Earlier this week I sat down with a unique individual in this whole sneaker thing. He has an enormous stash of vintage kicks from brands many have never heard of or completely forgot about. If you’re into vintage sneakers, and vintage high tops especially, you’ve got to take in the knowledge he has. He’s a great guy and always down to talk kicks so check his Instagram. I now have the pleasure of presenting Mr. Khalli Vegas.
[Noah Goldowitz for SneakerHistory]: What’s your name and where are you from?
[Khalli Vegas]: I was born in Brooklyn, but have spent equal time in the DMV and Italy growing up. My born name is Franco the tag name comes from separate time periods in my life. Khalli was given when I converted to Islam in the early nineties. In the eighties and mid-nineties I frequently traveled out west to watch big-time boxing events and friends would jokingly call me Khalli Vegas.
[NG]: I think we can put everything on the table: your collection has been featured many times on the Internet. You’ve also done a phenomenal job of documenting it. When people research vintage sneakers they see photos of your collection. How did this whole thing start? Have you been buying/collecting for many years?
[KV]: I have always been heavily into buying sneakers, though not so much viewing it as collecting them. I would guess it was around 1985 when the sneaker obsession took off. I can remember purchasing at least 100 pairs that year from New Balance Blue Steel 1300’s to Nike Team Conventions. Those days the goal was just originality and the first to grab a rare pair. Without aid of Internet to provide info on release dates it was a bit more challenging but fun. An interesting side note was that once you got the shoes you spent more time trying to throw cats off course on where to get them, or at least I did.
I believe Crooked Tongues was the first place I started interacting with the sneaker community online. I was so amazed at the different brands and runners the members were posting. I joined and believe did a “my crates” feature in 2008. Fast forward a few years and I joined TSG and began posting in the forums. I remember receiving a call the next day from a fellow named G-Roc. He lived in Atlanta and wanting to come film my collection. I initially thought this was a scam or clever robbery concept but turns out to be the beginning of the social media buzz around my vintage pairs after the “Show Me Your Collection” segment launched.
[NG]: When we spoke earlier, you mentioned that you don’t consider your collection “a collection.” Why is that?
[KV]: I consider myself a hoarder as opposed to a sneaker collector. I have always purchased shoes with the intent on wearing each pair. Even as early as 1985-86, I purchased and wore at least 100 pairs through that year. Of course sheer volume makes it difficult to wear them all in any short span of time; truth told, some I wear every 2 or 3 years. I think of collections as something purchased to display such as stamps, cards, etc. All my sneakers were purchased with the intent to wear. That said, I can understand where folks can classify it as a sneaker collection based on size.
[NG]: It seems that you lean towards 80s and 90s high tops. Have your tastes changed over time or have you always loved high tops? What are some of your absolute favorite high tops?
[KV]: Over time taste and physical abilities have changed and the hi-tops are more reminiscing of my high-flying youth than anything else. I think when big men ruled the NBA there were simply more Hi-tops offered in the market space and that’s reminiscing of the shoes I own. Keep in mind that 75% of my shoes have been with me for decades. Favorite hi-tops if I had to narrow to three:
- Nike Air Force 1 – This is the flagship shoe of swoosh land, apologies to the MJ legion. This is still one of the most iconic shoes in my opinion.
- Adidas Rivalry Hi (Ewing) – Did I mention my love for the Knickerbockers and Patrick Ewing? (enough said)
- Converse Dr J’s – Like MJ is to this generation, Julius was to us growing up. I wanted the afro, shoes and hops. Well, least I got the shoes right?
[NG]: Your collection includes so many different brands and types of shoes. Are there any shoes you don’t really care for? For example, golf shoes.
[KV]: A sandal unless you are on the beach or the Messiah has returned. Yes, I understand cats are wearing LV or expensive designer sandals, but for me never a good look for dudes.
[NG]: You’ve got so many brands in your collection from Avia and L.A. Gear to Spalding and Xanthus. Can you list some brands most people wouldn’t know that you’ve got in your collection?
[KV]: I thought the really neat thing was multiple brands offerings during the 1980’s and 1990’s. They pushed majors many times to go above and beyond in design and quality. Karhu comes to mind as a brand that have been around for decades and who initially sold Adidas the three stripe trademark. Karhu also may have been the first to use “Air” technology in a shoe, but not 100% certain of that fact. They still make solid running shoes today. There are several others like Kronos, Bata, Lotto, Head, Prince, and Spalding that I routinely wear and may be lesser known.
[NG]: Do you have a special place in your heart for a specific brand? If you had to pick just three brands to rock, which brands would they be?
[KV]: That’s an interesting question as I never considered myself a brand loyalist type of guy. There are those brands that I do keep in higher regard based on my consumer history.
Fila – I know that it’s most remembered as “hustlers” attire, but my love for the brand dates back earlier to watching Bjorn Borg dominate on and off the tennis court in Fila apparel. Most of the apparel or footwear was being sold in real tennis shops so it wasn’t an easy task to find. The need for matching apparel also comes from watching the players take the court deck out in their sponsored gear. The T1, back then called the Original, is still an iconic piece. I purchased at least two or three pairs a year since 1987.
Brooks – Brooks always had the perfect balance of runners, basketball, and tennis shoes to fill their catalog.
Adidas – Over-Hype listings aside, they have remained one of the few majors that I patronize through the years. A lot has to do with the wide variety of runners, both practical and stylish—Oregon Ultra, ZX series, and Micro-pacers to name a few. Top Ten, Sky-walkers and Concords are huge favorites in my rotation. Lendl and Edberg still have some of the best footwear and apparel created for any tennis player to date.
[NG]: You’ve got tons of samples as well as shoes that never even saw retail shelves in your collection. How have you come across some of these more unique pairs?
[KV]: A lot of those have come from a friend of a friend’s type deal or online connection. Most samples were in a size nine or thirteen during that time frame. I could usually get them for very little or free in most cases since retail interest was low in the shoe.
[NG]: Are you constantly adding to your collection? Have you sold any of it off?
[KV]: I still buy some releases each year but very conservatively over the past couple years, in large part due to lack of space. I always make the following yearly public announcement statement, “I will downsize at the end of the year!” That year has yet to happen. I think value will always be what some are willing to pay that said I give away pairs and rarely sell any.
[NG]: Is there one very special pair of shoes you can think of from your collection? A pair you’d never part with?
[KV]: Sneakers take up 50% of my home space but occupy a smaller percentage of my life’s interest. People may find that surprising to have so many, but not have the same personal investment others may have around their collections. I think all pairs are special but there is not one I couldn’t part with, although I don’t sell any either (professional hoarder).
[NG]: Khalli, you were into sneakers before a lot of the kids posting their kicks on Instagram were even born. What are your thoughts on the current state of affairs in sneakers? By the way, I check your Instagram every day for new shoes to hunt the Internet for (we have very similar tastes).
[KV]: Change is inevitable, so either the glass is half full or half empty depending on your perspective. Social media has provided a lot of opportunities in the industry for folks who may have not had found that niche market for their talents. I see guys having success, not just with sneaker companies, but other avenues in the sneaker realm. I think that’s pretty amazing when you take time to process that. The downside—originality suffers a bit as it has created a “sneaker zombie” nation that buy and wear only what’s perceived as fresh. Also, now you have companies who try to soak up culture and history under the guise of contacting you through social media as sneaker collectors. They are attempting to resurrect a product line and get you on board as a “free” consultant. All sneakers from the 1980’s and 1990’s were not hot or heritage worthy, just saying.
[NG]: You’ve spent a lot of time in Europe. Can you tell us a little about the sneaker culture over there? How was it/is it different from sneaker culture in the States?
[KV]: During the time I spent in Italy there wasn’t really a sneaker culture versus kids buying shoes and wearing them. The NBA wasn’t as prevalent in regard to viewership and based on that, distribution was lacking and offerings were very limited. I have family in the UK and there was more brand awareness by the youth during that time. There is a film titled The Firm in which you can see Euro tennis brands throughout the feature and this influenced a lot of my interest in the apparel of that time frame. I remember traveling to Verona, Italy on several occasions and being able to barter for Gucci 84 tennis shoes with little effort as the demand was very low early on.
[NG]: What are the biggest changes you’ve witnessed in sneaker culture over the past twenty to twenty-five years?
[KV]: Although I have been on record not wanting to classify this as a culture, the social media component changed my thinking on that front. Social media has shown the interconnectedness of our vast sneaker universe. I mean, in an instant you can post a classic shoe and then have dialogue with guys/girls from Alaska to Japan and all spots in between. You can go from a consumer to a consultant as brands look to hire fresh talent. You can find a niche and market for your goods from sneaker cleaners, paintings, or classes on customization.
[NG]: What have you been rocking this past week?
[KV]: Sun. – Etonic ER 5711 (1995)
Mon. – Adidas Oregon Ultra (2004)
Tues. – Avia Mid 825 (1987)
Wed. Fila Mid T1 (2004)
Thur – Brooks HydroFlow (2003)
Fri – Diadora Queens (Edward Moses)
Sat. – Asics Gel Saga (2012)
[NG]: My G-d that is quite a rotation! Do you have interest in other products, besides sneakers, from the 80s and 90s, perhaps vintage clothing? If so, what are your favorite brands?
[KV]: Apparel and sneakers have always been a one-two punch growing up. Urban designer brands were limited so it made sense purchasing the same company’s brand apparel to match your sneaker selection. Keyword is match; if you had Adidas, then wearing Nike apparel was literally going to get you roasted. You were cut some slack with the Euro brands because distribution was so limited or expensive. When you saw a guy with Fila sweats and Fila flip-flops chances are those T1’s may have been just out of budget/price range that day. I have always had a fondness for the Euro brands such as Fila, Le Co Sportif, Ellesse, and Sergio Tacchini.
[NG]: One last question: how have sneakers affected your life?
[KV]: Sneakers have always remained sneakers in my life and that’s a good thing. I have had a very fulfilling life considering where it all started. Sneakers have always helped define and track my journey. There will always be a part of me that gets transcended back to the block every time I lace up a pair of favorites from years past. Not to mention that it continues to connect me with unique people and sneakers all across the planet.
[NG]: Thank you so much for speaking with me Khalli!
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