Where sneaker lovers bare their souls

Fans of sneakers converge on Dubai to celebrate sports shoes and urban culture.

The Sneaker Summit, Al Quoz, Dubai. Duncan Chard for the National
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DUBAI // Benjamin Galang loves basketball, and basketball sneakers in particular.

The 35-year-old father of one from the Philipppines has been collecting sports shoes for more than half of his life. And he has no intention of stopping anytime soon.

"I have been collecting sneakers since I was in high school, starting with my first pair of Nike Air Jordans," said the merchant relations officer.

"I love basketball, and ever since I got my first sneakers I've bought the latest ones every year before the season starts," he said.

Mr Galang was among the crowds of sneaker enthusiasts who made their way to Al Quoz for Sole DXB, an event dedicated to sneakers, fashion and urban culture.

Now in its second year, it brings together enthusiasts and industry insiders representing well-known sport brands such as Nike, Puma, Adidas, Fred Perry, DC Shoes and Quiksilver, all keen to show their latest creations to eager fans.

"I have been here six years and I've seen a real growth in the number of people who collect and customise sneakers, especially in the last year," said Mr Galang.

The event also featured a host of local graffiti artists, DJs and musicians.

The rap group Run-DMC's preference for Adidas Superstar shoes in the 1980s and US basketball star Michael Jordan's endorsement of Nike, which resulted in the popular Nike Air Jordan series, are credited with helping to shape people's fascination with sneakers as more than just sports shoes.

"Sneaker culture is a way of reflecting your personality through what you wear," said Karim Al Sawi, 25, a disc jockey who performs under the name DJ Brooklyn and likes to design snealers.

"There are many people in the UAE who share a love of sneakers and the number is growing. But what is hindering them is a lack of facilities like skate parks and bike ramps so they can do what they love," he said.

One of Sole DXB's three founders, Hussain Moloobhoy, 32, from India, said his love of sneakers inspired him to take a year-long break from his advertising career to study design in Italy and the UK.

"I have a big passion for sneakers. I spent a year studying design between London and Milan - it is an art on its own," he said,

The first step towards Sole DXB came when Mr Moloobhoy and co-founder Kris Balerite were both invited to design shoes at the Puma Creative factory in 2010.

"We were working close to each other and admired each other's work - we threw a joke about creating a sneaker gentleman's club," said Mr Balerite, 28, who is from the Philippines.

"We decided to set up a Facebook page about sneakers and sneaker design in Dubai, and then we were immediately approached by Josh Cox [Sole DXB's third co-founder]."

A few cups of coffee later, Sole DXB was born.

Rather than just copy what is coming out of America, the event highlights the UAE's own sense of style. "The UAE has its own urban culture," said Mr Balerite. "It's growing, but it's still fresh."

Many sneaker collectors display unflinching brand loyalty, and customise their shoes to their own styles and looks. Some even keep new pairs in their shoe boxes - to be admired but never worn.

"The brands think they know what the consumer wants, but they don't. That's why we set up this forum, as a platform to bring all sides together - brands and fans," said Mr Balerite.

"There is such a huge pool of artists and musicians who have helped grow the idea of a culture based around a shared love of sneaker shoes."