by Teiya Gardner

When I walk into a room, I often look first at someone’s feet. Whether a person is sporting a swoosh, Jordans or three stripes, a person’s sneakers say a lot about them.

It’s amazing how something as simple as the shoes you wear can define the person you’re perceived to be. Yes, it was that real. When did this all start? Back in elementary school, no one really cared about their shoes. We were children. All we cared about was having fun and doing all of the things that kids do, such as playing with our friends and getting into all sorts of mischief. We didn’t care about name brands. We simply wore whatever our parents bought us. When our shoes got dirty, we didn’t care. As we grew up, we became conscious of the dirt caking our jean cuffs and rubber soles. Nowadays, you won’t find many leaving the house without a fresh pair of kicks on. Boy, things have changed.

Middle school changed the way I felt about sneakers. Because I had to wear a uniform, I was forced to be more creative. This led to my passion for kicks. I just had to have every shoe that matched my uniform colors. I bought every pair of Jordan basketball sneakers I felt could match with my school colors. Since you couldn’t express yourself with your clothing, you had to find another way to do so. I turned to shoes. I was camping out at the mall, buying expensive shoes, all while earning money to get even more. I felt I needed brand name shoes to be perceived as cool. I remember how good it felt to walk into school knowing you had nice sneakers on and having friends and strangers alike compliment you on your shoes. Sneakers were my life.

One might ask, “hat is sneaker culture?” In my opinion, It’s going from being little and not knowing much about shoes to growing older and knowing anything and everything about the sneakers on your feet. For someone actively engaged in sneaker culture, sneakers represent a lot about you. They represent your personality, your fashion sense, as well as your overall sense of style and good taste. Sneakers allow you to express the way you feel and largely who you are.

As with almost anything in life, there is a dark side to sneaker culture. Because of the culture’s rapidly rising popularity, campouts have become a very normal part of getting a shoe. Camping out for shoes isn’t much fun at all. Having to wait in a long line just to get some shoes is mind-boggling at times. Because quantities are limited, not everyone who lines up gets a pair, let alone one in their size. It isn’t uncommon to see someone wait outside of a store for hours and even days only to find out that they won’t be getting a pair because the shoe they wanted is sold out. I’ve been in that position before and it’s a crushing feeling.

There is also the ever-present threat of violence at a campout. Put a bunch of strangers together who are restless, miserable and anxious, something is bound to happen, and unfortunately, more often than not, something usually does. I’ve seen people argue, fight and threaten each other over sneakers. One of the easiest ways to start a fight in a lineup is to cut in line. It’s not like when you cut in line at lunch. It’s like night and day. When you cut in line at a sneaker lineup, you’re cutting in front of people that have been waiting outside for several hours (sometimes even days) to get their shoes. Yes, it is pretty serious. When I take the time to think back on it, I’ve witnessed some crazy things camping out for Jordans. I’ve seen someone start a fight and nearly cause a riot because the store ran out of his size. There had to be at least like 70 people in line and there just had to be that one person to ruin the mood and start a fight. It’s amazing to know that people are more than willing to hurt someone else over something as seemingly insignificant as a pair of sneakers. It’s really sad.

Brittney Figueira previously worked at Finish Line, a very popular sportswear store that frequently sells highly sought-after Jordans. Because of this, she is no stranger to sneaker campouts and the drama that they can create.

“Almost every Saturday, there was a Jordan release,” said Figueira. “They were insane, though some more than others. It would get very, very crazy and even scary during Christmas time, when Jordan Brand would release the Jordan XIs two days before Christmas. As you can imagine, the mall in which I worked was already crazy around that time and to make matters worse, my store was launching the biggest Jordan release of the year.”

Though obviously wary of the stresses of the repeated Jordan shoe launches at her store, she attributes one particular incident for her decision to leave the store.

“A couple days before this past Christmas, there was a huge Jordan release,” said Brittney. “I wasn’t there because my shift started at noon, but at 10 a.m. someone came into the store and asked for their Jordans. My manager told him that the store had already pre-sold tickets and that if he hadn’t bought a ticket, he couldn’t get a shoe. The kid left and came back with a gun. He claimed that his friend had already gotten pair from the store, and said something along the lines of ‘You better give me my Jordans before somebody gets bodied.”

Brittney quit that very day.

Sneakers are a beautiful thing. Some care about them way more than others but overall, it’s safe to say that most people enjoy them on some level. I don’t think that my passion for sneakers will die out anytime soon, but I am very aware of the fact that not everyone has good intentions when it comes to certain sneakers and that my well-being is potentially in danger every single time I campout for a shoe. I find that very sad and unfortunate and it’s my desire that measures be taken to ensure everyone’s safety, because at the end of the day, no matter how popular or how valuable a shoe may be, at the end of the day, it is just a shoe. The quicker people realize this, the better off everyone will be.