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"We Wanted to Set a Countertrend" :: Behind Europe's Leading Sneaker Convention

By Manos Nomikos

Let’s cut to the chase: The most interesting sneaker conventions and specialized buy-sell-trade events are held in the U.S. The culture—or truly, the multi-billion dollar industry—in America is so strong that thousands of people attend these events, sporting their freshest gear and holy grails.

Of course Europe could not stay away from the boom and the sneaker tsunami consumed us, too. It’s a culture we all love to hate and hate to love—especially when left with the burning holes in our wallets. Sneaker-collecting has now become the norm. They’re so ubiquitous nowadays that you could even wear them to the opera (if you’re into that sort of thing).

Sneakerness is, without a doubt, one of Europe’s best sneaker conventions, so I recently linked up with its co-founder, Sergio Muestra. He was there at the beginning of Europe’s first conventions and he’s here now, watching the culture in its entirety organically evolve and expand with each passing year.

MANOS NOMIKOS: It’s been almost 8 years since your first convention. [Has it been] quite a ride?
SNEAKERNESS: Sometimes it was a hell of a ride and sometimes it was a ride on a pony. We had the normal ups and downs any start up has. But the last 3 years were just nuts. The sneaker hype is real!

Do you remember the first Sneakerness? How did you organize it?
September 27, 2008. I will never forget this date our baby was born. And it wasn’t in a big capital or even in the U.S. It was in Bern, a small city in Switzerland. [During] this period, Internet and social media like Facebook, YouTube, etc. were on their way into Europe. E-commerce was a big topic. With Sneakerness, we wanted to—from the beginning—set a countertrend. It’s not the same to see sneakerheads live or buying sneakers from a real person as opposed to the Internet. So we wanted to organize a platform for all sneakerheads and show the people what it’s all about.

Photo by Kelly Fober

What’s it like organizing 5 or more conventions a year, in different European cities every time?
[It’s] more difficult because every Sneakerness is unique in regards to the sneaker culture [of the city]. For example, in Warsaw we are helping to build up sneaker culture/hype. In other cities, the culture has settled down. People in Paris have different styles and fashion than in Zurich, Cologne, and Amsterdam.

Because it’s getting bigger and bigger, we got our German licensee: Sneakerness International. So we will have more power in the future. Every licensee is working hard on their event. I’m very proud of us all!

Any special moments or personal highlights you have to share with us from the conventions all these years?
From the very first moment we opened the doors, Diana—founding partner of Sneakerness—had tears of joy. This was a special moment for me, too, because I realized that we did a great job.

Another highlight was the party in Zurich [back in] 2009. For the first time, we had Bobbito Gracia and DJ Clark Kent playing B2B. Although we lost money with this party, we had such a great time—you can’t buy [that] with money.

Sneaker culture is something that came from the US but over the last few years it’s become a global phenomenon. Is there something that defines Europe’s sneaker culture?
In my opinion, the European sneaker scene is more influenced by fashion. And the kids in Europe aren’t buying 20 pairs of the same model like I did as a classic sneaker collector. They are going more with the hype.

What are the recent sneaker trends in Europe?
New technologies like knit or even a 3D sole are setting trends. I see also a few old sneaker models taken out from the dust and then reinterpreted with new materials and/or colorways.

Photo by Kelly Fober

If someone is coming to Europe, what are the best sneaker stores to visit?
For sure Patta, Oquim, Overkill, Sneakersnstuff, Solebox, Blackrainbow, Foot Patrol, to name a few. There are [tons of] great sneaker stores. In Switzerland, there’s no way you can miss $auce—a consignment store—and Titolo.

What were your favorite sneakers back when you were a kid?
The Nike Air Penny 2—at this time I loved to watch the NBA. And Penny Hardaway was one of my favorite players. The Nike Air TN plus 1 was the first model I owned… like 30 pairs. At that time I knew I was in love with sneakers.

How do you see Sneakerness evolving in the future? What should we expect for 2016?
First priority is to enter more cities with Sneakerness. Another big topic is also to open a new business venture. I can’t tell you more right now...

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The next Sneakerness will be held in Zurich, Switzerland: April 16th - April 17th 2016. www.sneakerness.com.

Images courtesy of Sneakerness. Additional imagery by Kelly Fober.

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