Chances are you if are a sneaker head, Sneaker Freaker was probably one of the very first magazines that you ever bought about sneakers. Launched back in the early noughties by Simon ‘Woody’ Wood, Sneaker Freaker has become a sneaker authority in itself. 2018 saw the magazines’ 40th edition and a very special release with ‘The Ultimate Sneaker Book’. Over the last 18 years Sneaker Freaker has also dropped a wide range of collaboration sneakers with the likes of New Balance, Lacoste, adidas, Saucony Originals, G-Shock & PUMA. A massive thanks to Sneaker Freaker’s Woody for our latest ‘How I Got Here’ feature!
What were you doing prior to 2002 and the launch of Sneaker Freaker?
At university I studied media and majored in radio production. Since I was already working professionally in the industry, my career path was seemingly already mapped-out. However, my life totally changed one day when I was introduced to the Apple computer and fell in love with QuarkXpress. At that time the only way to learn digital graphic design was by reading software manuals, which is a rather tedious task when you’re starting from scratch. Luckily I was a quick learner. After graduating I immediately moved to London where I worked in advertising for several years. I also freelanced at fashion brands and ended up in the film industry working on big Hollywood productions.
By late 2002 I was bored and looking for something new. The motivation to start a magazine about sneakers was pretty simple – I wanted Nike and adidas to send me loads of free shoes! One week later I was the proud owner of the world’s first magazine dedicated to the cult of sneakers. Only 3000 copies were printed and they now change hands for hundreds of dollars, which is amusing considering the first edition is a raw ‘fanzine’ that took less than a week to write and design.
What are you first memories of sneakers and where the passion came from?
Even at a young age I was always conscious of my footwear, but the options were rather limited where I grew up. I can’t honestly say I was flexing Jordans and OG Air Max because in my day it was all about adidas Rome and Oregon. Aside from that, there is one moment that really stands out as a formative experience. Back in the early 1990s I was in New York City wandering around Canal St where I found a no-name sneaker store. Inside, it was a revelation. About 30 amazing Air Force 1s graced the wall which precipitated a total mind-melting freak out. With limited funds and a small backpack, choosing a single pair of Uptowns was a nightmare. I finally settled on black canvas with a maize Swoosh, which is still my all-time favourite combo. I still regret binning them, even if they were full of holes and totally junked.
Those unexpected moments of retail discovery are long gone now. (RIP!) I didn’t know anyone who was into sneakers the way I was at the time, so it always felt like I was in an underground society. But once I started Sneaker Freaker it immediately became obvious that I far from alone. I still miss the good old days when things were simpler and way less corny. There was a lot of camaraderie back then, especially in the Crooked Tongues, Nike Talk and Sneaker Freaker forums.
An awful lot has changed in the sneaker world since 2002, if you could go back to 2002, what would you change and what you keep when compared to 2020?
Aside from investing heavily in Facebook, I don’t think I would change too many things. 🙂 That’s not to say I’ve always made the right call. It’s important to learn from your mistakes but constant revisionist thinking can be a heavy burden that stifles your embrace of risk and reward. I definitely had a period where I beat myself up for not doing this or that, but I ultimately came to appreciate my own limitations. Back in 2009, I was all set to sign a deal that would have relocated Sneaker Freaker to the USA. One month before that move would have happened, the GFC exploded and that was the end of that. I don’t honestly think back to that moment and wonder ‘what if?’ I’m proud that Sneaker Freaker has managed to survive and thrive as a global business on my own terms. Perseverance against all odds is underrated. Just do it!
What else can we expect from Sneaker Freaker over the coming years (post lockdown)?
We have just launched a brand new website which has taken more than a year of hard work. We’re still dialling everything in and there are loads more features yet to launch, but it’s the future of the company, so it’s really exciting to see it come to life. I’ve also just finished the second Sneaker Freaker book with Taschen, which will be out in late 2020. It’s another 700+ page monster and I guarantee this one will blow minds. There’s a few more books with brands on the horizon as well, one of which I’m particularly proud of. I find digging deep into history very rewarding, especially when it’s a cracking story that has never been told before.
Like a lot of people, I’m madly trying to figure out what the footwear industry looks like once the post-COVID dust settles. There’s a lot of unsold inventory out there sitting in expensive warehouses that will be weighing heavily on balance sheets. It seems the lockdown period will accelerate the demise of many retail businesses that were already in trouble, which is sad. If you look at the last 40 years of the sneaker industry, there has always been winners and losers, and this period will be no different.
What advice would you give to people out there who have a passion for sneakers and want to work in the industry?
First of all, a word of warning. Passion is a double-edged sword. I’ve seen it inspire people to achieve great things but I’ve also seen super passionate people struggle because their purist stance can’t cope with bureaucracy. If passion is your forte, my advice is to start your own thing or join a small team where you can get things done your way. That said, when I’m hiring staff, I’ll always go for the self-motivated hustler over the good-natured plodder, though you do need a mix of both. If you can harness that creative energy the results can be spectacular.
I was approached recently by someone who wanted to know how they could get a job at Nike. I asked them what their skillset was and they told me they were first and foremost a ‘passionate sneakerhead’. It’s tough for them to hear but there’s no job vacancy for a ‘passionate sneakerhead’ at Nike. Do your marketing degree, get some experience in a sales team, or go to design college and make sure you’re the best in class. Those are the skills Nike, or any company for that matter, are looking for.
What do you do when you are not working on Sneaker Freaker stuff?
I have three kids at various stages of their schooling so I’ve been a part-time teacher during lockdown, which has been as interesting as it has been challenging. I’m also a certified car nut. I have a fleet of old muscle cars and trucks in various stages of rehabilitation. Ideally I’d spend at least one day a week getting them tuned up and on the road, but the daily grind just seems to take me further and further away. Note to self – spend more time in the garage and less in the office!
Growing Sneaker Freaker to become the global sneaker powerhouse it has become today must have taken a lot of hard work, grit and determination (massive respect). What parts of building the Sneaker Freaker brand have you enjoyed and not enjoyed so much?
It is true that it takes a lot of grit and determination to run a business like Sneaker Freaker for close to 20 years, but I’ve also had a lot of luck and help along the way. I started the magazine because I love making stuff (and I wanted free shoes) but as any business grows, the boring admin crap takes you further and further away from the creative side. Luckily I have a brilliant team that are really well drilled and that allows me to focus on the big projects. Designing collaborations and editing the magazine are still fun for sure – even after all this time – but working on a big-ass book is what inspires me to get up and get at it every day. You have to be an insane masochist to love producing 700+ page books like The Ultimate Sneaker Book but going above and beyond is simply the price you pay for setting a new benchmark. No pain, no gain!
Some of your own personal top sneakers of all time?
I’m a well known Air Force 1 aficionado but I’m also getting fussier the older I get. I wish Nike would show that shoe a little more respect! But here’s a little list that hit the spot as far as I’m concerned.
1. Nike Air Force 1 ‘Linen’
2. New Balance 997 ‘OG grey’
3. Sneaker Freaker x PUMA Blaze of Glory ‘Sharkbait’
4. atmos x Nike Air Max 1 ‘Viotech’
5. 24 Kilates x ASICS Gel Lyte III ’24 Kilates Express’