Forget Stumptown. Portland could just as easily be dubbed Sneakertown. The city is home to footwear giants like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour, to say nothing of coffee shops and design academies catering to indie designers and the sneaker-obsessed.
The inaugural Sneaker Week seeks to lace it all together. It kicks off this week.
In the heart of Portland's sneaker scene, you'll find Deadstock Coffee. To find out what sets this Chinatown coffee shop apart from every other one in town, all you have to do is ask the customers about their favorite shoes.
“My oldest sister used to always have the flyest kicks and I wanted to be like her. Whatever she was wearing I was wearing. So that's how I kind of fell in love with sneakers,” said Nike employee Kimberly Andrews.
Andrews recently moved to Portland from Houston — with six moving boxes full of sneakers in tow — and said that so far, she’s pretty impressed with the local sneaker community.
Mo Sanders travels to Portland every week from Tacoma, Washington, to play on a local men’s roller derby team. Hanging out at Deadstock is an important stop on his weekly pilgrimage. Sanders recalled, “When I was growing up my first pair of Nikes were hand-me-downs that were four sizes too big, that I got from my mother's ex-boyfriend. And I wore those shoes into the ground.”
Skateboarder Guy Gaffney perched on a stool in the corner, looking quite at home. He said he spends time here daily. He discovered the coffee shop one day while on a mission to find sneaker cleaner. Since that day, Deadstock’s become his social hub.
“I've got a pair of Supreme Dunk Lows which was the first collaboration that Supreme and Nike did together. Those were $900," he said. Gaffney sold a bunch of clothes to thrift stores to raise $700. "So I only had to pay $200 out of pocket. That was a pretty good come-up for me.” He looks for creative ways to fund his modest-sized sneaker collection, which currently stands around 40 pairs.
A sneakerhead is defined in the Urban Dictionary as "A person who collects limited, rare, OG, or flat out exclusive kicks. Usually the collection consists of Jordans or Dunks."
Andrews, Sanders and Gaffney are just the type of people Ian Williams wanted to attract when he started Deadstock Coffee.
Williams has a theory: In the same way some are nerds about coffee, "sneaker people are nerds about sneakers. We're actually really the same person. We obsess about something that makes us happy.”
Like his customers, Williams is full of sneaker stories. He moved to the Portland area as a kid and got a job as a janitor at the Nike campus when he was 18. In his free time, he set up a desk in a back hallway, taught himself some basic design skills, and pitched a three-shoe package concept to the company.
“It was called the custodian pack," Williams said. "There was a Vacuum shoe, a Windex shoe, and a Wet Floor shoe, like the 'slippery' sign. They hated the Vacuum one, the Windex they thought we'd have problems with. We actually went to market with the Wet Floor. It's a yellow Dunk High with some red in the toe area. It’s shiny like if the floor is clean. It was paying respect to my day job, which was actually my night job.”
Williams opened Deadstock in 2014, positioning himself in the center of a growing nexus of sneaker-related businesses that have sprung up in Chinatown.
Retail and consignment stores like Index and Compound Gallery cater to casual customers and hardcore collectors alike. And Pensole Footwear Design Academy, the first sneaker school of its kind, attracts up-and-coming design talent from around the world.
The only thing missing was some sort of event tying them all together.
“Portland's kind of known for doing some weird and quirky things,” said Herbert Smith, Marketing Designer at Pensole.
Smith credits a conversation he had with friend Megan Davis over at Wacom, a company that makes digital drawing pads for designers — including those dreaming up shoes — for setting the wheels in motion for Sneaker Week.
After discussing the many celebrations hosted in Portland and the city’s penchant for keeping it weird, they thought, “Why not Sneaker Week? Why don't we celebrate sneakers and sneaker culture?”
Sneakers are big business in Oregon. The state's outdoor apparel industry accounts for 141,000 jobs and $4 billion in annual wages, according to the Oregon Business Plan. But Smith says that sales are not the focus.
Smith describes Sneaker Week as “A platform that connects the industry with the community. So it's not just a platform to shove product down your throat. It's a platform to actually celebrate the product and how it has influenced people throughout culture.”
Smith partnered with a bunch of the local players and businesses to create the weeklong festival.
Activities include shoe design workshops, a film festival, block party, art exhibitions, sneaker swap and presentations from some big-name footwear influencers.
All of the programming shares a common goal: to spotlight Portland as a beacon in the sneaker industry.
To Deadstock’s Ian Williams, it’s all about community. He said it’s hard to put Portland’s sneaker culture in words. He encourages people to come check it out, experience it first-hand.
“The sneaker community in Portland, we're way different than any other city, because we create all of the things that people are interested in.”
Portland Sneaker Week runs Sept. 17–23.