Pasar Malam For Sneakers

Sneaker Con SEA debuted on our island this past weekend. Exciting, experiential shopping was not the lure

By Shu Xie

They’re here. Finally, we get to see what many consider the OG sneaker fair is about. Sneaker Con is, as one attendee, who was there on both days, told me, “a sneakerhead’s wet dream”. And, as I learned, a messy one. It also drew those not necessarily that rabid about over-priced and over-hyped kicks, but willing to own a pair that would be the envy of the company they keep. This iteration of the acclaimed born-in-the-US event was marketed here as Sneaker Con SEA (SCSEA), and its access to the region was through its debut here on our island. This was a belated affair. It was announced back in 2020 that Sneaker Con was to launch their inaugural show here in June that year, but, due to you-know-what, had to be brought forward to last weekend. When I asked a very young chap wearing a grey Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2 if it was worth the wait, he said with smug satisfaction, “better late than never.”

SCSEA was held at Singapore Expo. I did not attend the preview event, nor did I show up on the opening day, or bought VIP tickets (that meant a dedicated “VIP Event Access Lane”). But, I was told later by more than one early visitor that the response was “very good”. I made my appearance rather late—on Sunday afternoon. The attendance was, by then, not as manic as I thought it would be. It was not cheap to visit SCSEA. I paid an incomprehensible S$42 for single-day entry (excluding chargeable fees that I now can’t remember added how much more to the total). If you had wanted to attend both days of the event (why that was necessary, I do not know), the entry price was $75. Tickets were not sold at the venue (that was a bummer). Attendees had to purchase theirs online. A standee with a massive QR code greeted visitors at the entrance should they need quick digital access to a ticket. Despite a steep asking price for the entry ticket, SCSEA did not welcome me like a premium event might have. To me, it was the venue. Singapore Expo is not exactly a posh pit of exhibition space. This had the same atmospheric charm as the once-popular Metro Sale, once also situated in this very hall, if I am not mistaken. And this is surprising when back in 2020, The Business Times reported that Sean Wotherspoon, celebrated as “one of the most famous sneakerheads on the planet”, was to design SCSEA.

A bored boy taking a rest while his companions shopped

The utterly popular Trading Pit area of Sneaker Con

It is large enough a space, for sure, but this exhibition hall (and the others in this massive complex) is just a cavernous, pillar-less selling spot, in which SCSEA had basically plonked itself there. Except for some branding boards, it was essentially an open space for whatever needed to happen, to just happen. This was executed on the cheap. Some participants such as our nation’s pride SBTG had their own reasonably handsome set-up, but for most, it was just lelong wherever you were assigned a zone. Mind you, many of the kicks were not exactly bargains. I reminded myself that they were sneakers on sale, not bespoke leather shoes with lasting stacked heels. Yet, as widely reported, some kicks cost a scary five-figure sum. I couldn’t tell where those were, but I did see a few pairs totally encased and presumed that they were the prohibitively-priced ones. Those that I was willing to pay for (nothing that rare about them) were frustratingly not available in my size. Was I eyeing sneakers that were too common? The situation was more daunting when around me kids—many were really young, including some sellers at the Trading Pit—were shod in expensive collabs that were hard to score, even there at the event. What I was told not to miss was the customised Air Jordan 1 by Jeff Staple (he was there) and Mark Ong (aka Mr Sabotage, who was present too), but I have never loved them Air Jordans.

SCSEA was touted as “The Greatest Sneaker Show on Earth”. I didn’t get the feeling that it was that great. The immensity could be because it looked like the pinnacle of sneaker consumption, rather than mere retail. Sneaker Con, wherever they might be, is essentially a gathering of third-party retailers, indie-vendors, and serious collectors-turn-sellers, all within a setting that is not necessarily experiential retailing. The SEA imprint is similar, but with more of a pasar malam (night market) energy and optics to it. According to their publicity material, SCSEA brought together “150 traders and sneaker collectors from the world over” to this corner of our island. While there were single-brand stands, such as Puma and Crocs (yes, EVA foam footwear, and a non-athletic brand with their boutique-like space for their collab with the American label Salehe Bembury), or indie stockists such as Limited EDT and “Japan’s No. 1 marketplace for limited edition sneakers” SNKR DUNK (they also provided on-site authentication service near the Trading Pit), rather many of the vendors appeared to hawk sneakers part-time. I was drawn to two walls, one featuring Anrealage and the other Facetasm, both from Tokyo. As they flanked the SNKR DUNK booth, I suspected that the latter had brought them in, but with regrettably just T-shirts in limited styles, the offerings were not especially enticing.

One of the most in-demand offerings, the YZY Slide, restocked at Sneaker Con SEA

And, curiously, many non-sneaker brands were conspicuously situated. There was Carlsberg in a massive, eye-catching set-up and just as noticeable, the whiskey brand Monkey Shoulder, even when many attendees appeared to be below 18 years old. Perhaps that was why oat milk brand Oatbedient was there, and Fiji Water too, in case thirsty were those unable to guzzle a lager or a Scotch without staying out of the reach of the law. Early publicity for the event painted the event to be drenched with fun. Ticket seller Sistic described SCSEA as brimming with “hype activities”. I did not spend enough time there to be caught up with what action there was, hyped or not. Frankly, I did not want to stay. Nothing was a pull for me. And the market atmosphere and what seemed like repetitive merchandise, after a while, exhausted the initial interest I had in the event. I had expected more, but, perhaps I had been swayed by the local ‘cons’ here, mainly Street Superior and Culture Cartel—the latter’s last, a well-thought-out event at Scape last December was both a journey of discovery and an enjoyable acquaintance with the burgeoning streetwear community here.

Sneaker Con began life in 2009 in New York City under the stewardship of three sneakerheads Alan and Barris Vinogradov (they’re brothers), and Wu Yu Ming. It is still considered “the largest sneaker event in North America”. And often described as “a gathering of so-called ‘sneakerheads’ hoping to browse, buy and sell pairs of collector shoes”, as Newsweek put it. Alan Vinogradov told The Business Times in 2020 that “the sneaker craze is only just beginning.” Perhaps, for those below 15. I have been wearing sneakers for a good part of my adult life. While I have many—too many—pairs, I do not consider myself a sneakerhead, least of all one who collects or who only goes for the “grails”. As I looked around me in Hall 5 of the Singapore Expo, I noticed that most feet were shod in new shoes, expensive-looking ones, and many that were also sold on the pile-high tables of the Market Place, one of the several zones of Sneaker Con SEA. Nikes dominated, which had a homogenising effect on the event that, by the organiser’s own telling, had “more than 200 international and local renowned brands”. I did notice that Adidas Yeezys, now no longer produced but massively stocked in Adidas warehouses, were not much worn. One stall did have stocks of Yeezys. I asked a chap contemplating a pair if they were still popular. He said, “of course, because now even harder to find.” When I left, I spotted a trio with stacks of boxes of Yeezy Slides. Stupidly, I asked: “Are these legit?” One of them, with a look of disbelief, replied, “For sure. These were bought before the partnership ended.” When I walked away, a kid shyly asked me if they were selling those slides. I told him they were, and his eyes lit. “How much, ah?”

Photos: Zhao Xiangji

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

Foreign Invasion

Within the past ten months, three non-native sneaker stores opened on our shores, placing local players visibly on the edge. Looks like there may be no fighting back


Three sneaker stores

By Ray Zhang

What happened to once-major sneaker retailers such as Royal Sporting House (RHS) and World of Sports (WOS)? I found myself asking that question while standing in front of the newly opened JD Sports in ION Orchard. The dazzling store front was enough to hold me mesmerised, kicking resistance out of the way. A few doors down, RHS barely caught my eye. So what happened? To those two local stores, I mean. Nothing. Is nothing the reason why I have not visited either for a very long time? Or have some places merely receded into a corner even memory can’t reach?

Since November last year, three retailers from overseas have opened here: AW Lab, JD Sports, and Foot Locker. Despite the new players, it did not appear to me that two of our biggest sporting goods retailers, RHS and WOS, upped their game to take on the new, alluring trio. Did they not know that the competition would be fierce? When I said “nothing”, I meant no part of anything trending, no share of the unique, no trace of the stimulating. In fact, on all fronts, the merchandising and marketing hush in both stores have been deafening.

When Italy’s AW Lab opened in Suntec City last November, local sneakerheads had a foretaste of what was to come: breadth in merchandising, colour to cop not usually seen here, and releases that are not much later than those launched in Europe, which prompted one influencer-looking onlooker, shod in Nike Air VaporMax ‘Triple Black’, at the store’s launch event in the same month, to say that “AW Lab is a wet dream”!

RSHA quiet royal Sporting House at ION Orchard

When, if ever, was the last time any local retailer of sports gear enjoyed being described in such an orgiastic term? Maybe when the massive Stadium opened in basement two of Ngee Ann City some time in the now-forgotten mid-’90s. Conceived by Royal Sporting House, Stadium was a draw because it was huge (an expanse now occupied by Guardian’s flagship), and it stocked, I remember, a rather staggering selection of merchandise with a breadth that was rather rare in Singapore at the time when sports megastores were unheard of.

According to a media coverage at that time “Stadium encapsulates the crossover of sports and golf into the realm of fashion and lifestyle…” I am not sure if “into the realm of fashion” ever truly materialised, but I am certain the streetwear trend did not catch on with them as staying true to serving the needs of sports people specifically was the crux. In doing so, they did not sense consumers’ unrequited wants. Stadium languished, and finally shuttered just as the popularity of sneakers began its steady, indomitable climb.

Large or fairly large stores have, of course, not vanished entirely. There is Royal Sporting House in 313@Orchard and Intersports—owned by Sportslink—in Queensway Shopping Centre. But what kind of stores have these become, or not become? The said RSH store is now, for a good part, a sale outlet, so is Intersports. Sure, there is a market for a general sporting goods shop with a section assigned with stocks that need to be disposed quickly and cheaply, but could there not be, at the same time, by the same retailers, an alternative space that is merchandised with something more desirable, more synonymous with lifestyle kicks?

WOS P1World of Sports, buzz-lite, at Paragon

To be fair, RSH did try. In May 2016, they opened The Social Foot, a boutique space (now numbering two) conceived to give the impression of an indie retailer such as the 15-year-old Leftfoot and the 12-year-old Limited Edt (perhaps currently too big for the ‘indie’ tag, given that under parent company Sports Fashion, there are nine stores island-wide). But The Social Foot is nothing like its predecessors. While it carries some limited editions, it is, to me, not trend-focused and not exactly screaming niche appeal. It won’t be a sneakerhead haven since a large number of the merchandise is regular and are regularly found in the regular RSHs.

Some people do not consider Royal Sporting House local any more since it is now partly owned by the Al-Futtaim Group, the Dubai-based, multi-business conglomerate that is also the proprietor of Robinsons Department Store. Still, RSH is very much a part of our retail history even when it was first established in Jakarta in 1935. It has been commended for finally making a foray into the specialty store business with The Social Foot, but it has, as some footwear buyers noted, “not done enough to prep for the arrival of the big boys”. Ironically, Limited Edt has gone into RSH’s original business model, by opening, in May 2016, a more general sneaker store, Underground—a misnomer given that this is where one finds less coveted shoes or those that won’t garner a queue. It is not a store that could be kin to London’s much-followed Foot Patrol, a name of a former sneaker secret address that JD Sports bought in 2008.

The specialty store—usually smaller and has more in common, in fact, with Foot Patrol than JD Sports—became more important and influential when in December 2016, it was announced that Nike would no longer supply to “small” retailers—i.e., according to analysts, mom-and-pop businesses with indiscriminate merchandise mix and nothing-to-be-desired visual merchandising, such as those once seen in fairly large numbers in Peninsula Shopping Centre on Coleman Street—from January 2017. The news was a blow to the those players who had been operating unchanged for decades (and also those, I suspect, without a smart-looking space), and sneaker haunts such as Peninsula Shopping Centre (including its neighbour Peninsula Plaza) and Queensway Shopping Centre, already affected by customers shopping online, suffered under the weight of Nike’s unexpected decision.

What happened to sneaker haunt Queensway Shopping Centre? 

Queensway SC

Queensway Shopping Centre, opened in 1976, was once the place to go for your sneakers. It was not only where sneakerheads go, it was a place the entire family went. The main draw? The sheer variety since there were more than a dozen stores on the first floor alone. But I suspect most people went because of the price. It was only here at Queensway that you would be offered a discount of up to 30 percent on most merchandise (and 40 percent for older shoes). The lower price was also touted on guide books published in Japan and China, and was a major lure for tourists from these countries.

Last Saturday, I visited Queensway for the first time after three years. Upon entering the building from the side of Queensway and Alexandra Road intersection, I did not see people throng the place; only the smell of laksa pervaded. But what truly took me by surprise was the fewer number of sneaker shops. Many of those that remained have been refurbished to look a little smarter and less cluttered, but the merchandise selection did not match up. There were no in-demand shoes to be had other than those at Limited Edt and the Nike React Element 55 found in their sister store, Underground.

Queensway Shopping Centre used to be able to keep me interested in it shops for hours. This time, in less than 30 minutes, I was set to leave. There seems to be more optical stores than usual, with quite a few offering quick service such as that of Ownsday. People were more attracted to specialist stores that sell badminton and tennis racquets and offer attendant services than what the other sporting equipment stores were selling. The only shop that caught my attention was Bonkers Link (on the second floor), which sells outdoor brands such as Gregory, Mystery Ranch, Mammut, and the odd Helly Hansen. Queensway, amid changing sneaker retail landscape and the very real threat of e-shop competition, has lost its winning streak.

The Social Foot P1Royal Sporting House’s sub-brand The Social Foot at Suntec City

As “small” retailer is not clearly defined, I am not sure who Nike is truly targeting when it limited its distribution, or why. As I walked around the major malls and sneaker haunts to try to understand the situation, it looked to me that once-popular “small” but indie-looking retailers too are visibly lacking in their Nike offerings, such as Dot Lifestyle Concept Store, part of the property developer Link (THM) Group, as well as Star 360, of the Star 360 Group, owner of the orthopedic footwear brand MBT. Do they share the same fate as those of mom-and-pop shops? Or is this a sort of consolidating on Nike’s part as they open more of their own mono-brand stores? Or, perhaps, in my own conspiracy-theorist state of mind, Nike assisting “big” retailers in minimising competition and product saturation? If JD Sports intends to “conquer the world”, as the chain told the British press recently, it makes sense for Nike to streamline its distribution to support the conquerors of the trade.

One thing’s apparent, as the small players cater less to those who care about the newest drops, stores such as JD Sports can dominate. But, as I noticed, some indie-leaning retailers or specialist stores are reacting. One of JD Sport’s closest neighbours at ION Orchard, Seek (an SG enterprise established in 2015, and in less than three years expanded to Indonesia and Thailand), upped the ante by stocking desirable shoes in not-oft seen colours, such as those of their selection of Nike Air Max 270, well ahead of the UK store’s much-anticipated opening. Competition, as they often say, is good for consumers.

Uncommon styles and unique colours are doubtlessly important in sneaker retail and the new players are well equipped to stock “Only At” options in their respective stores. At the JD Sports opening last month, the over-attendance of influencers was met with reminders that the company has set aside part of their European stocks—“Western European exclusives”—for their SG stores and as such, local sneakerheads need not wait till they are overseas to cop what they desire. A staff at Foot Locker said something similar when I was there: “We are part of Foot Locker Europe, so we carry styles that only we get.” If all the new entrants are tapping from their European wholesale distributors, they may be ignoring those who like American and Japanese exclusives. Should we urge Kith in the US and Atmos in Japan to watch developments here?


Apart from product exclusives, something else makes shopping at the three new stores more appealing: service—affable, high-spirited service. At AW Lab in Suntec City, a staffer was effusive when it came to the qualities of Nike Air Max 270, telling me it’s “one of the most comfortable shoes in the store”, and explained the importance of a good fit after I asked to try a pair that was a mere half-size too large for me. When I subsequently said I’d think about it, he said cheerfully, “Sure, no problem. Come back any time.” While succumbing to the hunkiness of Puma’s Desert Thunder at JD Sports in ION Orchard, a sales guy urged me to try the both the available colours, but when he could not find either in my size, he asked me to leave my contact number so that I can be notified if stocks are replenished. Over at Foot Locker in Century Square, one sales chap in Yeezy 500 approached me to see if there was anything I needed. When I pointed to his shoes, he said with a knowing smile that they were not available in the store and suggested I try an online re-seller. His colleague, a boyish lass, who later revealed that she recently bought a Balenciaga Triple S, quickly recommended the Nike M2K Tekno because she thought the “latest dad shoe will look cool” on me.

Such friendly service, whether spontaneous or the result of effective training, makes one’s will weak and wallet ready. Conversely, at Limited Edt Vault and the sibling Chamber in MBS, where I am guilty of gravitating towards, the service is always not forthcoming, and is, at best, indifferent. A friend once said to me that those who visit Limited Edt “know their stuff” and what they want, and the store’s sales people see no need to go beyond getting customers’ desired size. I have never spoken to the staff about their attitude, but based on the consistent lack of salesmanship, it is not unreasonable to assume that that could be the case.

With multi-label stores Dot almost relieved of a major brand—Nike—and Sportslink closing outlets—the latest, the branch in Tampines One “moving out” possibly in defeat, since AW Lab has opened across the mall, one floor down—it appears that foreign retailers are poised to tempt many of us to part with substantial money by creating senses-awakening spaces in which equally arousing merchandise take their spot. My journey through trending sneakers’ happy hunting grounds did not include the French store Decathlon, Hong Kong mega-retailer Peddar on Scott’s sneaker section, and Robinsons at Heeren’s strong sports department. Within a week, I visited the three stores below and sensed what many sneakers fans have already experience: the kick among the kicks.

AW Lab

AW Lab P1.jpg

AW Lab’s genesis is rather complex because it appears to me to be of rather mixed parentage. The store is part of the Bata Group (yes, that flagship store in Peninsula Plaza). Bata itself was born in Czechoslovakia and is now headquartered in Switzerland. AW Lab operates out of Italy as part of Compar S.p.A—a company that offers franchising opportunities for the Bata brand. Still following?

AW Lab debuted in Asia in Suntec City in November last year. And a second store in Tampines One has since opened. To me, it’s the cheeriest of the three foreign brands, with its marketing tagline Play With Style emblazoned in fluorescent clarity across one wall rather on point. My first encounter with AW Lab was three years ago, on Via Torino in Milan, where the store is just a hop from Duomo di Milano. I was hoping to cop a pair of Diadora, but was so overwhelmed by the selection of Nikes that I succumbed to the latter. At the Suntec City opening, I was feeling a little nostalgic.

Being the smallest store(s) among the three, AW Lab is less able to give a sense of constant newness (yes, pre-requisite in this business even when you are barely a year old) since there is a cap to what can be done in the limited space. Still, they are able to downplay that drawback by giving prominence to trending sneakers such as the Adidas Falcon. Its product highlights are often IG-ready, crucial to the ready-to-shoot shoppers.

Foot Locker

Foot Locker P1

The newest entrant, Foot Locker, is from the US, but according to a staffer at their first store on our shores (sited at Century Square), this is part of Foot Locker Europe’s expansion to (SE) Asia. Much of the exclusive merchandise are, therefore, sourced from their Euro-distributors. Foot Locker is so prominent in Europe that sometimes. it’s on the same street as AW Lab. The Foot Locker I remember from my visits to New York and San Francisco many years back was a chain store that was more neigbourhood shop than sneakerhead headquarters. To be sure, the store’s flagship in New York’s Herald Square is massive: close to 10,000 square feet of what may be considered sneaker porn.

So I was delighted when I visited Foot Locker three days after they opened here to see a handsome store that is the least congested among the newcomers. So well spaced it is that shopping here is truly a comfortable affair, even on usually crowded weekends, even when there are baby strollers around. Just as appealing (and thoughtful) is the adequate bench seating and the generous room around it that makes the trying on of shoes (or the taking of a shoe-fie) painless.

There’s even a wall full of Nikes, not surprising considering that in the US, it is reported that the Swoosh constitutes “70 percent of their total products”, no doubt a delight to fans of the Air Max or Air Force One. But Foot Locker is careful to balance their selection of footwear, adding to the popular Nikes those trending styles from the likes of Puma (RS-O DX Sega!), Fila (Disruptor II!), and, of course, Adidas (Yung 96!), including an impressive selection for women.

JD Sports

JD Sports P1

Born in England, JD Sports in Singapore is, in fact, the first overseas gamble of the UK/Malaysia joint venture JD Sports Fashion Sdn Bhd. There are already close to ten stores in Malaysia after the first opened in Subang Jaya’s Sunway Pyramid in 2016.  We are only now seeing our second after the first opened in Jurong Point in May. Better late than never, I’d say, in accordance to the sentiment of sneakerheads who must always get what they desire.

JD Sports, confidently (some say cockily) calls themself “undisputed” and the “King of Sneakers”, both powerful claims that have placed them in good stead. Now that they have bought the American chain Finish Line, JD Sports is set on world domination. But not so long ago, the store that is now touted as UK’s number one sports retailer was not as eye-catching as it is today. When I visited London way before Brexit, JD Sports didn’t look significantly different from their rival Sports Direct—both sort of warehouse-style businesses that reminded me of now-defunct The Sports Authority (except in Japan where it still exists and is known as Sports Authority).

Now that they’re the King, they have shed their earlier, somewhat grassroots-turned-chav image for something that befits a global retailer. At their massive, tourist magnet of a store on London’s Oxford Street, JD Sports is mega and bright. On the first floor where all the sneakers that matter beckon, it’s such a well-stocked and dazzling expanse that The Strip in Las Vegas would be proud to have them, but up on the second level, it reminded me of the JD Sports of yore: messy and bewildering.

In fact, the Singapore flagship in ION Orchard is a coruscating example of retail design that heightens the shopping experience. It draws you from across the atrium and from the upper floors. Inside, it is packed with merchandise, but not in an overwhelming way. This is a veritable candy store for sneaker fans. And all the unmissable shoes that your friends told you they saw here—startling number of Air Maxes, for example—play a welcome role right in front. Based on the number of people I’ve seen in ION Orchard with the striking yellow plastic bag, JD Sport is, at least for now, a must-stop.

Photos: Galerie Gombak

The Trouble One Has To Go Through

Three years after the first Adidas Yeezy was launched, many are still desperate to cop a pair, but more amazingly, people are willing to go to honestly ridiculous lengths imposed by retailers to secure the shoe


Yeezy 700 ballot notice

By Shu Xie

I have never queued for anything—not even food—except once at the A&E to see a doctor when my father was seriously ill. I don’t even queue for a movie ticket now that we can comfortably buy one online. Queueing, however, is what many people are willing to do even for non-essentials such as a pair of sneakers. Okay, I get it, that’s part of the appeal and, indeed, culture of streetwear. But have things reached such an absurd state that we need to queue for an opportunity to get in line?

At the launch of the Adidas Yeezy Boost 700—a shoe of indeterminate attractiveness—this weekend, those interested will need to queue for “a chance to purchase”, as stated by the apparent sole seller, Limited Edt (LE) Vault at 313@Orchard. This chance involves getting in line to place an e-ballot at an interactive screen set in the premise of the store during specified times. What happened to the Adidas Confirmed app?

Surprising to me, and frankly, restrictive, is that in order to even get in line, one has to appear—“MUST”, as spelled out by LE Vault, and, yes, in full caps—at the site in “Adidas (Originals or performance is fine) footwear ONLY” before one is allowed to participate in the ballot! If the church no longer dictates what the congregation wears to mass these days, why is a business owner setting a footwear dress code for shoppers at its store?

It is possible, of course, that LE Vault has a cozy relationship with Adidas and it wants only Adidas fans to cop the Yeezy. Or, it’s attempting to strengthen the marketing muscle of Adidas in order get into the shoe maker’s good books. Either way, such a restriction is shortsighted as it arbitrary omits non-Adidas wearers as potential customers.

As if insisting that yet-to-buy customers walking in wear a specified shoe brand isn’t enough, registrants for the e-ballot are required to “provide non hotmail (sic), outlook or live email address”! Okay, this is not quite comprehensible and too much to digest. I quickly walked away, my non-performance Adilette following sheepishly along.

Photos: Zhao Xiangji