By Jessica Brodeur
VANCOUVER — There’s an old saying that goes, “You spend your whole life in either your shoes or your sheets, so invest in both.” Shoes are some of the most iconic personal items, a pair can tell you a lot about the person standing in them. But what about someone who has hundreds of pairs sealed in boxes sorted by brand, year, and colour? Find out at Sneaker Freak, Vancouver’s sneaker trade show is in its sophomore year, bringing out visitors and collectors ranging from sports fans to fashionistas, pop culture junkies to collectible resellers.
Gem Baysan is the founder of the event, a sneaker freak himself, with over 300 pairs at his peak. “My inspiration for it, and my inspiration for the location, was… when I was growing up, I used to collect comic books. They had a comic book convention there when I was growing up, and I thought to myself, ‘I have all of these sneakers stored, and with the Internet a lot of people are doing trades, I should do a sneaker convention,’ so Heritage Hall was the location I thought of.” With the location locked down, Baysan went ahead with the convention. 250 people came through, the vendors were happy, Gem sold some of his shoes, and the event lives on again. The main sneaker conventions in the U.S. are typically back east, so the event filled a void that’s been missing.
When it comes to the best shoes, Baysan has 15 pairs in his collection (now whittled down to a mere 60 pairs) that will never be sold. His favourite kind? “Air Jordan. Nike Air Jordan… the Air Jordan III in black. It came out originally in 1988 and I wasn’t a sneaker collector at the time but I saw the shoe and was like, ‘What is that?’ and I needed to have them. I won’t sell those shoes.” Air Js are actually the main shoe for sneaker collectors, a classic shoe with multiple models, arguably the best basketball player outlined on each pair, and their aesthetic is nothing short of gorgeous. “For people who get into [collecting] it seems like Air Jordans are the shoes that inspire people,” explains Baysan. “There are people who collect more Converse or Adidas, but they are a minority.”
For a mini-history to get you up on your sneaker history before the convention, Air Jordans, a.k.a. Js, were first produced exclusively for Michael Jordan in 1984, designed by Peter Moore. They were the most expensive sneakers to exist at the time, and were also banned by the NBA for failing to meet dress code, which Nike spun as a marketing angle. Not only did this shoe change sports footwear, it changed basketball and pop culture. A year later they were released as an exclusive line of sneakers, and by the Air Jordan III they had a unique elephant print designed by architect Tinker Hatfield, “It was just a radically different shoe,” explains Baysan. Now every year the unveiling of the new J’s is a media frenzy of footwear technology, design, culture and athletics.
The convention will feature everything from never-been-worn perfectly preserved retro collectors pairs to brand new fresh-off-the-shelf kicks. Although eBay may offer the best selection, for the true touch and feel experience, Baysan recommends The Corner Store on Main Street for anyone looking for new wheels, with Foot Locker and Livestock not too far behind. Clearly this event is not just a money-maker, but it’s for those who love the story behind the shoe.
As for actually wearing and walking? “I have about 10 pairs in my rotation,” laughs Baysan. Nike is his staple; he hits the pavement every day in Trainers or Jordans – a classic choice. Have a few extra pairs of kicks (heels, flats, boots welcome too) clogging up your closet? Bring them down and donate them on the day of the event, it’ll get you in the door for free and provide a pair for someone who needs them through Soles4Souls, the partner charity of Sneaker Freak.
Pre-sale tickets are available sneakerfreak.ca/. The event is at Heritage Hall on May 24.BC, British Columbia, Heritage Hall, sneaker convention, Sneaker Freak, sneakers, Vancouver Sneaker Freak