»It’s a Big Book!«
Simon »Woody« Wood talks about his book project »The Ultimate Sneaker Book«
Simon »Woody« Wood is the founder and editor of Sneaker Freaker magazine, the OG of all sneaker magazines, which has been documenting the sneakers cult from the Melbourne HQ for the last 16 years, always keeping a truly independent perspective as a trademark. Woody has been around since the very early days, back when people used to meet in internet forums and you had to track down sneakers on eBay; those days when there was no Instagram, Facebook etc., so he really could watch the evolution of the scene closely. What started as a fanzine has evolved into a global brand at the fore of the sneaker industry, publishing in over 50 countries while still being authentic and relevant – maybe even the most relevant magazine around – in print and online. This impressive »Rags to (follower)Riches«-story is a proof that the global sneaker scene is massive and powerful.
We call it fascination, Woody calls it obsession when speaking about himself and his team. And admittedly a certain amount of madness is required for creating 650 pages full of interesting stories of the last 15 years as well as interviews, essays, reviews, debates, and taking 5 years to perfect each and every page. But we deeply feel this kind of obsession ourselves, so who are we to judge. The »Ultimate Sneaker Book« is the Bible of all sneaker books so to say, it will be a reference book for all to come and has already caused a sensation since day one of its announcement.
Sneaker Freaker Main Man Woody was kind enough to answer some questions for us and we talked about the good old days, the not too shabby modern times, hype and anti-hype and the book, of course.
HHV: Fun fact: Sneaker Freaker Magazine started in 2002 and so did HHV. Let’s take a trip down memory lane together: What are your best memories of the »good old« times?
Woody: As we all get older – and this will no doubt apply to even millennials one day – it’s natural to yearn for simplicity. Everything just seems to get faster and more chaotic. One of the things I miss about the sneaker scene in the 90s is the art of the random discovery. Buying import copies of Boon magazine or The Face and seeing ads for the new Presto or Spiridon was the coolest. Sometimes it’s the anticipation that is more rewarding and fulfilling than the actual acquisition. Flying to Tokyo and New York to hit up stores and buy sneakers that I never knew existed when I walked in the door seems like ancient history. On the plus side, the sneaker scene today is so much richer and action-packed. There’s no comparison. Who wants to go back to a dial-up modem and a 20-inch CRT tube TV?
HHV: What kind of music defines the teenage you and the grown up you?
Woody: When I was a teen it was all about various forms of metal before I moved onto grunge and electronic noise. Living in London in the mid-90s was all about MoWax, breakbeat and illegal raves. I still have hundreds of old 12 inch bangers that are a bit hard to listen to these days, but my vinyl album collection is all over the place. The last five records I bought were from Fourtet, Sharon Van Etten, Jon Hopkins and the soundtrack to Wild Wild Country.
HHV: Print is not dead. Right?
Woody: 100%! Print is definitely not dead and Sneaker Freaker is the epitome of that statement. In the last year alone we have produced amazing books for New Balance about their 997 and 574 runners. We also did a Reebok ‘90s Running’ book and we just released a chunky zine about the Insta Pump Fury. Throw in the Ultimate Sneaker Book that we just published with TASCHEN and it’s a pretty solid 12 month’s worth of print production.
I’d like to think that this current generation of kids will start to realize that there’s more to this world than what exists in their phone. Books and magazines create memories for life and they are definitive sources of knowledge. Memes and IG posts last a day or two at most and sometimes less than a few seconds. If marketing bigwigs still saw the value in print, I’m sure a lot of magazines would still be alive today. The amount of money spent on corny influencers, lazy Instagram campaigns and super expensive launch events that achieve FA is mind-boggling. I’m not saying those concepts have zero value at all, just that there’s still room for print.
HHV: Without a doubt the sneaker game has changed a lot within the last two decades. In what way have these changes affected Sneaker Freaker Magazine?
Woody: When we started, we had to build our own online publishing system because WordPress didn‘t exist. Facebook and Instagram hadn’t been invented either. Buying sneakers online was pretty much limited to eBay. Looking back, the technology was pretty basic in the early 2000s, but it meant you could just start a blog and make it relatively big, such as HighSnob and Hypebeast. Nowadays, the big firms have it all sewn up. Unless you have a team of 20 top people across SEO, social, content strategy, affiliate marketing and Google ads blah blah blah… you can’t compete. It takes a lot of money, teamwork and knowledge to build a team that big. And you have to devise a business model that can support them. Constant adaptation is essential.
The sneaker retail business has completely changed as well. Stores like JD, Size? and Sneakersnstuff are now multinational behemoths. Professional resellers are dictating the direction of the secondary market and social media leakers like YEEZY MAFIA are incredibly influential. The sneaker scene is a sprawling out-of-control beast that is all consuming. I’m not sure what the end game is but it’s certainly never dull watching it all unfold.
HHV: How has SF managed to stay on top of all the contrasting opinions and almost scientific disputes between the older and younger generations of sneakerheads, achieving popularity within all generations while staying authentic at all times?
Woody: The culture clash between generations is pretty mild in the sneaker world. Basically, the OG crew are slowly but surely dropping out thanks to kids, mortgages and common sense. The new generation is very different obviously. I’m glad they’re rejecting a lot of the things that I love. They should make their own memories rather than live out my generation’s recycled dreams. In terms of content, we’ve always tried to keep both camps happy. If newbies and OG heads can dig and appreciate what we are doing across all our channels, we’re doing things right.
HHV: Congratulations on »The Ultimate Sneaker Book«- It is considered to be the bible of all sneaker books and it is a beautiful project, indeed. Was this part of your bucket list since the very beginning?
Woody: Thanks for the kind words. I’m not sure the book was on my specific bucket list but right from day one of the project I wanted to make something that would blow minds. People are shocked when I hand them a copy as it weighs over 4 kilograms. It’s a big book!
The Ultimate Sneaker Book actually began as a project to help celebrate the magazine’s ten year anniversary. Five years later, it was finally finished, so that gives you some idea of how much work went into it. Given it’s close to 700 pages, and that I agonised over every image and word, you can see why it took so long. The research alone was insane. In the last week of production I was still buying and borrowing shoes to add the final finishing touches. Just proofreading it took several weeks. So many times I wanted to give up but I just had to knuckle down and keep going until the bitter/triumphant end. You wouldn’t make a book like this unless you are completely obsessed. Shout out to Tim Daws and Dan Purnell who both contributed so much to the book as well.
HHV: Who is a truly iconic figure to you when it comes to the world of sneakers?
Woody: The Ultimate Sneaker Book answers your question over 700 action-packed pages, but here’s a quick list off the top of my head. Tinker Hatfield, Phil Knight, Mr Onitsuka, Bobbito Garcia, Chuck Taylor, MJ, Jim Davis, Adi Dassler, Steven Smith, Kanye West and Sinisa Egelja. The book is dedicated to all the shoe dogs out there that made the industry what it is today.
HHV: Which sneaker or trend would you never, ever wear?
Woody: I’m not ready to retire to the old folk’s home in my grandpa slippers just yet, but I’m well aware there are some shoes that a man of my vintage should stay away from. I’m looking at you Air Max 720. And you Triple S! Amazing designs for sure but I can’t be seen wearing that stuff on my feet.
Find out more about »The Ultimate Sneaker Book« at HHV: www.hhv.de/shop/en/simon-wood-sneaker-freaker-the-ultimate-sneaker-book
Visual content: Sneaker Freaker