Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday September 17th 2019

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Just For Kicks

By Savannah Evanoff

Nathaniel Johnston prefers his kicks subtly cool— styles that don’t have to shout at you with over-the-top designs.

“I like the muted scenario, where no one’s going to notice you have a super nice pair of sneakers on unless they’re looking,” Johnston said. “You’re sitting next to them on the bus, and you’ve got your foot up on your knee, and they happen to take a moment and look over, ‘Oh, wow.’”

Five pairs from Johnston’s sneaker collection are part of “Worn In / Worn Out.” And despite the exhibition name, most of his pairs spend their lives in boxes.

Hendric, a former co-worker, piqued Johnston’s interest in sneakers five-plus years ago when their conversation landed on the topic of collecting.

“The only exposure I had to sneakers prior to this was skateboard culture,” Johnston said. “Adidas hadn’t really popped back onto the scene at that time, so it was all Jordans and Nike. Kanye West was starting to work with Nike.”

Hendric played a big role in the birth of Johnston’s shoe collection. He snatched Johnston’s phone and downloaded the sneaker app Unlaced.

“He told me, ‘Just get what you like. Go down to the mall—Foot Locker, Jimmy Jazz—look around and see what you like,” Johnston said. “I was like, ‘I want to do that, but I don’t want to spend money on some shoes that aren’t respectable in the community.’ I didn’t want to enter the sneaker culture and walk around thinking I’m rocking some cool stuff and end up not knowing what I’m talking about.”

Hendric’s interest stemmed from Air Jordans and basketball.

“He had really vivid memories of watching Michael Jordan play,” Johnston said.

“For him, it was about that history. But I started to see more of the sculptural element to it with utility and fashion. I think that’s what really clicked for me… how much time people were putting into these designs and how coveted some of them were.”

Johnston graduated from the University of West Florida in 2012 with a bachelor in fine arts, so the visual stimulation appealed to him. When he saw people would post concepts for shoe collaborations on Reddit—such as sneakers to match each of Kanye West’s album covers—he began to make his own.

“The creative design side was really talking to me,” Johnston said. “Through Reddit, I started to get some people messaging me, ‘Hey, man, I really like this one. Have you ever thought about doing this?’ or, ‘I’d pay you good money for you to do a shoe for me.’”

Johnston launched a custom sneaker business on Instagram under the name @kream.

“It was a play on Wu Tang’s ‘Cash Rules Everything Around Me,’ but it was ‘Kicks Rule Everything Around Me.’ I started making a couple hundred extra bucks a month painting, which is what I went to school for, and shoes, which I was completely infatuated with at the time.”

“All of that just funded my desire to buy more shoes,” he said.

At one point, Johnston had 40 pairs.

“That sounds like a lot to an average person who doesn’t collect,” Johnston said. “That was nothing compared to the people I got in touch with. The guy that got me into it, he had an entire room that was covered wall to wall with sneakers.”

Johnston remembers mornings waking up, logging into Nike and waiting to buy a pair of sneakers that released an hour-and-a-half later.

One of his pairs in “Worn In / Worn Out” is a fake pair of shoes he couldn’t get online—a replica of the Nike Air Yeezy Red October. They retailed at $200 but resold for more than $2,000. Johnston bought the replicas for $100.

“There are people out there who will buy fake pairs of shoes and be like, ‘Hey, these are real. Check it out. Look what I got,’” Johnston said. “That was not me. That pair was arguably the top five pair of most hyped shoes to-date. There was so much hype around it, and because I have such an affinity for design, I wanted to at least see the shoe for myself. There’s a huge difference between seeing something on a computer screen and holding it in your hand.”

While those particular shoes are not authentic, they’re close.

“That’s an ironic thing about it is they were literally made in the same factory, but they’re not going through the same conveyor belt that’s putting the shoes in Nike boxes,” Johnston said. “I know there’s differences in the finishing touches.”

Some of the shoes Johnston yearned for in his early days of collecting aren’t so exclusive today.

“The Jordan 1s and the 3s that were popping, that no one could get their hands on, myself included. I couldn’t get half the shoes I wanted,” Johnston said. “But I walked into Finish Line the other day, and there was a pair of Jordan 3s just sitting on the shelf.”

Johnston understands the cycle.

He also doesn’t feign to think he’s the most OG sneaker collector in the world, but he understands and appreciates the culture.

“Most of why I collected is because of the aesthetic, the craftsmanship,” Johnston said.

“Art is everywhere. Sometimes it’s not as apparent, because it’s more tools and utility—it doesn’t need to look pretty. Shoes don’t. Let’s be honest. If there were three types of shoes in the entire world and we all just got those shoes, we wouldn’t think too much of it because they worked and protected our feet.”

While that might be true, Johnston has worn his Adidas Ultra Boosts for the past two years. He also busts out his black Air Jordans to complement a tuxedo.

“I still get to have that personalized individuality,” Johnston said. “That’s a big part of sneakers in general is being able to express yourself in a different way. Can’t walk around barefoot. Can’t go to a gala wearing socks.”

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Sneakers you will see in “Worn In / Worn Out”:

From Nathaniel Johnston:
Nike Air Jordan 9 “French Blue”
Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2 Cream/Triple White
Replica Nike Air Yeezy Red October (Super Max Perfect)
Nike Air Jordan 1 Retro High “Family Forever”
Nike Air Jordan 1 Retro High “Black Toe”
NikeiD Lebron II Custom

From Taylor Battiste:
Nike Special Field Air Force 1
Nike Air Force 1 White and Black
Puma Fierce
OFF-WHITE x Air Jordan 1 Retro High ‘UNC’
Alexander McQueen for Puma