That meant submitting a story to Sneaker Freaker magazine that viewed prison through a sneakerhead’s eyes. Juxtaposed against pages and pages of footwear porn, Heppler’s article was so dramatic, it almost didn’t seem believable. His parole officer liked it; he saved the article for Heppler’s file. The story led to more sneaker-scribbling gigs, first at Sneaker Freaker, then Sole Collector. He often gets paid in shoes for his words.
Although he’s well-known among fiends, Heppler doesn’t consider himself a collector. He’s more like an enthusiast. “You eat food every day, and you have cabinets full of food, but that doesn’t mean you collect food,” he reasons. Right now, he has about 20 pairs. “When I go to these special [sneaker] events, I have kind of an image to uphold — this sounds kind of conceited — but I can’t wear that shoe again,” he confesses. “My picture might be in a magazine or I might be on a video, so it’s documented that I wore it.” So he bequeaths them to friends. “Giving it to someone keeps it alive. They can rock it and be happy with it, whereas I have to keep it in the closet.” Inevitably, though, by offering them a taste, he makes them hungry. “It’s like spreading a disease.”
Last November, Heppler and Cavalho started Weekly Drop. On the Podcast, Cavalho’s more the straight man, while Heppler’s the opinionated goof. They interview sneaker-cult icons like Dave White, a British painter who specializes in kicks; Gabriel Urist, a Brooklyn jeweler who molds silver into intricately detailed kicks; and well-known sneakerhead and Kanye West protégé Lupe Fiasco. They joke about “jean stains,” the horrifying denim smudge that can rub off onto your beloved shoes.
On the first Weekly Drop, Cavalho and Heppler tried to elucidate why they’re so into sneakers. “Everybody’s gone to the party,” says Heppler. “And someone has had their same jacket or their same T-shirt. But when you’re in this game, you know that nobody is [going to have your sneakers]. And if you find someone that actually happens to have one of the same T-shirts, sweatbands, sneakers? You almost embrace them in a loving hug to say, ‘My God, you’re almost half as cool as me.’” He pauses. “Before you slap them like a pimp and take their sneakers.”
“What makes people unique is really what’s on your feet,” agrees Cavalho. “The bigger question, though, is how many people outside of sneakerheads really care?”
Ladies love kicks too
In sneaker culture, dudes rule. Troll the sneaker-fiend Web sites and the rare kicks being scrutinized are almost all in men’s styles. Flip through Sole Collector and about the only women you’ll find inside are models making their best bedroom eyes in leopard-print Nike Shox NZ or hanging on to a rusty ladder in frilly lingerie and Onitsuka Tiger Mexicos. And brands, either as a cause or an effect, don’t bother with female collectors, typically releasing limited-edition runs no smaller than a men’s size seven, the women’s equivalent of an eight and a half.