It was a sunny Tuesday afternoon in Corvallis. I sported a number 8 Kobe Bryant Laker jersey with a black undershirt, and some black Levis with a pin-roll cuff at the bottom to highlight my white and black Nike Blazer Mid ’77s. I was on my way to Austin Hall to meet up with Benny Steinhorn (@theshuru) a student here at OSU from Portland, Oregon studying Entrepreneurship and Business Management, the co-founder of ShoeBio and also a local Sneakerhead. I had heard about him from another local sneaker collector and enthusiast, so I shot him an instant message on IG and set up an interview. I wanted to get to know more about what sneakers were to him, how he even got into collecting and reselling sneakers and of course about the company he helped start, ShoeBio.
As soon as I stepped foot into Austin, it seemed like the spot to be if you wanted to see heat. Someone rocked Yeezy boost, 700 Wave Runners, another person wore a matching pair. One girl exiting wore yellow FILA Disruptors with a cute outfit to match. I was truly in heaven.
I approached Benny who wore; a pair of Air Presto “Trouble at home” edition sneakers that featured a lightning graphic, some black sweat shorts, and a Lil Uzi tour shirt that he said he found at a thrift store. We sat down and got right to talking about shoes. I asked him about his personal shoe collection and how many shoes he had. He mentioned that he used to have a lot more shoes but had recently downsized his collection. “I recently sold a lot of them just because I’m starting to go for quality over quantity. I don’t need a whole bunch of shoes. I used to have like 150-200 pairs, now I have like 70-75 pairs. Most are up in Portland, I only got like 15 pairs here in Corvallis.” That is a lot of shoes, and my mom thought I had a lot of pairs. Imagine owning 150-200 pairs? Where do you store them? How do you even keep track of so many? These were most of the problems that Benny came upon, which is also why he decided to downsize his collection.
I had to ask, what was it that got him into collecting sneakers? There must have been some kind of inspiration behind all of it. Benny laughed and answered “Actually, the first time I ever got into sneakers, was when I was watching an episode of MTV Cribs, I was probably like 10, and it was 50 cents’ episode. There was this one scene where they panned over his closet, and there were like tons of shoes that I’ve -obviously- never seen before, I was like 10, but it was at that moment that I knew I wanted the same thing.” I wasn’t surprised that his inspiration had come from 50 cents’ closet, but it made me wonder about the influence that social media influencers and celebrities have on the culture that surrounds us, and how closely tied the sneaker and Sneaker Head cultures are with mainstream pop culture, and why so often the sneaker culture gets overlooked.
This leads me to my next question about what exactly is it to be a Sneaker Head. It took Benny a few seconds, but finally he said “Well I feel like if you already own a ton of pair of shoes you’re already kinda invested into the culture and community itself, but I think being a Sneaker Head is loving and appreciating the culture around sneakers, knowing the history, and understanding how sneakers impact culture in general.”
For me personally, when I started getting into sneakers early on, I always struggled to answer this question for myself. Was I just a wannabe Sneaker Head, or was there some actual validity to my interest in sneakers. I eventually just decided that I was not your average Sneaker Head with a massive closet filled with shoes, but I was a modest one with the knowledge to speak about sneakers with someone else, and I had an appreciation for sneakers that like Benny mentioned is all part of being a Sneaker Head.
At this point, Austin Hall was a lot, so we took the time to move over to a table and further discuss ShoeBio and exactly what it was. He described it as Kayak but for shoes. “We aggregate data from hundreds of different sites and then show you the best price on whatever shoe you’re looking for.”
He went on to talk about how his business partner and co-founder of ShoeBio, Mitchell, got the idea for this website after he bought a pair of Pirate Black Yeezy’s for $1,000 at the Rift store in San Fransisco, and came back to Portland only to find out that he could have bought them at Index PDX for almost $300 cheaper. Both Mitchell and Benny met each other in one of their BA classes saw an opportunity to make money learned they had similar interest and passion for sneakers and got to work on what they now call ShoeBio. Benny spoke on how far ShoeBio has come and its accomplishments “I mean we’ve won competitions. We’ve won $60,000-$80,000 in cash and prizes in the last year and half” he continues by saying “I’ve traveled the world because of the company, I’ve been to conventions, anywhere from New Orleans to Rome to San Fransisco and everywhere in between, so it has been a great opportunity to do this. Not only for the company but for just being an entrepreneur. It’s been a nice little run that we’ve had. I’m just ready to launch it and make some money,” The website is not currently accessible, but a beta version of the site will be launched on July 1st.
I was genuinely amazed by what Benny and Mitchell did with their passion for business and entrepreneurship and their love for sneakers. It really showed how alive the sneaker community is here at OSU. Before I left, I had a couple more question to ask Benny, and it had to do with the Sneakerhead community in Corvallis. I brought this to Benny’s attention, and he replied, “Its kind of like an if you know you know kind thing. In smaller cities like Corvallis, compared to larger cities like Chicago, Los Angeles or New York, it’s harder to find a Sneaker Head community. It’s almost like a secret society that you can get into if you just start getting into shoes.”
My final question had to do with the type of connection that can be made just by seeing someone with a sneaker that you find cool and approaching that person an letting them know “Hey I like your shoes.” I personally feel like there is a lot that can come from a conversation like that. I asked Benny if he felt the same way. He replied, “Yeah, definitely. I’ve made friends just by commenting on someone’s sneakers. It’s almost like being in the same religion, we already have that unspoken connection that makes whatever we’re talking about so much better, and it’s the same thing with sneakers. I feel like a conversation that started just based on sneakers can lead to a plethora of other conversions, topics, friendships, pasts, anything. Yeah, that’s what think about sneakers.” He laughed as if he was amazed by what he just said. I was blown away by how accurate he was. As soon as the interview was over, I was itching to have more conversations just like the one I had with Benny. I left Austin Hall and strolled around campus in search of my next interview.
It had been a couple of hours since my interview with Benny. I was on my way back home walking through the Library quad when I spotted some White Cement 4s just a few feet away from me. I automatically thought to myself, this is my chance to get another interview just like the one I had with Benny. I approached this person, who I did not know and said, “Hey, I like your shoes. Are those White Cement 4s?” He said, “Yeah, they are actually, thank you.” I proceeded to tell him about what I was doing and asked if he would be down to get interviewed. He agreed, and so we walked towards the library and stood to the side of the entrance.
Turns out his name is Zak Ross, a student here at OSU studying Finance. He wore a plain white tee, some grey sweat shorts and White Cement 4’s with the Nike Air on the heel. I started off by asking him what had gotten him into collecting sneakers in the first place, and he answered, “Honestly, I’ve been in the shoe game since I was in high school. I played basketball, and one thing that we always went by was what you wore on and off the court. I was also great full that my dad worked at Nike, so I was able to get a lot of nice shoes at a pretty low price. One thing that I always go buy is never spent more than $100 on shoes so yeah I’ve been pretty lucky.” Zak’s passion for sneakers came from a love for basketball. How he felt on and off the court he attributed to his choice of sneakers.
I continued by asking what it was that sneakers did for him. He replied, “For me, sneakers give me confidence, you know. Especially when someone approaches you and recognizes what you’re wearing my confidence just shoots through the roof. They also just look good, so it makes me feel good too, but yeah definitely confidence.” I really resonated with his comment that sneakers for him were confidence. I won’t lie, sometimes when I wear my favorite pair of shoes or my better pairs, I feel like I’m on top of the world. I feel like I even walk different. It’s definitely this boost of confidence that you get from wearing sneakers and especially for someone to acknowledge them. It makes you feel good.
Zak didn’t have too much time to spare, so I tried to wrap it up quick, asking him a couple of final questions. Mostly about the sneaker culture in Corvallis and about the resell sneaker market. I had to ask whether he was the type of Sneakerhead that likes to buy shoes just to resell for profit or if he was the type of Sneakerhead that wanted to wear all his shoes. “I’m more of the type of person that likes to wear the shoes I buy,” he said. ” I know there’s a lot of people that don’t wear their shoes just because they don’t want them to get dirty or decrease in value, but I really don’t care, and as for the sneaker culture in Corvallis I feel like there’s definitely one here. It may not be as big as what you might see in Portland, but I think that there’s definitely something here.” It was dead-week, and I’m sure Zak had some studying to do, if not we could have probably gone on days talking about sneakers.
After my talks with Zak and Benny I meaning new meaning in what it means to wear sneakers. I remembered what it was that got me into sneakers in the first place. It was definitely the confidence and sense of belonging that hugged me so tight and never let me go. When I was a self-conscious middle schooler, sneakers gave me the confidence to be myself. When I was a lost high schooler, sneakers gave me a community I could call my own, and now in my fourth year in college, sneakers have taught me to be bold. Stand out and speak up. Next time you see someone with a nice pair of sneakers, don’t be scared to say “Hey I like your shoes” you never know what might come from that. At the end of the day it’s all about building a stronger dam!