As much as few would like to admit it, the most important endorsee for most types of athletic footwear is drug dealers. Expensive Nike Epics in Amsterdam, Fila tennis shoes and Gucci in New York, the mighty Forum in Boston back in the day or the prevalence of New Balance in D.C. and Baltimore are rooted in expendable income from illicit activity. That state-of-the art performance runner or basketball shoe that broke the 100 dollar mark or that silhouette in 20 different colours to match your outfit and/or car all flourished from wedges of dirty cash. I’ve rarely seen a brand acknowledge that alpha consumer, but the 2007 Air Force 1 documentary definitely made a mention of that I-95 craze circa 1984 and the type of dudes making big buys.
After industry legend Drew Greer made a mention on Linkedin of D.C. street legend and kingpin Rayful Edmond’s primary role in making New Balance a ‘hood classic (if you think a pair of 1300s is expensive now, consider how wild that price was in 1985) and reading Ruben Castaneda’s S Street Rising, it had me hunting for more information on America’s capital and its role in turning shoes into street-level necessities. Around the recent release of the DMV New Balance 990, a video from merginglaneprojects included a chat with onetime Rayful affiliate Curtis “Curtbone” Chambers on the subject of NBs. Curtbone doesn’t shed too much light on the origins of the local NB craze, but it’s an interesting chat regardless.
This Washington Post article from 1991 on the subject of sneakers (plus Champion sweats and Starter parkas) and the city’s young black community at the time is well worth reading. Discussing the word-of-mouth phenomenon that made Fila sell out constantly for a short while and mentioning how the Ewing brand was created with some close insights from kids on the street, there’s a lot of jewels here. Did you know that another Rayful associate, his LA-based broker Melvin Butler’s ownership of 76 pairs of athletic shoes was used as evidence against him during Butler’s arrest?
And while you can buy an AF1 on a majority of high streets in the UK nowadays, just remember that it’s role 25 years ago — when retro wasn’t as key to Nike’s offerings, it was a far more specific offering. According to the aforementioned article, “The company also sends a “special makeup” model — the Air Force One, which was introduced in 1983 and sells for about $80 — to selected inner city stores. “This shoe is strictly inner city,” one Washington retailer said. “It’s not in Nike’s catalogue, but it sells well among blacks.“