Shoe enthusiasts gathered recently at the Bank United Center on the campus of the University of Miami for SneakerCon.
The event allows vendors and guests to buy, sell and trade their “kicks.” It's also a hot place to check out the shoe scene in Miami.
Arthur Williams, 19, attended the event to buy shoes and noticed various kinds of interests.
“You’ve got ‘hypebeasts’ and people that just want to buy shoes. But me and my friend -- we’re real ‘sneakerheads.’ We’ve been in this since ninth grade,” said Williams.
A "sneakerhead" is a shoe enthusiast that not only collects shoes, but is very knowledgeable about the history of the sneaker and its meaning. A “hypebeast” is something of an insult, referring to a person who only buys shoes that are popular and cool.
"They don't know what Jordan did in these shoes. They didn't watch him play. They aren't real sneakerheads," said Owen Igbinoba. Igbinoba was a vendor at SneakerCon. He said many people who approached his table wanted limited pairs of shoes but did not understand the history behind different shoes.
Not knowing the history of certain shoes is not to say people aren’t fascinated by sneakers in South Florida. But the demographic of Miami shoe lovers is different in comparison to established urban cities like New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., where sneakerheads are “OG,” meaning old gangster or original. Those are places where sneaker culture has existed for several decades.
Sneaker culture was introduced through hip-hop music in the 1980s then popularized by the epic hoopster, Michael Jordan, in the 1990s. Jordan’s namesake is increasingly known for the sneaker empire he has built with Nike.
In Miami, the range of people interested in sneakers only extends so far.
"Down here it's the youth. I don't see a lot of the ‘older heads,’" said Igbinoba. (“Older heads” refer to an older generation of sneaker heads, the same as OG). Igbinoba also owns an online shoe boutique. He said his business gets more traffic online than if he had a physical store in Miami.
“It’s quicker and convenient. I sell a lot of vintage and older models. Most of the kids they don’t relate to this stuff. They want the more current stuff,” said Igbinoba.
Alberto Juliachs is a manager at Uptown Boutique in Aventura Mall. He said Miami's sneaker culture is mostly about fashion.
“Everybody wants to have the hottest shoes. You get a shirt and you want the shoes to match. A lot of these kids are in high school and they just want to look fresh,” said Juliachs.
Does that make Miami’s sneaker culture hypebeast? Juliachs said feeding into the hype of popular shoes is not people’s intention.
“Everything is pretty much like a competition. They see limited shoes and want to go get it because it’s hype. Nobody wants to be the same but everybody kind of does the same thing,” he said.
Now, sneakers are closely tied with both music and sports, with rap artists like Kanye West and Tyga launching their own shoe brands. Star players like Kevin Durant, baseball player Ken Griffey, Jr. and a natural Miami favorite, Lebron James, also have branded shoe designs.
Juliachs said a lot of people -- women and men and people of all ages -- visit his store. But he agrees that there are many young people attracted to sneakers in Miami.
“They just go with what’s cool. They don’t wear what they like, but that’s the culture down here. They’ll grow into sneaker culture,” said Igbinoba.
Juliachs said the kids interested in shoes in Miami will grow up to have collections like his.
“I have shoes where the soles are ripping off. But I will never sell them because they’re part of my collection."