.
Where do you buy your sneakers?
Hakim: I shop wherever the heat is, Shelf Life has a good selection. I also hit the outlet in Woodmeed cause I’m a Nike head. Random sports stores often have old Air Max models for really cheap, like I got a pair of 180s and 93s for under 1000 ZAR (approx. $68 USD) which is ridiculous. Travelling is the next best, I got a few heaters on my last Euro trip, all gold Vans Sk8-His are in the mix.
Hayden: After years and years of paying my dues by hunting sneakers from mom and pop stores around the city, weekly trips to the outlets, trawling eBay, and working at stores, I've built up my sneaker situation to the point where most brands just send me whatever I want for free. We get about 80% of all the big releases out here, so even if I get a pair for free, I'll still get another pair because I believe real heads cop.
Spots like Baseline Studio, Lost Property and Shelf Life are the stores I cop from.
Mkay: I buy my kicks everywhere around Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria, you'd be surprised what you get from these small towns. I was in the Eastern Cape a couple months back, and I found these crazy deadstock Vans Half Cabs, they still have the old Vans logo and they were made in America. I also don't mind buying from the mall in stores like Sportsscene, Cross Trainer, Tekkie Town or The Factory store or destination stores like Shelf Life, A-Store and Baseline Studio. I also buy online, sites like Superberlist. I would go as far as Flight Club to get the joints that I really want, and I have friends around the world that are able to get me kicks that I can't find in South Africa. But my favorite is hunting for sneakers, shop to shop, physically trying them on and meeting the cats that work in the store.
Do many South African sneakerheads shop online?
Hakim: They do, but I think people are deterred from buying online cause sometimes the package mysteriously doesn’t get to its destination.
Hayden: Yes. Modern sneaker culture and the internet are closely interwoven and that is no different in South Africa. Like I said earlier, we get around 80% of major drops here but that doesn't stop us from getting the other 20%. The younger generation of South Africans have embraced the internet in all its forms, as we realise that it has the keys we need and that includes e-commerce.
Mkay: I do buy online but there isn't enough shops online in South Africa, mostly the online buying is done by the resellers. but we're seeing the emerging of online shops like Superbalist and Shelf Life online, and you can order on NikeiD in Africa, but it still needs more time.
How is a sneakerhead defined in South Africa?
Hakim: These days, any rich kid with five pairs of YEEZYs or a random cat with a pair of shelltoes could call themselves a sneakerhead. It's a bit like hip hop. You got the older guys in the game, people who have been collecting for over 10 -15 years, then there is the millennial crowd on Highsnobiety and all these other blogs, so I think there's a lot of ambiguity. I personally love Nike Air Max and I enjoy that athletic history of the shoe, combined with the futuristic materials. Performance vibes with cool technology and design.
Hayden: Honestly speaking, it's a term that is used very loosely in South Africa in 2016. Currently, sneakers are super popular in South Africa, so every Tom, Dick and Harry calls themselves a sneakerhead. You'll see somebody who was still wearing Ed Hardy in 2012 posting a pic of general release Huaraches with choked laces using #sneakerhead in the caption.
Personally, I try and stay away from all that and just pull through with rare gems. To me it's more about making people go "I've never seen those before" than being seen as sneakerhead by others.
Mkay: Sneaker culture is pretty commercial these days. Big brands are starting to work with sneakerheads, media is creating more content around sneaker culture, there is even a show on national South African TV that talks to sneakerheads around the country, even though it has been an underground culture for a while, I still think we are in the beginning stages of the culture.
What are the most popular brands/models?
Hakim: I think it's all down to preference. There are Nike heads, but the Boost kids are also on the rise. Actually adidas have done a lot in South Africa over the last few years with all the collaborations and new silhouettes like the NMDs. I also like that adidas is working with local scenes, creating content relevant to South Africa rather than applying a global approach. PUMA and New Balance also have a pretty firm following. I think in general, people like heat, if you come with fresh Onitsuka Tigers or a Diadoras and dress it well, it's a vibe.
Hayden: Generally, it's pretty much the same as the rest of world. Nike reigns supreme and adidas is on a big wave but if you go deeper you'll find niche groups that are into specific type of kicks. In Cape Town you'll find late '90s obscure Air Tuned models are highly sought after, as well as '90s basketball joints like Uptempos. Early 2000s are gold, I think the Nike Vince Carter II is the most desired shoe in my city.
Mkay: The number one sneaker brand must be Nike, and the most popular shoes would be from the Air Max and Jordan Retro franchise. Second is adidas with the YEEZY and NMD lines, and third would be PUMA, which is most popular because of the collaborations that they been doing with brands like BAPE and Stampd.
Is there a big running community in South Africa?
Hakim: I’d say there is, especially with the rise of fitness culture, people wanting to look fit for the 'gram and all that, so running has played a pretty decent part in that. There are different running clubs popping up. It could get stronger though. Currently brands are facilitating the movement, and I think more individual groups need to start mobilising. Health is a major key.
Hayden: Massive. It's a big thing across all ages and running is seeing a big surge in popularity amongst the youth, with the whole health goth and sport-luxe thing. Groups like the The Nine Four are a perfect example of integrating street culture with running. I'm a fat boy, though.
Mkay: Running was bigger in 2012, I think it lost some of the cool factor, but you still see brands like Nike and adidas hosting run clubs.
What about skateboarding?
Hakim: I think the skate scene is there but it exists in pockets around the big cities. But kids do skate quite a lot.
Hayden: Yes, it is quite big especially in traditional surfing cities like Cape Town. Johannesburg has seen a surge in the culture over the last ten years with crews like Soweto Skate Society leading the charge amongst the township kids.
Mkay: The skate scene quite big, but moreso in Cape Town, and you can see the influence on fashion and streetwearwear. Local skate brands like Familia and skate stores like Baseline are popping up.
What is the reselling culture like?
Hakim: Cheese boys selling us over-priced, over-hyped drops.
Hayden: It's quite big but 90% of these resellers are just rich kids with mom's credit card looking to make a quick buck, so I don't mess with them. There are some cool dudes that are from the culture that also resell. Fortunately, I find myself in a position to never have to deal with them.
Mkay: The reselling culture is growing, shouts out to kids like Lost Property and La Familia, those are the resellers that have made a business out of reselling sneakers, but i don't think consumers are ready to spend a lot buying from a reseller. But with time they will understand the value of the reselling business.
Lastly, what is your all-time sneaker grail?
Hakim: I can't choose, either the Nike Air Max 94 OG Blue, the NikeLab x ACRONYM x Prestos, fragment x Nike Sock Dart, or the Nike Footscape Magista.
Hayden: Easily the Air Force 1 Fukijama "Entourage".
Mkay: My all time favorite sneakers would be the Supreme x Nike Foamposite and the Air Jordan 11 "Space Jam".