Although Sneaker Culture is still just a small sub-culture, it has come a long way since Basketball players, B-Boys, and early Hip-Hop stars opened the world’s eyes to the power of the sole. In this feature, KATC speaks with Kevin Wildes, co-creator of “It’s the Shoes”, to find out about his personal love for sneakers, as well as, how he, his partner, and Bobbito Garcia were able to convince ESPN that Sneaker Culture, was in fact, big.
Written/Produced By: Rich “MaZe” Lopez
Pix:Rich “MaZe” Lopez
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KATC: I would first like to thank you for sitting down with us today. Let’s start at the very beginning of your sneaker journey. At what point in your life did you fall in love with sneakers? Do you remember the pair of sneakers that sparked this love?
KW: Yeah, I had a pair of, I want to say, Georgetown Nike Terminators. This was when I was little, I was about six, and I was playing Soccer in them. I always loved that colorway. Then I went back and looked at a picture of them and I realized that they weren’t really Terminators, but they were Terminator looking. They almost look like the first Jordan or even a Dunk. You can’t really see them in this picture, but, those were the first sneakers that I remember being in love with.
KATC: So you would say your love of sneakers began at around age six?
KW: Yeah like six or seven. I had one pair of sneakers growing up. My family wasn’t well off but we weren’t poor either, that’s just the way it was. You got one pair of sneakers and that’s it. I had some terrible sneakers too. I had a pair of green Champion sneakers in the 7th grade. This is before Champion hit Payless and it was really jumping off.
KATC: Champion had their time, the Champion crew necks were everywhere.
KW: Yeah! If you had a Champion t-shirt or or a Champion Sweatshirt you were the sh*t! I came through with a pair of green Champion sneakers and I was murdering people.
KATC: So you got plenty of love for those?
KW: Oh yeah. I mean I knew everyone’s sneakers, I was always into sneakers and you knew who had the ill sneakers. Then came B.J. Johnson, in the sixth grade, I hope he is reading this too. I was a herb, I was little and I played the clarinet. I had to go to like gifted and talented classes, which is nice, but when you get pulled out of class to go with the “smart kids”, that’s not cool. So, I was a herb but I could play Ball. I ended up dropping out of it because I got herbed to much. Anyway the moral of the story is this, B.J. Johnson came through to my school with Fire Red IVs. He was from Hawaii, he had blonde hair, all tan, rocking a Hawaii Sweatshirt and Jordan Fire Red IVs. He scooped all the girls, he took everyone, he was the king of the school. He did it quick. He came through like “I am B.J. Johnson and these are my Jordan IVs”. He was the only kid in the whole school with Jordans!
KW: That’s why I am ready for the retros. This will be my big F-You to B.J. Johnson. Then the following year the Vs came out. I wanted them so bad. It was Christmas and I was opening up all my presents and I’m done with opening the presents and my mom was like “Oh I forgot about this one”. I open it up and its the Fire Red Vs with the 23 on the side. I went bonkers. Those were my first pair of Jordans. I wore them to death. I murdered them to the point that I wrote Nike a letter telling them that they were defective because they broke at the sole. I sent them back and they sent me a new pair. The VIs were out by then so I couldn’t wear the Vs because they were old by then, it wasn’t cool. Also, they were fresh out the box and back then you couldn’t wear fresh kix. You know how you have “Wear Fresh Kix” on the site? You couldn’t do that back then. If you wore fresh kix at that time you were a nerd, it meant you couldn’t play, you were just some kid with nice sneakers. The point was to make your kix look rugged so that everyone knew that you could play.
KATC: Did you end up getting the VIs?
KW: No man that was it. You only got one pair of Jordans. I remember I really wanted Asics Gels Basketball sneakers back then. In my middle school the Basketball team got Black Asics Gels, but for some reason I never got them, that was a bad look for me. I always look on eBay for them. In High school I didn’t wear a ton of sneakers, that’s when Timberland got big, so I was wearing Timbs. I had a pair of Maestros at some point. That was basically it. Then in college I had zero dollars. I wish I had a better story, like yo I was hustlin’ to get the freshest Jordans, I had to eat. Then I finally come to the city, I finally got a couple pairs of sneakers. It was finally nice to be able to afford to pay your rent and get some sneakers, which is why I think the Retro trend is so big. It’s like good I’m finally going to get those sneakers that B.J. Johnson had and I’m going to wear them all day long and run around in them.
KATC: Now that we know your sneaker history, tell us about your production history. How did you get into producing?
KW: I was a writer first. I always fancied myself a writer. I came into college a semester ahead because of my high school credits, so I had a whole semester to play with. I applied for a whole bunch of internships and I ended up at Letterman (The David Letterman Show) the whole semester. It was great. I was 20 years old and I had a job that I went to everyday that was on T.V. with all of these important people around. When I graduated I went and wrote for a local newspaper, them, my old boss at Letterman brought me to ESPN. At ESPN I just worked my way up from fixing the copy machine, to, fixing the bigger copy machine, until they begin to finally trust you and you get to work on the ESPY awards and random other projects.
KATC: Is “It’s the Shoes” your first show?
KW: Yeah at first you would do little things here and there, like an interview with The Rock or a highlights package for the ESPYs, just tiny tiny little things. Then you start doing bigger things.
KW: For one project we went up to Boston, me and my partner Jacoby, to interview Jimmy Fallon for Fever Pitch at the Yankees/Red Sox game. We gave the tape to the truck and stayed for the game, the Yankees beat my Red Sox. After the game I ran into my ex-girlfriend which was a little too much, so we were like, “We gotta start drinking”. We ended up getting hammered. The next morning we wake up and Jacoby’s buddy works at Concepts so we went there and bought something. On the drive back to New York we were still in that post drunk haze and we were like, “We gotta do something man, this is not jumping off getting hammered and what not”. So he was like, he said it first, “Let’s do a show about sneakers”. I was like that makes sense. We knew that the boss at the time had some coffee table books and one of them was Scoop Jackson’s book. So we knew that the boss knew it wasn’t just a silly thing and that he would probably be receptive to it. So we started thinking about making moves. We spoke to all of our T.V. friends about it. Everybody, everybody, everybody hated it. They were like, “no do it like Cribs, do it about jewelry or something else, do it like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”.
KATC: Who were you pitching it to at this time?
KW: Nobody. We were just telling our friends about it. We couldn’t get a meeting with the boss. I mean the boss was cool and everything but you couldn’t just walk in his office and say “hey I got a show.” So, No one really understood it, except us. We tried explaining it like, walk a mile in a man’s shoes and you see who he is, if you start with their shoes you can get some insight into their personality and it should work as a show. So we were like “ok let’s do a pilot”. The pilot was nothing like the show. Bob was the first person we interviewed, then we interviewed Fat Joe and Dame [Damon Dash], and then we went to Chicago and interviewed Scoop. When we interviewed Scoop, he took it to like a whole other level, that was when I was like “damn this could be a show”. When you talk to Scoop and you talk to Bob, it’s not like talking to a kid who likes sneakers, these people have thought about this and it means something to them on another level. So we came back from that Chicago interview with Scoop and we knew this was the real thing, we knew that there is some truth to this culture that goes beyond just sneakers. It touches upon Hip-Hop, individuality, and shows how people come up.
KATC: How did you get these early interviews with Bob, Fat Joe, Dame, and Scoop?
KW: We told them that we were doing a pilot for ESPN. What it really was, was just me and my man hoping. There was a little fib juice on that one. They were cool with it though. The person that really believed in the show was our talent producer, she helped us get Joe and Dame. Both Joe and Dame ended up being on the real show. All of the kids on the internet were like, “why don’t they interview Fat Joe”. They don’t know that we interviewed Fat Joe when it wasn’t even a show.
KATC: What was the early format of the show?
KW: Nothing man! There was no host. We didn’t know what we were doing. All we knew was that we needed to make a move and do something quick. After we shot those interviews we took them back and looked at them and we were like, “what is this”. You have to mess up a few times. When we interviewed Joe for example, it was just sneaker talk, he was just saying “this is an Air Force 1, this is this, this is that”. So we watched it at the end and we were like, this is not the truth. It wasn’t the truth because we had a mis-step early on in the pilot because we focused on the sneakers and not the people. So now when you look back at the second season when we really interviewed Joe, it was not just about sneakers, it was about Joe coming up out of the South Bronx. It was about the value of sneakers to disadvantaged youth and how you come up, and his rise to fame via Bobbito through the radio show. So now when you look at that show, you are like this is the portrait of a likeable guy that I now know more about. It’s not just about sneakers, it can’t just be about sneakers. Sneakers are just sneakers. People make sneaker culture, sneakers don’t make sneaker culture.
KATC: So you interviewed all these guys…
KW: And we never showed it to anyone. By the time we figured it out, we were like this is not what the show is supposed to be about. It was a bad version of “Just for Kicks”. It was celebrity interviews about sneakers, it was nothing.
KATC: At what point and how did it take its present shape?
KW: It was originally called “In My Shoes” but the boss was like that’s corny let’s call it “It’s the Shoes”. I was like “you can call it whatever you want as long as we make it”. He told us to go talk to John Hock. John is an amazing filmmaker, he has done a million things, he’s a genius. We never did anything, we did little things here and there, but he taught us about what really makes a show. Then he suggested to have Bob host the show, which was cool because we already interviewed Bob.
KATC: So he didn’t know that you had already interviewed Bob?
KW: No! In our first meeting we were already talking about Bob being the host.
KATC: Was Bob receptive to it immediately? Did he take some coaxing?
KW: He didn’t want it to be corny. He didn’t know us from a hole in the wall. He knew John but he didn’t know me and Jacoby. John said as long as the show is honest, you can’t go wrong. He said it can’t be corny if it’s honest. We interviewed Iverson early on and he said something that has become the motto of our show. He said “all I want to do is keep it real and authentic”. Whenever we are in the editing room we always ask ourselves “is this real and authentic”?
KATC: So take us through the first season. What did you learn from the first season?
KW: During the first season we were still trying to figure out what we were doing. It was a tremendous amount of work but we just needed to get it done. Last year every show got a little better. We learned a lot about interviewing and eliciting real moments from people. We had Terrell Owens on the show, and he is supposed to be the most cocky guy in the world, he was in the stairwell with Bob and he said that he wanted a pair of Dominique Wilkins Brooks. He said that he wanted them because he didn’t want to be “picked at” when he was growing up. This is T.O.! He has the biggest ego in the world but he is just a grown up kid who wanted a pair of Brooks! We just want to have honest moments on the show, that was what we learned. For instance when we had Spike on the show, he talked about the importance of having two black men (Mars Blackmon, Michael Jordan) as the face of a company (Nike). We were like wow, this is much more than sneakers.
KATC: After learning from the first season, what was different in the second season?
KW: The first season was very celebrity driven, now, you are there to watch Bob, he’s amazing anyway. Wherever Bob goes, you are going to follow. We elevated Bob in the second season. Bob is the star of the show and whoever he interviews, cool. It’s like Letterman, the host is the key to the show.
KATC: What kind of feeling did you catch from the sneaker community on the internet?
KW: It’s nice that people are passionate about the show at the very least. In the first season I went on to Niketalk and there was a post that said, This show, and then next to that, it had an emoticon that had a glowing head that would then vomit. It’s like anything on the internet, it’s just nice that people are passionate about the show. If I did a show that was called “Adorable Puppies” and then I went onto PuppyTalk.com, people would be like, “this show sucks. These puppies aren’t cute”!
KATC: Was there anything from the internet, or from the people, that you incorporated into the show?
KW: Kind of. First, people wanted to see normal sneakerheads so we put that into the show. Second, we learned, you can’t listen to anybody. You can’t listen your friends, people on the internet, people at work, etc. You have to make the show that you want to make. Why was Dipset on? Because I like Dipset. Why was Ghostface on? Because we like Ghostface. The main goal was to put people on the show that we liked.
KATC: What kind of creative input does Bob have on the show?
KW: Immense. The show is a product of Bob’s philosophy on sneakers.
KATC: Have you heard anything regarding how does the sneaker industry itself view the show?
KW: I don’t know. We want to keep an arms length from the industry so that we never get forced into anything. If someone on the show wants to say that a certain sneaker is wack, then they can say it, that’s real and authentic.
KATC: The second season has wrapped. What is the possibility of a third season?
KW: We are up in the air right now. I definitely want to do another one. I couldn’t have more fun doing anything. We have extremely long hours and what not, but it’s a ball. It’s amazing.
KATC: If a third season does comes about, of all the people you interviewed/didn’t interview, who is the one person you want on the show? Don’t say Michael Jordan.
KW: Besides Jordan. Like Natalie Portman? It would have to be a girl. A girl with a serious sneaker collection. That is what we need but it’s hard to do. You see all these celebrity pictures and all of the women are wearing garbage sneakers. Natalie Portman would be nice but she is always wearing garbage Converse. Natalie Portman get a new pair of sneakers, I could help you out, email me. MADDUX JOLIE!!! That’s who I want on the show! That dude would hold it down! He’s got some moon boots that I’ve seen!
KATC: Stepping out of the show, what do you think about sneaker culture now?
KW: It’s still a small thing. Comic Books are big, Video Games are big, Star Trek is big. If you go out and ask a normal person in Normaltown, USA, “hey did you see these Jordan IVs?” They would be like, what are you talking about? For our show to succeed we need every sneakerhead to watch it and a bunch of people who aren’t into sneakers to watch it as well. It is smaller than everyone thinks it is. My favorite part of sneaker culture is, it’s a way to meet people, it’s a way to make new friends. The reason you are here? Sneakers. If I see Just Blaze, Just Blaze wouldn’t come up to me, I played the Clarinet! But he knows me through sneakers.
KATC: What are your top three sneakers of all time?
KW: Those Mutombos that I have are so ugly that they are amazing, blue suede Ewings and probably, Fire Red Vs or the Georgetown Terminators. Actually scratch all of that, AGASSI’S! AIR TECH CHALLENGE! I was on a hunt for these. I finally got them off of eBay and I knew they were unwearable, but I was like, the hell with it I’m going to wear them. I got two blocks, and all hell broke loose….If they came out again…If Nike came up to me and said, “Wildes we are going to make you one sneaker”, it would be the Air Tech Challenge.
KATC: Outside of the show, as Kevin Wildes the person, what do sneakers mean to you?
KW: First and foremost, they are a way to keep my feet from getting messed up. Second, I think that sneakers are a way to express who you are and where you are from, and again, it’s a nice common bond to have with absolute strangers.