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Sneaker Culture

Detroit’s crazy love for sneakers places the region front and center with shoe aficionados nationally.

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Hypebeasts and customization

Sneaker heads come in different varieties. They range from serial collectors with overflowing closets to enthusiasts who enjoy handmade customized kicks.

Then there are the “hypebeasts,” a phrase often used to describe sneaker junkies who often only wear kicks hyped up by the media, their peers and other influential figures.

One way sneaker aficionados distinguish their shoes from others is by getting them customized. Sneaker customization has evolved from airbrushing hip-hop graffiti-influenced designs and school colors on shoes in the 1980s to placing various textiles and intricate artwork on shoes now.

Brent Agee, who has been working at Bob’s Classic Kicks in Detroit for about seven years, started customizing sneakers four months ago.

Agee, of Detroit, says he alters shoes to his customers’ tastes and adds items such as fur, snakeskin and denim. He can change colors of shoes, add designs and dye the insides and the soles. Customization can take two days or a couple of weeks, depending on what customers want, and the price ranges from $50 to $120.

Customers invest extra money into customizing their sneakers after already paying a steep price for the shoes because they want to put their own original stamp on the shoe, Agee explains.

“It gives the customer a chance to express what they want,” says the 22-year-old designer, who wants to eventually design his own brand. “You can buy an all-white shoe, and it’s like a blank canvas to do what you want.”

The inspiration of Agee’s designs ranges from historical events, such as the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, to the solar system: He designed a galaxy-themed shoe, complete with stars and planets. Women customers have asked to have their shoes dyed unique colors, including a pastel blue similar to the color of the Tiffany & Co. signature blue jewelry box.

Customizing also can revive shoes that have been sitting on the shelf and breathe new life into them. “Some people take an old shoe and redesign them,” Dorsey says.

But when new shoes hit the market, customers still flock to stores and stand in mile-long lines to cop the newest sneaker.

Part of that is due to “exclusivity,” Gilmore says. “It all comes back to getting something that no one else has. People want stuff because other people don’t have it.”

Others seek to make a profit on the demand for shoes, especially limited-edition sneakers. “They figure if they wait in line so long they can resell, and that’s how they make a living,” Dorsey says.

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