Right now, Sean Hopkins has over 200 pairs of shoes. At one point he had close to 600 — the native Chicago southsider is a self-proclaimed “sneakerhead by all definitions.” As he sits in his dark, single bedroom on the top floor of a creaky frat house, he is shadowed by a 12-shelf bookcase filled with 21 pairs of shoes so clean you could eat off of them — but if you did that, he might go livid.
“I wear all my shoes as if I have the cure for cancer on my feet,” said Hopkins.
Hopkins, 21, told a story about accidentally spilling spaghetti on his Nike Hyperdunks — shoes popularly known as the “McFlys” for their resemblance to the futuristic sneakers worn by main protagonist Marty McFly in Back to the Future Part II. Hopkins was so disturbed by the mishap that he promptly lost his appetite and left the table to give them an emergency makeover — he claims the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser (also used for kitchen appliances, lawn furniture, and even grill gates) is “the god of all shoe cleaning supplies.” Also in his unusual shoe cleaning toolbox are toothbrushes, ArmorAll cleaning wipes (for car interior), laundry detergent, and for polishing- Black Magic Tire Wet. Hopkins seems to understand shoe upkeep at a scientific level. “I even use certain chemicals used for boats, to remove the oxidation seen on boat decks. I use that for cleaning translucent soles on shoes — whatever it takes. I try to keep my shoes in prime condition and I feel everybody else should do the same, because it’s kind of a piece of art on your feet,” said Hopkins.
But the learning takes time. “Ask me that in high school and I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. It’s just something you have to learn by experience.”
His experience began in high school when he started buying shoes at an uncontrolled rate. Hopkins says he would buy every variation of a particular shoe that was released that month — around three exclusive releases every few weeks. Before he knew it, he had over 100 pairs of shoes and was torn over how he could possibly wear them all.
“Once I really got into collecting, at one point I was just like, ‘holy shit I have too many shoes.’ So I just gave them away. I didn’t even think about selling them, I felt that if I didn’t wear them, somebody else could put them to good use and maybe start their own shoe collection. I gave them to my cousins, gave them to other family, gave them to friends, and low and behold they started getting into shoes. I’m the cause of their financial downfall,” said Hopkins.
Hopkins does not typically give shoes away — that was high school.
Hopkins, who refuses to call it a “fetish,” says the only way to support the “addiction” without a job is to sell shoes or other belongings. He wears each pair of shoes as if he has them on lease, never sure of exactly how long he will have them before shipping them out on eBay for newer ones.
But there is more buying then selling.
“I don’t want to think about how much money I have spent since I started,” said Hopkins.
However, for the sake of cooperation, he gave up a number: “Including the shoes I’ve sold, I’d say about $25,000.” Hopkins says the black/gray Air Jordan Black Lazer 4, with a $550 price tag, was the most expensive pair he has ever bought. However, he has since sold those — but isn’t ashamed to admit he misses them.
Hopkins has also had his luck naming the price as well. After camping overnight in a line with his girlfriend to purchase the black/pink Nike Air Yeezy’s, designed by Kanye West, he eventually ended up buying both his pair and the pair she bought. He says they are just shoes to her. He eventually sold a pair of those for $900 — big money as far as most college students are concerned. “There is a point where you mess up enough where you’re in financial trouble, a situation which every sneakerhead has been in at one point; you’ll be brought down, you’ll be humbled essentially, because you’ve let shoes ruin your financial state. My mom is one of those proponents that, as many shoes as she owns, she always tells me ‘it’s just a pair of shoes, why do you have so many? You can’t wear them all in the same day.’ But at the same time, everyone has their own taste,” said Hopkins. Hopkins says it’s similar to owning a lot of music. “For example, if I were to ask you, ‘why do you have so much music? You can’t listen to all the songs in one sitting.’ You can’t knock somebody for their interests or their passions. To each his own — that’s essentially what the argument comes down to,” said Hopkins.
Hopkins separates himself from other collectors by wearing most of his shoes regularly (weather pending) and not keeping them as eye candy, or, “on ice in a museum.” Hopkins is currently waiting for a $200 pair from the Netherlands. “When I bought my Air Jordan 3s that I’m waiting for now, I was like, ‘Man, should I really have done that? That $200 could have gone somewhere else. But $200 for a shoe that is released only internationally — that’s pretty good to me,” said Hopkins.
To prepare for post-grad life, Hopkins has ventured into an interest in formal attire. He just recently bought his first custom suit and is looking into ties. But for now, sneakers are what he loves most. “Shoes are like drugs. I’ll put it like that. There’s no ifs ands or buts — you get addicted and life becomes all about it at some point or another.”
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Adam Adams’ dorm room is completely littered with shoes. A ten-pair mountain next to his bed. A pair laying aimlessly in the middle of the bathroom. He has shoes in drawers that took precedence over his clothes long ago — his jeans, polos, and boxers have all since been banished to the closet and a small dresser under his TV. Shoes sit on the windowsill behind closed blinds, trying to see daylight, imagining the glory of the paved sidewalk; as if they sit in waiting, knowing that Adams’ can only wear one pair at a time.
Adams’ dorm is more akin to the back room of a footlocker than an actual living space. And though his shoe supply is in massive inventory, somehow he manages to sport all of them occasionally. Adams, from Chicago, is an easy going guy when it comes to collecting; he strays away from all the hype and doesn’t let what is in style compromise what he thinks to be a pleasant shoe design — a “hypebeast” is one who buys a shoe in popular demand regardless of whether they actually like the shoe. Adams isn’t above buying general release shoes — found in stores and not necessarily exclusive-as long as they are shoes he enjoys for the theme.
“Go for what you really like. Get shoes that you know you’d keep. If you just get what’s popular, you don’t really love the shoe. Just do you when it comes to shoes, because if you get what’s popular or what’s hot, it just falls in the crowd of having what everyone else has,” said Adams.
Adams, a junior in engineering, bases his shoe purchases on how they look when he looks down on them. Even when in the store, he says he will use this bird’s-eye-view test, without use of a mirror. Adams’ shoe collecting venture began with the Nike Dunk low pro, known as the “stone obsidian” for its color ways. They were on clearance and not particularly exclusive; however, he liked the aerial view, and they provided him with a seminal interest that led to many more expensive pairs.
Adams’ humble persona made it easy for him to share his embarrassing stories as a collector, most notably, his purchase of fake shoes — a socially devastating event that no sneakerhead would wish on another. “I bought these [Air Jordan 6 “Carmine”] online off of eBay and ended up getting fake ones. I was highly pissed. At the time I had the pack with real ones too, so I really noticed the material, the quality — everything was just off. I tried to do a claim, but PayPal takes forever to do it. So I said fuck it. I dropped like $200 on some fake shoes.” Adams says purchasing fraudulent shoes is not a common occurrence because there are objective websites that post the differences between a fake shoe and the real deal. “You have to make sure you do your research before you do that. One of my friends had some fake Nike SB ‘Purple Pigeons,’ and he didn’t even know-he just thought he came up on a deal. I was like, ‘You should peep those just a little bit closer.’ He was kind of mad,” said Adams. Adams says he is not one to blatantly call a person out for fake shoes. He is more likely to break the bad news to friends, telling them that “they got got.” However, Adams says he’d make exceptions for those who flaunt shoes that are obviously fake, with no chance for authenticity — “like if they had some lime green Jordans.”
Adams believes that building a collection takes patience, above all. He makes his purchases by combining money he receives from parents with cash made from selling shoes he doesn’t need. He’s not armed with inside-connections to boutique owners, and says that playing the field looking for deals online is just as beneficial.
When it comes to collecting sneakers, Adams, like many other sneakerheads, admit that the obsession gets worrisome on occasion, especially when the only non-school related websites he visits are shoe forums. However, he accepts it as his “thing”, and likens it to the way “girls are with heels or purses.” But Adams says his dad never hesitates to remind him that they are just shoes. “He’s one of those people who only had two shoes when he was a kid or something, or like one shoe, and if you had a hole you threw some cardboard in there,” said Adams.
Adams loves sneakers and is not exactly rushing to switch into formal or even dress casual; however, he has placed an eBay bid for a pair of Ferragamo dress shoes, a brand that can run anywhere between $300 and $800. He found a deal on a slightly used pair for $80.
At this stage, whether it is the sneaker culture or making a switch to job appropriate attire, Adams isn’t boxed in by standards. “I don’t know. It’d just be a hard jump. I’m totally fine with wearing a suit and some Nike Dunks to go with it. I’ll just be that guy.”