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August 13, 2019 | by  | in Features |
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The Ugly Sneaker

When I was young, I wanted a pair of And1s.

Specifically, I was 12, and I wanted a pair of “And1 Streetball Mids”; by all accounts a functional basketball sneaker, but a shoe with all the ugly elements of your dad’s New Balances yet none of the paternal charm. As if a shoe designer in Soviet Russia gained a surprising amount of consumer traction with 12-year-old boys who wore sweatbands and three-quarter pants.

Of course, Mum told me no. And only part of her firm resistance was the impracticalities of giving her 12-year-old son a pair of shoes solely used for basketball. The rest of it was her own accurate sense of taste; that these shoes looked like if someone had reimagined the lovable-but-hideous Toyota Hiace as a shoe.

But I could not be helped, could not be dissuaded from my dream of wearing a pair of minivans on my feet. No fashion advice could convince me against my desire to be the freshest, fugliest, kid on the block.

But despite its obvious flaws, despite its proving that beauty really is skin deep—I look back at the “And1 Streetball Mid” with fondness; a certain comfortable melancholy.

My days now are enjoyable but nowhere near as exciting as they were when I was wearing rubber marshmallows on my feet. Every now and then, certain pairs of shoes catch my eye—big, chunky, white things that wouldn’t be out of place sold next to a pair of John Bull workboots. But they’re not sold at Blackwoods. They’re on the shelves of places like Area51 or Good as Gold where all the staff look too bored to serve you and where you’re unsure if the clothes are for sale, or meant as decorations. And they’re worn by stick-thin white girls rather than slightly overweight tradies or chubby prepubescent boys from New Plymouth. And they’re sold for $400. Four hundred dollars!

Yes, dear readers, these are not the wearable Toyota Hiaces of old. These are Hyundai Imax utility vans. These are LDV G10 Cargo vans. We are in a new age; the age of the high-fashion ugly sneaker. Designers have figured out the way to our 12-year-old boy hearts and it is through uneasily sincere sneakers, worn by Instagram influencers with just the right amount of sartorial irony. These shoes were made for walking. And they sure as shit will walk. With a pair of stupidly expensive socked feet in them. Your socks were ^how much? What does Supreme even mean?

We should have seen this coming. For close to four years, the masterminds behind fashionable sneakers have been successfully mining the treasure trove of nostalgia, hidden away in our hearts and minds, with careless abandon. On February 4, 2015, the Yeezy Boost 750 “dropped” (which is what people say when a popular shoe brand releases a new model, but no one’s actually dropping them, in case they get scuffed) and rival retailers leapt into action to capitalise on the stylistic gold rush.

They are logging companies, and we are the Amazon rainforest, and they are slashing and burning every ounce of nostalgia in our bodies to belt out yet another tune that plucks at our heartstrings. But goddamit if it isn’t impossible to turn away from the sound of a sweetheart’s song and turn your face once again to the crooked smile of a pair of oversized Nikes. Just like that, you’re a fool in love again, and Fila has turned your feelings into dollars.

We are all fools in love, and that’s the thing. A 2012 study by the ^Journal of Consumer Research^ titled “Nostalgia: The Gift That Keeps on Giving” stated that nostalgia fosters a sense of social connectedness and increases our sense of empathy with one another. We might all be searching for a bygone era and longing for a bygone lover (And1, was it something I said?), but we can at least find solace in each other. This is translated into trends, and, to the collective delight of our fathers, we end up wearing sensible (but hideous) shoes out.

And1 was never at the cutting edge of shoe design. It’s doing even worse now, and a visit to its website gives me all the second-hand embarrassment of when you go on Facebook and your high school ex has joined a megachurch and is leaving one-star Yelp reviews for Mexico Food & Liquor cause she doesn’t understand the concept of tapas. Good for them, but oh my, have things changed.

And1 may not command a huge market share the likes of Nike or Jordan. But so help me God, it does in my heart. There’s something about the white Nubuck upper with “And1” stamped across the ankle; the blue sole, with “And1” again in baby blue; and the memories of preteen boys wearing ¾ length sateen mesh shorts and headbands, that makes me want to sing “Whole Again” by Atomic Kitten. You might know it; join in with me:

Looking back on where we first met
(Frontrunner New Plymouth)
I cannot escape and I cannot forget
(And 1’s devil may care, “what-the-hell-put-a-logo-on-a-toy-car-and-call-it-a-shoe” charm)
Baby you’re the one
(That my mum couldn’t understand the attraction in)
You still turn me on
(Like a high school sweetheart)
You can make me whole again
(Like a lost shoe reunited with its pair mate).

Let’s try again, And1. For old times’ sake.

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