A Sneakerhead can be defined as “one who collects limited, rare, OG, or flat out exclusive kicks,” but it goes far beyond the idea of shelling out coins to win some hypothetical award for “Flyest Feet.” From Converse to Jordans to Forces and beyond, sneakers have come a long way since their intended athletic use, and it has just as much to do with the culture as it does clout. I sat down with the guys running things for SneakFest, an expo and gathering for sneakerheads, urban fashion enthusiasts, and the like, happening on March 24th, to how their combined love for kicks is cultivating a community.
C901: First off, I gotta ask, why sneakers?
Adam Ghueder(Founder): It was my community, my neighborhood, my school, my dad working at a shoe store, the multiple pairs of converse I owned because they were so cheap to buy and much more. I would sit on the computer for hours just reading about the inspiration behind shoes. When I found out that Jordans were modeled after Ferraris and personal items that Michael owned, it went beyond something that I thought was cool. At that point, it wasn’t just a shoe. It was a story.
Jerry Khammavong (Co-Founder): Growing up in Memphis, we have the Nike Employee Store here where everybody and their momma know somebody that works there. The kids in my neighborhood would have on the nicest Air Maxs or the nicest this or that, and that was how we identified with each other. Fashion was something that we always embraced in my neighborhood. When you went to school, you were gonna get checked if you didn’t have the right shoes. I’m also a child of immigrants who didn’t have much money to splurge on shoes a lot. Since I was only able to get one or two pairs a year, I would read up on sneakers so that’s how I got most of my knowledge. I might not have had as many pairs as the next kid, but I could talk about it.
Sherman Harper Jr. (Co-Founder): I grew up in the times with Run DMC and the N.W.A type stuff, so it’s just always been a part of my culture. Also, props to my mom, because she always kept me laced with the latest stuff. At one time, I fell back from it and started doing the “grown man” thing with my suits and stuff like that, but my wife and I went to New York in ’06 when the sneaker scene started booming again. I literally had to buy two suitcases to ship my shoes back. I went a little crazy, to say the least.
C901: So you all have a passion or attachment to your kicks and the culture that comes along with them. How did that lead to the birth of SneakFest?
Adam: There’s a huge show called Sneaker Con that only goes to big cities like Chicago, LA, Atlanta, Miami, New York, etc, but they never show Tennessee love. That was the inspiration behind my first show in Nashville.
Jerry: Being a sneakerhead, of course I would always get excited to go to sneaker shows like this. I went to a couple smaller shows in Arkansas and other places but left feeling very underwhelmed. When I went to support Adam’s first show, there was just a different vibe. It was lively, there was a DJ, Trinidad James came… It was wild. There was shopping too, but it wasn’t just shopping.
Sherman: Adam’s show spoke more into sneakers being a culture thing. It wasn’t just shoes. It was more about making connections to sneakerheads that they’d never met before and to Adam, a sneakerhead that they felt they’d already knew because of social media.
C901: With the success of that show underneath your belt, I’m sure y’all were riding that high to get the first SneakFest on the books. What was that like?
Jerry: First of all, when Adam did his first show in Nashville, it was at a 5,000 sq. ft. venue with maybe 13 vendors max. Literally the day after that show, we all jump on a conference call and Adam says he wants to do the Cook Convention Center. Sherman and I are both sitting there thinking, “You’re really reaching, ain’t chya?”
Adam: I knew we had the access, I knew we had the resources, and I knew we had the funds to make it happen. So, without hesitation, I was like ‘Bruh, let’s do it.’
Sherman: After that discussion, we all decided it was time to go big or go home. We ended up having a 35,0000 sq. ft. room packed out with over 65 vendors selling everything from shoes to sneaker novelties to clothes. The energy was off the charts and we’ve kept that fire going as we’re approaching our 10th show.
C901: 10th show?? Dannng! Man, y’all really went for it and came out on top. Respect. You mentioned earlier that the main inspiration behind your first show was the fact that “bigger shows” weren’t showing Tennessee love. How has it been received by local sneakerheads? In fact, what is the sneaker culture like here in Memphis?
Jerry: It’s pretty big and tight-knit, and that’s why we knew that Memphis needed SneakFest. The bigger conventions wouldn’t even look at Memphis, but we knew that our city would back us up. With the diversity of our group, we feel like we can reach almost every aspect of Memphis just in our circle. We’re just trying to bring the city together in a way that revolves around sneakers.
C901: So I consider myself to be a sneakerhead in the sense that I truly appreciate a clean, dope pair of sneakers, but I feel like I can’t claim it pass that extent. What would my SneakFest experience look like? What can I expect?
Adam: Most people use SneakFest as an opportunity to either buy or sell, mostly sneakers, but not just sneakers. You can either finally cop that pair that you’ve been eyeing for a while or you can come with something exclusive and make some money. We already have our vendors selected and they’re bringing their best stuff, but attendees can bring sneakers. Who knows, something may come of it.
Jerry: One thing I’ve loved about SneakFest is that we’ve seen some people who come through trying to, low key, make business moves, and they go from being vendors to opening up storefronts. One of our first vendors now owns one of the hottest, biggest vintage stores in Atlanta.
C901: You guys are now are your 10th show, so it’s been a hot minute that you’ve been doing it. Where do you see it going?
Sherman: The sneakerhead culture is being passed on from generation to generation, so it’s not likely that we’ll be stopping anytime soon. I mean, right now, there are kids and teenagers coming out as vendors and they are hustling. We see them out there grinding, making moves, and talking business like the grown folks. It makes you feel good because you’re able to provide them with this platform that they might not have had otherwise.
Adam: We’re not going to stop until people stop walking through those doors.