Photo courtesy of Adrian Aliwarga

Sneakerheads find community, investment opportunity

In order to understand the sneaker culture of Lewis & Clark, we can start by looking at the impact of the Oregon start-up Nike. 

Having previously catered primarily to runners and track and field competitors, Nike struck an endorsement deal with a young Michael Jordan in 1984. Jordan not only earned the largest endorsement deal of any rookie athlete at $500,000 per year for five years, but he also got his own sneaker: the Air Jordan.

Nike had aimed to make roughly $3 million off the Air Jordans in their first year, but instead made $126 million. They later surpassed Converse, which was the NBA’s official shoe from the early to mid-1980s. The small shoe firm that took a chance on a rookie NBA player revolutionized the sneaker industry and set it on a new path.

Naturally, other endorsements followed for Jordan, but it was the Air Jordans that solidified his standing as a cultural icon. Sneakers would no longer be merely for athletic performance, it would later lead to a fashion subculture of people who collect, trade, or admire sneakers as a hobby.

Adrian Aliwarga ’22 identifies with the term Sneakerhead. Currently, his favorite pair of shoes are the Jordan 4 Retro Sashiko, which did not release in the United States. The Japanese model copied the silhouette of a traditional Jordan but also incorporated Japanese textiles and prints. The retail price is around $200, but on some resale websites such as StockX, they go for closer to $700.

Aliwarga has always been into sneakers, but it was not until he came to the U.S. from Indonesia that he started collecting as a hobby. His sophomore year he bought a pair of Off-White Vapormax for $400 with the plan of selling them to make a profit, but he ended up losing a lot of money. Since then his mentality has changed.

“Last year when I came back into the States after my gap year I got back into it,” Aliwarga said “It grew on me as I thought ‘yeah if I want to get nicer stuff I have to sell the stuff I have already’ That resulted in me buying a $20 shoe and flipping it for $40 then using that money to buy another shoe.”

For Aliwarga, the main point of collecting shoes is not to make a profit, but rather to have a good time. Although he used to only wear his sneakers for special occasions, he now wears the shoes he is not selling out and about. He even wears some of his shoes in the rain and to the gym. His philosophy is “if I like it, I’m just going to wear it”

As an entrepreneurship minor, Aliwarga’s LC education provided support for him to establish a stall at the Portland Vintage Market. It was there that he met a number of other LC students who shared his love of sneakers. Right now, the LC sneakerhead community is all word of mouth, and to become involved you must seek it out. It is also hard to find a community when there are no sneaker conventions in the Portland metro area. This is partly what inspired Aliwarga to start designing Rose City Sneaker Fest with Cameron Stewart (Co-Founder), Maya Rutherford (Creative Director), Noah Myers (Head of IT) and Abdo Al Rayyis ’23 (Data Analyst).

“Portland is the capital of Nike, Adidas, and Underarmour,” Aliwarga said. “We have all the big sports brands here and there is no sneaker convention. There is a really strong love for the sneaker community here. I just don’t understand why it’s so underrepresented amongst the United States.”

Although they do not have a location yet, they have garnered interest from LC, Portland Gear, Chosen Wines, BurnCycle and various other PNW stores. Aliwarga and the other organizers will be making an announcement at the end of this month when they have more details secured. As of right now, they plan on launching their website in April and holding the convention during the summer. 

Aliwarga understands that there is a price barrier to participating in sneaker culture and he does not want Rose City Sneaker Fest to reflect that.

“We are trying to build a community and we want to provide a place where students, people can gather and just talk about sneakers,” he said. “Doesn’t mean that they are going to buy or sell a shoe but it’s more of a ‘hey I like your shoes let’s talk about it’ and talk about other shoes. We just want to provide a place where people can just socialize and talk about the things they love”

Stay tuned for news and updates on Rose City Sneaker Fest Summer 2022 by following @rosecity_sneakerfest on Instagram.

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