Woody is the Original Sneaker Freaker

Simon “Woody” Wood started Sneaker Freaker magazine 10 years ago and has turned it into a global success. Selling it in 41 countries, three languages and with offices in Melbourne, Moscow, Barcelona and Cologne, Germany. He educated Billabout ‘s Pete Maiden about the sneaker term “neck-snapping”, how the magazine was created, and some life tips.

Flying around the world talking to people about sneakers is kind of the most absurd job ever. I’m in New York because we put a Cole Haan (owned by Nike) shoe on the cover of the magazine called the LunarGrand, which was an interesting innovation in the fashion realm. It’s a pretty cool shoe which is sort of a classic wing-tip crossed with a NIKE Lunalon sole.

“Neck-snapping” is when you walk past someone and they whip their head back to look at your shoes. Kids are not quite as excited sneakers the way they used to be and no one really knows how to get that excitement back. It was great to see with the Lunar Project that little flicker of excitement back. In fact, walking around New York wearing them, it’s the first time I’ve been stopped in a while to have a conversation about shoes.

Sneaker Freaker started because I thought: “Here’s my chance to get a shitload of free shoes!” I’d worked in design for advertising, fashion and films, and I wanted to do something different. We’re sort of in the middle between a dude who loves shoes and a brand. I think we’re pretty measured in what we say. We take it totally seriously, but then that doesn’t mean we can’t just completely take the piss out of it as well.

I made the first issue in about ten days. We launched it at Revolver in Prahran in Melbourne and 300 people turned up. At the time people only just had e-mail and Facebook wasn’t in existence. The first issue’s fairly embarrassing in some ways, but the second issue is a lot better, and the third one became the template for what came afterwards. Colette in Paris was the first store to order it and I had no idea who they were, and now that’s easily the coolest store in the world.

It’s A5 in size and it’s designed so you can put it in your pocket and it always has a shoe on plain white background shot from above. It’s super economical to print and it’s for stores to go in their counter. It’s not for newsstands because it’ll just get lost and it’s not that mainstream.

We gave the first issue away and now they’re worth about US$200. The shoe on the front cover is an Air Force One with a red swoosh and it had a little Chinese embroidery on the back for the year of the horse. We used to get excited about Chinese embroidering on the shoe – it was so mysterious and amazing! There were a couple of interviews with guys from Melbourne who were into shoes and some friends drew pictures for it, and there was no advertising.

We’re always a printed magazine first. I wouldn’t get that same satisfaction of finishing it, even though it’s arduous and you sort of kill yourself to do it every single time. The website has grown to become a sort of separate part of business so we create books for brands. We’ve done the story of the Cyde for Puma and a book on Pony which started in New York in the early 70’s; we don’t really work outside of sneakers.

The Sneaker Freaker HQ is in Fitzroy, Melbourne. Luckily for us Nike, Adidas, New Balance and Puma are all based in Melbourne too. It’s translated into German and Spanish and we’ll do a tradeshow in Europe, go to Japan once or twice a year, and maybe New York twice a year. It just sort of happened piece by piece.

Sneaker shopping in New York involves going to Foot Locker and starting at the top. There are skate stores, DQM on the Lower East Side. You’ve got Ronny Feig’s store, which is at the back of Atrium, KITH, David Z, A-Life and Classic Kicks are closed now. Then there’s the brand ones, Mercer Street for NIKE, the Converse store, which is an amazing piece of art in itself, and the Superstore.

Sometimes Americans laugh when I say something and I just have no idea why. But I have plenty of American dudes here and sometimes I laugh at the shit they say because the really hardcore Brooklyn accent sounds really funny to me; there are so many quirks. We know of American culture through television, although they know nothing about Australian culture except Chopper Read. I think here everything’s quite earnest and satire doesn’t really work here.

When you come to New York you see kids in the hood wearing Foamposites, which is a crazy NIKE basketball shoe that looks like a Batman. You can’t wear that shit in Melbourne; you look just foolish. Whereas here you see kids wearing it and they’ve got the triple X t-shirt on and the whole kind of look and stuff and it makes sense.

New York is the grandest place in the world, although I didn’t do half the tourist shit this trip that I was supposed to do. I didn’t see The Statue of Liberty or the MoMA like I said I was going to, instead I went to every sneaker shop, but, really, the fun part of travelling is meeting people.

Don’t listen to me! I am the worst tourist… I swore I was gonna go and do all these tourist things and I still haven’t done one of them..

Eat in NY: There’s an Italian place up near Atrium run by old Italian dudes and it has only ten things on the menu. It’s cooked with a little bit kind of love.

Travel: I don’t do the sleeping tablet thing, I had a bad experience once.
Eat as little as possible on the plane so when you get off you’re hungry. I try to hit the gym on the first day for 20 minutes to get the blood pumping. I always travel in really light shoes. Today I’m wearing the NIKE Lunar Glide on the and it’s just perfect.

Success: As long as you maintain your sense of humor and you’re fun to hang out with, I think you can be successful at pretty much anything. There’s so much mediocrity out in the world. You don’t have to be Albert Einstein at every single thing, but as long as you make friends with people, there no end to the crazy opportunities that can come.

As told to: Pete Maiden.

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