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9th March 2024 EDT FEATURES

SNKRDUNK Meets Sneaker Con Co-Founder Alan Vinogradov

Sneaker Con's most memorable moments and future, from the perspective of one who spent the last 15 years at the very heart of sneaker culture.


Alan Vinogradov was introduced to sneaker culture in 2003 and was by his own admission, “late”. Nevertheless in the six years since, he’s found his way into the very heart of the culture, opening its doors wide enough for thousands more to enter.

In 2009, he started Sneaker Con with brother Barris and Yu-Ming Wu (founder of the quintessential Sneaker News and CMO of Stadium Goods). 15 years since the inaugural event in March 2009 at New York City; over 300,000 attendees, over 4,000 exhibitors, and over 30 cities later, sneaker culture is on another stratosphere hitherto unseen.

Thus, if we can narrate the past and future of its landscape, there’s no one quite as qualified as the one who planted the seeds, watered them, and helped them flourish for more people to enjoy its fruits.

It’s crazy how big Sneaker Con has gotten in over a decade. Take us back to that first night of the very first Sneaker Con. What were your thoughts after having completed the first one? 

From the moment I was introduced to sneaker culture in 2003, it always felt like somewhere I belonged. The people, creators, and culture that I was exposed to prior to the event in 2009 felt like the right place for me.

The evening before the event I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited to open up the doors, and see people we have interacted with for years come together in the same room.

Right after the event was completed, we were really overwhelmed with the support we received from the community; and were very excited to work on the next event seeing that we were embraced by the culture in a big way. We never imagined that an event for a niche community at the time would develop into what it has today.

More than a decade and dozens of cities later, what’s next for Sneaker Con?

2024 marks the 15th anniversary of Sneaker Con. In many ways we are just getting started. We are going to continue on embarking on new markets and building our event to be a pillar within the sneaker community.

We have introduced many new facets to our event that are going to be further developed and introduced in our global portfolio. Some of the new features include Retail Drop and Shipping Department. We are making it easier for our community to access pairs of shoes and certain hype clothing to be acquired at retail.

As for the Shipping Department we continue to plan on being the one stop shop where people can acquire a significant amount of shoes for their businesses. The Shipping Department is an outlet that allows our patrons to ship their product back to their businesses for ease of shopping and logistics directly from the event.

We are also going to start introducing more clothing aspects into the event. As the community continues to build and clothing becomes more integrated into sneaker culture, we want it to be part of our events as an additional outlet to expand on the sneaker industry.

A scene from the inaugural Sneaker Con SEA in 2023

What are some of the biggest challenges you faced in the early days of Sneaker Con? What are the biggest highlights?

Our biggest challenge when we kicked off was finding the space that would allow us to host the scale of events we were looking to build. The venues all over the USA were either too big for us, or too expensive, so it was always a challenge to identify the right place to host Sneaker Con.

We continue to strive to make our event affordable. As this is a community focused event, we want to make sure that it is easy for anyone that loves sneakers to enter the event.

The biggest highlight was being able to bring our event overseas—the moment we were able to hit Australia, Hong Kong and UK the same year—allowing us to realise that the sneaker community is global.

Over the past 15 years we have interacted with all walks of life and it has been a significant highlight meeting all types of people across the world that share a passion for sneakers.

What are your thoughts on the rise of online marketplaces and their impact on physical events?

The online marketplace is an element to democratize sneaker transactions. It gives the average person an opportunity to get in the realm of transacting, for people to interact in a way where they couldn’t in the past.

In the past, you have to sell your shoes in a store, you have to sell your shoes through some of the traditional marketplaces that cover everything: The Yahoo! Japans of the world, the eBays, and a lot of the older platforms that didn’t care if you were selling a shoe or if you were selling a car, they treated it the same way.

A lot of those platforms have now changed and evolved, they now understand that they have to pay attention to the sneaker communities.

And the in-person events provide the ability to talk about—the ability to exchange ideas, the ability to connect on a human level. Even if it’s not as transactional but the digital marketplaces are the engine for that now. Because those are the things that are fuelling you to be in this business, to be a consistent contributor to this overall sneaker industry.

When I was first introduced to sneaker culture, I heard Gentry [Humphrey] speak—he was the brand director for Jordan Brand, and was the one that has created a lot of the Jordans that we’ve come to know and love today. And in one of the speeches he had that I attended, he was talking about how not everybody could necessarily work at Nike as a designer doing all the cool stuff.

I was sitting there in the room and I really love shoes—I really, really love sneakers, it’s my passion—why can’t I be in shoes everyday? Why can’t I be doing this and doing stuff that’s cool and that I love. And the online marketplace is the definitive outlet to allow people to do what they love.

I know a lot of people that’s in this industry that transact sneakers everyday. I would say the significant majority, they love the shoes so they don’t necessarily care if they make a few dollars or if they make whatever. They love the business they’re in. So the online marketplaces and the events share that ability to come and merge all those elements.

Travis Scott, one of the musicians that have propelled sneaker culture to a new stratosphere

After basketball, after skateboarding, what’s the next sport you reckon would have the greatest influence on street culture?

So we know what basketball means to sneaker culture. A lot of people say that music is the element that’s propelled sneaker culture. And music is, whether it be your favorite rapper, your favorite K-pop star, whomever it is, is definitely an engine to cosign the success of the athlete, the success of the brand, building a certain type of business around the sport.

And I think it’s going to come a time and a moment where you’re going to want to see music cosign another sport the way they have, principally, basketball.

Basketball is the number one through Jordan Brand and other things. When you kind of look at this logically, football/soccer is going to be the natural evolution. But I do think brands are having a hard time storytelling and merging those worlds.

Jordan Brand tried to do it with the PSGs and it did okay. But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to have Neymar wear it, or have the Jumpman sitting on the PSG logo. What would be required to happen—and I think soccer could become much bigger than all the sports—is if the brands naturally merge the product into the ecosystem.

So that’s like, hey, you’re gonna go to a PSG game. That’s the only place you could have bought the 4s and they only had a hundred drop. Then you’re [bewildered]. I’m not a PSG fan but why didn’t I know about this release?

Now when I go to Paris, I just got to go to a game ’cause they may drop something that I wasn’t prepared for. And that’s something that the brands, and principally all of our favorite brands, have kind of lost touch on.

I used to go to Japan on a monthly basis because I knew there was going to be something special there. There was a store underneath Mad Hectic in Harajuku that has like a special [Nike] Huarache that dropped.

That’s why people love shoes, it’s the element of surprise. It’s not because you can buy it on an app, it’s not because your favorite celebrity is wearing it. It’s the element of surprise that you just don’t notice happen and you ask yourself how did I miss it?

And It’s all about access ’cause you want to tell people, “Yeah, I was at that PSG game, I got that pair.”

So I think it goes very deep. I think sports play a role. It’s storytelling, it’s going to be who gets access to the pairs that makes it interesting. So hopefully, the brands we all love start considering unleashing some of the techniques from the past to elevate that and create those synergies.

The legendary Nike Dunk Low Pro SB “SBTG” released in 2006

That’s good. No matter how the industry evolves, there’re just some elements that can’t be completely eradicated. They’re always going to be needed such as the element of surprise. Even when influencers dictate much of what consumers end up buying, essentially, the element of surprise is still going to be what they’re after.

What do you think of sneaker culture in Asia, having organized two Sneaker Con SEAs already?

Sneaker culture in Asia is a really interesting thing. It’s probably in many ways at the forefront yet at the backend, depending on which side of the pendulum you swing, which side you want to look at.

The forefront is the creators, founders of all of this stuff, they’re all from Asia: The NIGOs of the world, Hiroshis of the world, Mark SBTGs of the world. He’s the first legitimate customizer in the game, the only customizer with his own Nike shoe. That hasn’t always existed.

Then on the backend, it’s in many ways influenced by a lot of other places outside of Asia. So Mark SBTG, while he gets a lot of appreciation in his own city, when he goes to other parts of Asia, he doesn’t get as much as he would in New York.

When he came to Japan, they just didn’t appreciate it. This is a guy that is at the forefront of our community. I know when he comes to New York people are going to be like “Oh, we got Mark SBTG here. This’s a big deal.”

Things like what SNKRDUNK is doing, you guys have put a really interesting unique twist on everything where you’re giving people in the US an opportunity to access pairs. I’ve acquired so many of my grails off of SNKRDUNK. Because I was able to buy them at a great value versus in the US.

I typically only was buying shoes in the US and I was like, you know what, let me see what SNKRDUNK is pricing them at, what are people doing. And I was able to acquire a bunch of shoes that way.

So it’s really hard to say definitively this is what’s going to happen here. But I know with platforms like SNKRDUNK, Sneaker Con, and many others, there will be a lot of great things happening all over.

As long as we’re doing our thing and building that community and have the Mark SBTGs, have the Hiroshis come out, have these individuals that are part of history when it comes to shoes and evolving and changing how things work, I think there’s a very bright future ahead.

It’s just continuing in-person meetings. I’m sure you guys met a lot of your sellers here over the weekend and it’s like “Hey whoa, I didn’t expect you guys to be here. It’s so great, you guys have done so much for me.” It becomes a real thing, and that’s really what builds community.

One of Alan’s grails: the Michael Lau x Nike SB Dunk Low Pro “Gardener Meets Nike”

It’s events like this that really makes the relationship tangible, as opposed to just a transaction. It becomes a relationship because of events like Sneaker Con.

I still remember the first time we met and you told me about your Kobe collection. It’s fascinating ’cause you actually got a game-worn pair and you were willing to put that much into it. You mentioned before how big your collection was, what are the criteria you have in place for yourself when deciding what you want to add to your collection?

Shoes are a very interesting thing. I’ve met people that you don’t even know they like shoes but have a crazy, crazy collection. Then you have people you would think have a crazy collection but it’s a bunch of GR (general release) stuff or whatever.

For me, I appreciate anybody that collects shoes, as long as you have some sort of passion around what you’re collecting. You understand the work, the craftsmanship, the storytelling that went into it. All of that stuff is super important.

For myself, it’s really like certain moments of my life I remember, and I want to make sure I capture those moments through sneakers. So one of the pairs I acquired that was a very important grail to me is the Michael Lau x Nike SB [Dunk Low Pro “Gardener Wood”] wooden box pair. It looks like a wooden box and it comes in a wooden box and a toy.

When I acquired this pair, it was especially sentimental to me because when I got into it, you couldn’t acquire it—it was only released in Hong Kong. It was a very special pair. It was kind of rooted in SB history as a top pair and I was like, I need this. But it’s such a different pair than a game-used Jordan shoe that I own…

You have a game-used Jordan shoe?

I own a Jordan 3 “White Cement” that’s signed by Michael Jordan and used by Michael Jordan. Very special. But that pair is so different from the Michael Lau. One was almost viewed as a piece of art, the other a piece of memorabilia.

Lately, I’ve been looking at sneakers like I almost wanted them to fall into buckets like “Art” and “Memorabilia” ’cause I’m just not going to wear it. I ruin all my shoes. I’m like the worst sneaker guy. If you saw me wear my shoes, people would be like, “What is this guy doing?” I’m the worst.

One time I was wearing the shoe that I really love—it was the Tinker x P-Rod—and we’re out in Atlanta, it was after an event and we had to park our car and walk to our hotel. After we parked, I walked into this red mud and it destroyed my shoes.

Then on, I’ve decided I’m never wearing a good shoe ever again. That always happens to me. There’s something about my nature that’s just absent-minded. So I don’t wear shoes that are of value ’cause I will destroy them.

So when you acquire shoes, one is for utility and the other for art and memorabilia. I like how you made a distinction between them. I’ve never thought of it that way.

Yeah, and I try and look at shoes in a segmented way. There’s art, memorabilia, and there’re really sentimental pairs to me.

So, when I was travelling to Japan, I bought an Air Max 95 that no one cared about. If you saw it, that’s just a regular pair, but that I need in my collection. Because I could tell you stories: I was in this line and I met this person, or I could be, I need a Bred 11s ’cause I wore it at Sneaker Con New York City in 2013 and that was a major event for us.

That was one of the biggest events we’ve ever done to that point. And it really opened us up to understanding how big the community is that we’re facilitating. So it’s those pairs that I kind of put on ice. But my stuff is spread out all over the place. If you told me to find that pair it would have to take a few days. They’re all over the place, my office, my house, my mom’s house, you name it. Somewhere.

My collection is not that big, it’s very concentrated. It’s not about quantities for me. I don’t feel good about having a lot of stuff so it’s not like, hey, I have 500 pairs.

It’s not like that, it’s probably in the 100–150 range. I’m very conscious of not keeping too much stuff ’cause I also think there’s a balance between hoarding shoes and collecting. At a certain point I just start selling stuff.

One of the Steven Harrington x BABY MILO t-shirts released exclusively at Sneaker Con Guangzhou 2019

Out of all the Sneaker Con you’ve done in the world, which one surprised you the most the first time you were there and saw the attendance?

Every event is so different. We’ve done events where we’ve had 20,000 people and that was the Guangzhou event that we did in 2019 right before the pandemic. And that event was a really breakthrough event because we did amazing stuff.

We had a Steven Harrington collaboration. The whole art was themed around him. We did toys, we did art prints, we had an amazing experience. They brought in BABY MILO assets, and we had Steven Harrington x BABY MILO shirts. It was a really cool experience and it had its own feel and touch.

Then we’ve done events in New York where it was in a church basement. And it was extremely raw and the energy in there was ferocious and people were so excited to be in that element.

We did stuff on our own that was super cool. We brought in a guy with the most extensive KAWS collection in the world. And he displayed his whole collection of stuff that people have never seen in-person.

We had at that same event adidas doing a drop with Jeremy Scott. So it’s all happening in a church basement and it’s so raw, so real, and you have people buying and selling shoes, talking and meeting.

A wholesome environment that’s very different than when I was lining up for shoes where you’d hate the guy in front of you or behind you because they’re going after your size. Sneaker Con provides the opposite. It provides a very common ground that people can be friendly with each other.

So there isn’t distinctly one event. But I think those two examples are two sides of a pendulum, from one end to the other. And we’ve done events that were really wild. There was Dallas, post-pandemic, first event we’ve done after the pandemic and we literally had everybody that embraced sneaker culture across the United States show up.

We had 20,000 people that’s like, “Thank god you guys are back.” People hugging me and kissing me. “I was waiting forever and I didn’t realize what I was missing just being outside of sneakers for so long and coming into this place.”

So all of these moments are part of our 15-year history. And I can tell you one thing that every event has a whole unique touch and know something positive is happening at each event.

There was a guy over here (Sneaker Con SEA 2024) that spent six figures on a signed Jordan 4 “Eminem”. That happened here. I saw it.

It’s really amazing stuff. So I can’t say the event we did in LA that had like 15,000 people was more important than this event because in this event, while it might have had less people, we had SNKRDUNK there and this transaction happening, giving away the Trump shoe—the “Never Surrender”.

Those are selling for a lot of money, somebody’s going to make a lot of money once they win that pair. So there are a lot of different elements that are happening and you just don’t know how things will play out.

That’s true. You can’t choose between your kids.

Exactly, exactly. That’s the best way to put it.

To conclude, do you have a message for our SNKRDUNK community?

The SNKRDUNK community is very special. I think what SNKRDUNK is building for the Asian sneakerhead is something that should be cherished. It’s a very authentic community that people who are part of it will embrace even more because of how you guys have spread across Asia and are not just in one particular region or particular country.

And we really value you guys as partners. Not only in Singapore but in Japan as well. There are things that we will continue to build further and I’ve nothing but support for what you guys do and are super grateful to have you.

Likewise, likewise! I’m pretty sure it’s only the beginning of our partnership. We’re going to see each other a lot more often down the road with more exciting things to come.

There are more interviews with the headliners coming up so stay tuned to the SNKRDUNK Magazine and @snkrdunk on Instagram! In the meantime, check out SNKRDUNK’s Sneaker Con SEA 2024 highlights.

Explore the SNKRDUNK App too and don’t forget to use our welcome code from the banner below before making your first purchase. Additionally, if you would like to try a pair out, visit our stores in Singapore and Japan!

Image Source: The Peak Magazine; GQ; Nike Skateboarding; Sotheby’s; HYPEBEAST

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