My family immigrated to Canada from the Middle East when I was 10 years old. Originally from South India, we spent the early years of being a family moving from country to country, my father always seeking a destination that would bring a more promising life for us. The experience of living in Africa, India, and the Middle East is something I cherish now but always had me feeling quite lost with my peers, unable to spend enough time in one place to get a grasp of the local society and culture.
Like most teenage boys in North America, my love affair with sneakers was intertwined with the cultural references seen on TV and in music videos. My parents, being money-conscious immigrants, allotted me a budget for my birthday present. I was in need of shoes, and I noticed early on that personal style and affiliation with a “tribe” were easily represented by what I placed on my left and right foot. I selected a pair of Reebok DMXs. I can hardly remember the model details but I do recall wearing them on my 12th birthday with high black socks, black gym shorts, and a white t-shirt. I felt like a million bucks, constantly touching the smooth suede and cleaning the sole to avoid discoloration.
Eventually I began collecting sneakers, matching them with caps and graphic tees; the norm for most men in fashion. I collected sneakers in a multitude of colorways, special releases, obscure brands, international exclusives. I was even buying a pair every 4 days. Being a university student while living at home and trying to collect shoes wasn’t exactly ideal. I would hide shoes in my garage before sneaking them inside, or ship them to friends’ homes to avoid walking into my living with an orange or blue box. I eventually tapered off from collectible sneakers and now, at the age of 28 and living in New York, am more streamlined with my purchases, adding unique designs that also embody a timeless quality. I also have the common New York City predicament of storage space, and a Type-A fiancée, who has enforced the one-in-one-out rule, rotating items rather than hoarding.
Time, age, and the reality of adulthood have curbed my buying habits and my taste but a recent conversation with a friend had us reminiscing about some items that we consider “grails” (pieces that are revered and considered to be pivotal). We discussed the sneakers we loved and why we still held on to them, pulling them out of a dust-covered box a few times a year. We determined that we found it hard to part with these items mainly because acquiring them was a struggle. For instance, two brands of shoes that I have are from Common Projects and Visvim. Common Projects makes minimal sneakers with the signature gold serial number on the outer heel. Visvim, on the other hand, presents a unique take on Americana and is recognized by its hybrid moccasin sneaker. Both these brands really threw me into the world of fashion, having worked for Common Projects and doing academic papers on Visvim during my master’s degree studies. More than the work itself, I had admired the brands for years, hardly expecting to be able to acquire these items. I even tried to buy substitutes that carried similar attributes for a much lower cost, but they were never the same. I still have two pairs of Visvim FBTs and a pair of off white used Common Projects, and they represent more than just a shoe or a desire. They are key pieces that remind me of a struggle to achieve something so desired.
My parents are more understanding these days about my fetish with footwear and garb. They have embraced footwear and now wear Adidas Stan Smiths or Nike Air Max 1s, which is quite a sight to see on a mature Indian couple pushing into their 60s. Shoes are the basis for the industry I am in and a clear indicator of my interests, taste, and aesthetic. Wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans is the all-American uniform, but the shoes you put on determine a lot about who you are and what you plan to do.