Sneaker LAB founder on the culture of kicks

Words: Nhlanhla Masemola | Images: Supplied

Continuing our love of sneakers and sneaker culture with our Sole Predictions series, we’re catching up with another esteemed sneaker expert on what to expect for kicks in 2020. This week Jo Farah, the founder and CEO of Sneaker LAB, takes some time to talk to us about what his business is up to and what makes a classic sneaker. Established in 2012, Sneaker LAB has slowly established itself as the go-to environmentally friendly shoe-care brand. With Sneaker LAB products available in 60 countries across the world, it’s safe to say that Jo knows a thing or two about sneakers.


What single sneaker do you own that you’re loving right now or wearing a lot of at the moment?

Raised by Wolves x Saucony AYA "Asphalt Jungle". It’s a super-comfortable sneaker. I’m a big fan of Saucony and, in my opinion, it’s a very underrated brand.

And what do you look for in a sneaker? How many pairs do you own?

Something nostalgic like the Nike Air Jordan 1 or Nike SB dunks lows and mids. I’d say my collection never gets further than 100 pairs. I wear 90% of all the kicks I own and usually get rid of them after some time. A lot of sneakerheads would hardly call me a collector.


What do you believe makes a classic sneaker a classic?

A timeless shape that doesn't age, which is why the Jordan 1 is my favourite. It’s one of the most, if not the most, iconic sneaker with a regular ongoing colourway and collaboration releases.

What is your opinion on the state of sneaker culture in the last five years?

I have mixed feelings about it. In the old days, collecting was not easy and you had to have connections to get the latest drops, which didn't happen every weekend. It's become so mainstream now that it has kind of lost the appeal that made it so cool. On the flipside, sneaker culture has grown so much that collectors are able to make a good living trading in the latest releases. I do feel, however, that the major sneaker brands are often taking the mickey with some of the releases and “limited runs” only to release them again a year later.


And what about the nature of hype? Is it the same as it’s always been?

Yes and no. The essence of hype is still the same, but I personally feel a lot of drops get overhyped when it isn’t warranted. There are so many drops happening so often these days it's difficult to keep track and I feel a lot of the lustre of collecting has been lost.

The fashion industry is at a crossroads between streetwear, sneaker culture and luxury fashion. Do you think these spheres will ever separate again?

Everything in fashion works in cycles. For example, Buffalo shoes have made a huge comeback – who would have thought? I do feel, for the foreseeable future, there will be more of a merging of streetwear and luxury brands... excited to see where it ends up.


What do you think sneakers will look like for the rest of the year? Do you think there’s a general trend that will dominate or do you think tastes will drastically change post-COVID -19?

At the moment, drops are being held back as brands aren’t getting the hype around the releases they want and with the closure of stores globally, a lot has moved online. I don't think the virus will impact the culture much. What I do think will change is people paying more attention to cleaning and caring for their sneakers, especially since recent research from America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that shoes can be a big carrier of the COVID-19 virus.


How is Sneaker LAB coping under these new circumstances?

We are pushing on, working closely with our international customers, focusing a lot on online, as well as communicating alternative uses for our products and keeping your sneakers clean. We are also making a point of getting involved in giving back by continuing to support the feeding of school children, especially now with schools being closed. I feel strongly that this is a time for empathy, gratitude and kindness. Together it's the only way we will get through it globally.

Finally, what’s one thing you think people get wrong about sneakers?

For me, it all comes down to some sneakers being overhyped. I find more often than not people are into releases purely because of the hype, not their personal taste. It's a case of The Emperor's New Clothes.