Interview by Georgia Booth
Images supplied by Sneaker Freaker
Simon Wood started Sneaker Freaker magazine, focusing on global sneaker culture, news and features, 13 years ago in Melbourne. He handmade the first issue himself, and gave away a few thousand copies. Now, it’s an internationally respected magazine, sold in over 50 countries. We talk to him about the importance of shoes to our identities, obsessing over product and being a perfectionist.
Being the editor of a magazine as big as yours would require so many small, frequent decisions. How can you be a perfectionist and still get everything done?
Sometimes you have to look at the clock and think, “We have to move on.” There are certain things that are non-negotiable. In my case, I can’t stand corniness. That can take the form of many different things, from a poorly directed image to a really badly written piece. I can spend as much time writing a 200-word piece as a 5000-word piece. It’s an art, finessing those minor things in a magazine that makes the sum of its parts great. The killer thing about being a perfectionist is you have to finish at some point, even though it could be better, you have to make a stand and say, “We’re done.”
Did you have to learn to be happy with the finished product? Or do you still look back and wish you had an extra day or week to work on issues?
We’ve done 70-page stories on one shoe and I still look back and think - there’s another dimension to that story that we didn’t cover or another photo we could have gotten. That’s always frustrating but when you finish, you have to be happy that you’ve covered every single thing that you could. It’s funny, you look back on stuff that’s two or three years old and think, “We’ve really moved on,” that can drag you down, whether it’s the way the magazine looks or how you assemble things. But it just shows everything is a constant evolution. I made issue one in a week, 13 years ago and now it’s on eBay for $300-400. It’s pretty raw and embarrassing but it will always be our first magazine. I guess it becomes more of a reflection of what was going on at that time - the aesthetic.
Do you hire other perfectionists? Or do you look for balance in your team?
They are few and far between and I think - this is no disrespect to my staff, whom I love - no one will ever be as big a perfectionist as the boss. I think you’ve also got to set the standard and not tolerate slackness. I’m always pushing the guys - let’s take that photo again, we didn’t quite get the shadow right or let’s rewrite that ... Whatever it is, they understand what’s required. Especially for the magazine - what we might put up for a blog post is pretty quick, but with the magazine, it goes down in history. In 10 year’s time, people are still looking at it.
Do you have any favourite features, stories you’re really proud of?
If you go back over every issue I think there is usually one killer feature that we’ve built the issue around. In issue 29 or 28, the Air Max feature was massive. That was the highest-selling magazine we’ve ever had, people just went crazy for it. It was about four months of work and we uncovered a lot of stuff no one had ever seen before. It set a benchmark - no one will ever be able to tell that story, really, because we’ve done it. That’s the ultimate thing to aim for.
I’m always conscious of trying to find that weird dude that collects that one shoe. We had a local guy, Crazy Fox, who just collects Nike Footscapes. That’s a really unusual, awkward-look-ing shoe, hard to wear. He’s got every single colourway ever made and that’s a few hundred shoes. For us, the best information you can get is from someone who obsesses about it. Sometimes the stories age well - sometimes the shoes become more relevant, sometimes they become less relevant.
What do you think it is about sneakers that inspires such obsessiveness?
In the early days of Sneaker Freaker, men had not embraced fashion in the way they have now. It wasn’t considered cool to be talking about the cut of your denim and your love of expensive, Italian T-shirts. Gay men were well ahead, really obsessing with how they looked; the labels they wore, investing in clothes. We’ve come along way in the last decade. We’ve got kids in high school now who are obsessed with labels and looking fresh, making that part of their life, part of their identity.
We’ve all got to wear something on our feet; you may as well wear something that transmits something about yourself that you want other people to get. Whether it’s Jordans or Yeezys, everyone likes to have a story on their feet and to be noticed. That hasn’t changed for a long, long time, since the ’70s. The industry now creates so much product for kids to get hyped on. They create that stuff deliberately for the collective mentality, whereas before it was a random thing that happened where kids would go to Japan just to buy a pair of shoes. Now it’s accessible with a credit card. The industry sort of solidified into an endless juggernaut where it keeps creating amazing stuff and kids go nuts for it.
What are the biggest trends you’ve seen in the last year?
Black or white, black with white, white with black, etc. The endless variations are amazing, really. It’s a periodic thing that happens every few years, and it’s the dominant aesthetic this year. The collaboration model is as strong as ever; the results can be patchy but it still creates the shoe that most people want.
Woody’s Favourite Incu Sneakers:
EQUIPMENT SUPPORT 93/16
adidas are killing it right now. It’s all about Boost, their polystyrene-inspired cushioning system that is universally regarded as the plushest in the business. This is a classic mash-up, fusing the best in Boost technology with a retro upper, swiped from the adidas EQT line. That colourway is all-time.
AIR MAX 90 WOVEN
Nike pioneered the use of woven textiles in their shoes decades ago, but it’s been a hot minute since something this classy popped up. Max 90s are a staple in any rotation, but when you get to a certain point in your life, it’s time to dial back the street cachet and act your age.
AIR HUARACHE RUN ULTRA BR
2015 started off with a Huarache gangbang and the pace barely let off all year. This is probably the best of the bunch, a fresh white-on-white concoction that looks equally at home on any sneaker fan. Clean and mean!