Inside Sole Superior

What is it like at our very own (and the largest ever) version of Sneaker Con?

 

SS 2018 P1b

By Naike Mi

Sole (now also Street) Superior (SS) is big, but not massive. The place is huge, though—a 70,000 square feet expanse that looked to me to be as large as an Olympic-sized pool  complex. If you’ve been to Wheeler’s Yard (although, to be sure, not as large), you’d perhaps know what kind of place this. The merchandise hawked—new and newish—are, however, a little lean on variety, more geared towards the hyped than true collector value.

An annual event since 2013, SS is our own little Mecca for sneaker fans. Formerly at Zouk (even when the club was in Jiak Kim Street), it was a cosy, almost intimate affair, with sellers and shoppers in what was a socially-aware setting, much like a get-together of gamers. This year, the event is held, for the first time, at the Pasir Panjang Power Station (specifically power station ‘A’), decommissioned in the early ’80s and largely disused—perfect ground for haunting stories. Adjacent to Labrador Nature Reserve and with the waters of the Singapore Straits lapping nearby, this is as close to the southern tip of our city as you can get, without going to Sentosa. Although the Labrador Jetty is within reach, I don’t know of any boat service that will bring you here. Your best bet is the Circle Line of the MRT, which will take you to Labrador Park station, and the venue is about a ten-minute walk from there.

SS 2018 P2.jpgView from the other end of the Pasir Panjang Power Station

From the outside, the former power station is monumental and I suspect there would be more space to fill than there are sneaker sellers with unique merchandise to dispose of. I shall soon see that the organisers availed areas to kindred trades people, such as those that sell shoe laces or shoe cleaning liquids, creams, and wipes, as well as those that deal in clothing, and unexpected haberdashery such as iron-on patches. As this is no way within a hop of discernible civilization, SS also includes food and drink vendors. Which perhaps explains why this year’s Sole Superior is suddenly branded as Street Superior—an inclusive stance to better accommodate those whose offerings have nothing to do with soles.

I arrive early, at eleven thirty (no opening hours were given in their publicity material or social media shout out, or perhaps they escaped me), but others are earlier. The line, organised under a tented holding area, is not long enough to be considered staggering. In front of me, a teenage boy is engrossed with updating his friends, via a group chat, about SS. Behind me, a thirtysomething woman in a camo unitard above white Air Force 1 with fancy tongue that I can’t identify discovers that she has left her wallet at home. She asks her Caucasian male companion if he has brought credit cards. He shows her the cards in his wallet and she promises him, “I won’t buy two-thousand-dollar shoes.” Diagonally across from her, a young chap, Balenciaga-clad and Converse X Undercover-shod, tells his attentive—and equally young—female companion, “my father will give me the money to buy any sneaker I like.” Quickly, my ears again pick up from the wallet-free woman, “I can’t wait; I want to see my babies.”

SS 2018 P3Those with adequate stock have their table tiered

We are finally allowed in at noon sharp. Inside, the cavernous space seems to overwhelm the stalls in the distance. From the slightly elevated entryway, they look like the aftermath of a badly attacked buffet. But the first thing that hits me is the heat. Zouk, for all its shortcomings as a retail platform, I now miss. I am soon greeted by a display of shoes entombed in clear domes (read: not for sale) that are the output of sneaker customiser Mark Ong and his brand SGBT. The selling buzz ahead, I admit, is a bigger pull.

In the central stretch, sellers are installed behind four rows of tables. These comprise online-shops-turn-momentary-hawkers, as well as those, I am told, that are “grassroots sellers”, individuals who are not retailers by profession. Flanking this main area are separate lots assigned to sponsors and, presumably, the more VIP of seller-participants. Within this premium spaces, there is, oddly, a “trading pit” where it seems anyone can walk in to peddle what they have. I see three unsmiling boys seated on the concrete floor with their wares before me. It is hard to consider them enterprising when they really should be worried about grades, not glum about sales.

SS 2018 P6Bored boys waiting for buyers

It takes me less than an hour to acquaint myself with the stalls. I am not here to buy, but to see, and, with the quantity overshadowed by the space, it does not take long to satiate the eyes. This is a veritable market—in a pasar malam sort of way, or, for those who frequent Bangkok, with a Chatuchak vibe. I am not sure if that’s a good thing or a draw, but I hardly feel that sneakerheads are geeking out here. In fact, I sense that many attendees are using the opportunity to swagger in kicks of considerable cost than to uncover sneakers that they are deeply passionate about. Or just to walk-walk, as many do at Comex.

I am no collector; I wear what I buy and discard them when they are no longer wearable. So, I am not here for the rarest of the rare or the most trending of the trendiest. I am a sneaker fan who simply love beautiful sneakers, preferably unusual. But this feels too much like Salvation Army (on steroids!), and while there are some new shoes that are probably targets of those with too much disposable income or an unhealthy fixation with Sneaker Freaker, most of the “hot” items I see do not surprise me, such as the Yeezy 700 ‘Mauve’ and the black Nike X Off-White Air Presto, which, for S$1,150 one seller is asking (though not near the two thousand my queue companion had earlier vouched not to spend), is the kind of money I have never parted with at a market stall.

SS 2018 P3Getting rid of personal footwearSS 2018 P7An attempt at visual merchandising even if feeble

One grassroots seller Dimitri, in a Vetements tee, tells me he is selling to “make space”. What caught my eyes is his selection of size-12 sneaks, which are not common in the con. “Yah, I know I am not tall,” he adds, “but I have big feet”, stepping out from behind his table to show me what he means. Size twelves are ruthless space occupiers, and it’s understandable that he needs to free up real estate for more shoes. But others sell because of reduced desire. One chap tells me, “I have no feelings for them anymore.” And is quick to say, “but don’t worry: these are only worn once, or twice.”

Not every stall sells the pre-loved. Chris from DistriSneaks, an online destination for sneakers that tempt and collabs that matter, offers a staggering (compared to the rest anyway) selection and quantity of Nike React Element 87, all above S$300 a pair. This is his second time selling at SS. “I am a sneaker fan,” he tells me, “I even went to KL for Sneaker Lah.” On where he sourced for his React Element 87s when they are even hard to find on Nike’s legit points of sales, he would only say, “from all over the world.”

SS 2018 P5Clothing is a big part of Sole/Street SuperiorSS 2018 P8The interior of the Limited EDT’s stuffy store called Le ConvenienceSS 2018 P9Queuing for a stab at a ballot for an Adidas kick. You’d be forgiven for thinking these guys were buying a 4-D ticket!

I read that Limited Edt is here, but I am unable to spot them, until I see a queue in the far end of the hall, across from a dedicated karaoke room. True to form, Limited Edt has positioned themselves above—and away—from the rest, with their own little shop they called Le Convenience. There is, however, nothing convenient about getting in. You need to get in line to get inside, like you would outside an LV store. Once inside, it isn’t as packed as you’re led to believe. Unless you were in urgent need to buy something only they carry, which isn’t the case with me, you might be better off exploring the main grounds.

There is surprisingly a large amount of clothing, both new and used. As expected, Supreme tees top the selection, both new and used, followed by Off-White, both new and used. Their large numbers, on racks that threatened to collapse, and in boxes that looked like they once held bundled toilet paper, immediately diminish their perceived value and coolness. With prices ranging from S$150 to S$500, they cost as much as the sneakers. Several pieces of Louis Vuitton X Supreme T-shirts are spotted: I see two prices, one seller asking for S$980, while another boldly hopes to trade for “1.5K”, as indicated on a sticker placed above the familiar, desire-arousing box logo. No, my eyes didn’t fail me.

Shoes seen @ SS 2018The trendy and trending kicks seen at SS 2018: each of these sneakers appeared on at least 5 individuals during the 2 hours I was there

But I am here to look at sneakers. Frankly, I would be happier to see-shop in JD Sports. Surprise is what I seek, but, here, surprised I am not. I understand that many of the sellers are here to make a sale, and would stock what they think will sell, but this is a fair with Superior as moniker. I finally know where the Nike X Undercover Element React 87s went: snapped up to be traded here, for a neat sum of S$480 (original price around S$250). Interestingly, I see more of Nike than Adidas, and, unsurprisingly, more for men than women, except for one stall dedicated to Fila, in particular, the Disruptor II.

Sole/Street Superior isn’t vague about its target audience. One exhibitor stood out: Contiki (Tours). It hides not its ageist leaning, announcing unequivocally that they offer “TRIPS FOR 18 – 35 YEAR OLDS (sic)”. Old-bloke me can only turn away. SS is clear about the financial standing of its attendees too. Unlike at electronic fairs, admission fee is payable. If you’re planning to buy something, the S$20 (S$15, if you book online) charged to get in would probably mean nothing, but if you’re, like me, there to only see, the entry price is higher than a movie ticket and it may not be as entertaining as a film on the big screen. To make it less pleasant, no air-conditioning!

Sneaker/Street Superior is on till tomorrow (noon to 10pm) at the Pasir Panjang Power Station. Shuttle bus is available from the Labrador Park MRT station. Photos: Gallen Goh

5 thoughts on “Inside Sole Superior

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