Why the stories behind sneakers matter

Words: Nhlanhla Masemola | Images: Supplied

How exactly do we support local businesses in these challenging times and will sneaker culture have to adjust to a new normal anytime soon? It may be too soon to answer questions such as these with any certainty, but if our Sole Predictions series is anything to go by, the love of kicks isn’t going anywhere. This week, we chat with music journalist and i(m)bali LIVE creator Helen Herimbi. With a wealth of experience in digital media, content production, scriptwriting and interviewing some of the top musicians in the country, there's little doubt that Helen is well-versed in South African music and culture. More importantly, she also enjoys next-level sneakers as much as we do.


What single sneaker do you own that you’re loving right now?

I only buy sneakers that I love, so this is a hard question to answer. When I've been outside during the national lockdown , I've mostly been wearing my Jordan 1 Sports Illustrated kicks.

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

To me, the story behind the sneaker is paramount. I am specifically drawn to the stories that align with my personal values. For instance, I have a pair of Reebok Classic Leather kicks with a red line struck through the phrase, “It’s a Man’s World”. Five women were involved in this tongue-in-cheek spinoff campaign. I also love my PUMA Nova GRL PWR sneakers, because they’re from a collaboration with Lola Plaku who started out as a music journalist in Canada. It’s rare for a woman who isn’t a front-facing part of the music industry to have this kind of opportunity and if it’s meant to be, I hope to also be a music journalist who has her own sneaker. Get Hayden on the phone! Haha!

air jordan

What do you believe makes a classic sneaker a classic?

Again, it’s the story. I may be attached to this, because stories are the heart of my work as a music journalist. With i(m)bali LIVE interview series, key players in music share their stories with the world and we aim to give them their flowers (imbali) while they can still smell them. The story behind a pair contributes to how they become classic. Jordans are a prime example of this, because they bear the name of a man whose story is so inspiring it transcends gender, age, race and geography.


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

I don’t know. My guess is access to mommy’s money and more frequent releases have altered the magnitude of desire to cop now. Years ago, most people would save their own money and wait a long time for a sneaker to come into the country. I suppose it also depends on people who only wear the brands that enjoy hypervisibility. I was able to easily buy a Melody Ehsani x Reebok Allen Iverson Question pair and I live in South Africa, but it’s a shame that resellers made it impossible to enjoy historic moments such as Melody Ehsani’s Jordan 1s over on this side of the world.


Do you think it’s uncomfortable to be a woman who's interested in kicks or has the industry changed?

I was never uncomfortable being a woman who loves sneakers. It’s people who aren’t women who love sneakers who are uncomfortable with or don’t spare a thought about us. For more women to have the same world-class sneaker access without relying on online shopping, I would implore brand buyers for the South African market to ask women who pay for their sneakers what we would actually like them to bring into the stores.


Are there any sneaker styles you think people should let go of?

No, I think there are as many styles as there are personalities. People should rock what resonates with them.

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

The Grade School is a community I started for women with tiny feet who love sneakers. It’s still hard to find the illest sneakers in grade school sizes. So, I’d say one thing some people – mostly the buyers and retailers – get wrong about sneakers is that the most fly kicks come in size 7 and up.