DeMarkus Coleman is a community organizer and a closet organizer.
“I’m OCD about my shoes,” he says.
The walls of Coleman’s Kansas City bedroom are stacked floor to ceiling with shoe boxes, mostly Nike. The Air Jordan 12 in the “Taxi” colorway is his favorite. Coleman has 300 pairs in his shoe collection, which is color coded and arranged by release number.
Coleman is one of the co-founders of KC Sole, a group of passionate shoe collectors that organizes KC SneakFest, one of the biggest sneaker conventions in the Midwest. At the 4th annual SneakFest on Saturday at Municipal Auditorium, hundreds of sneaker fans will gather to buy, sell or trade cool kicks.
At SneakFest, racial lines and generation gaps are blurred as all kinds of people come together for people-watching and storytelling. Aficionados bring a wealth of knowledge to share with whomever wants to listen.
“You can’t get the history behind the shoes online like you can from someone who’s been collecting for decades,” Coleman says.
That kind of information gets relayed person to person, table by table. Old-timers will rant about the greatest athletes of all time — Jordan, Bird and Magic — while millennials know love only for LeBron and Kobe.
Ultimately, it’s all about the love.
“We’re doing something positive in the neighborhood,” Coleman says.
In the summer of 2012, Coleman and Ron Chisolm Jr. were working in the stockroom at Foot Locker, discussing sneakers and the potential for an event that would bring local sneakerheads together.
The traveling national convention Sneaker Con regularly skipped KC, and Coleman felt they were missing out on a strong market.
“Why can’t we do one ourselves?” Coleman remembers asking.
With his background in marketing, Coleman put together a survey for customers, asking if they’d come to such an event or even host their own table. Most answered “yes,” so he and Chisolm co-founded KC Sole and brought in four others. KC Sole now has a core roster of 10-15 men and women. The group also has a street team made up of about 25 local high school students who get to help set up if they keep good grades.
KC Sole organizes events throughout the year, from Easter egg hunts to back-to-school drives. The biggest by far is SneakFest, which attracts about 1,000 people every year.
Coleman gets a lot of satisfaction from bringing the sneakerhead community together.
“If you have a passion for something, there’s a place for you,” he says. “There are groups who are into cars and bikes. We like sneakers, and we can ride together, too.”
Kriss Shelton is a serial shoe buyer and giver. She’ll make a purchase and wear a pair once or twice.
“I don’t want them to get messed up!” she says.
Shelton hangs onto a comparatively paltry collection of 25 pairs and knows when it’s time to let go. At Christmastime, Shelton gave away 10 pairs to people she knew needed shoes and would take care of them.
She’s nearly a Jordan purist, specifically the 1-14 releases.
“He had the dopest sneakers at the time,” she says. “They were dope then, they’re dope now.”
Her favorites are the Air Jordan 12 in the Gamma Blue colorway, which she purchased at 2014’s SneakFest, and a pair of 1989 Cement Air Jordan 4s, which her boyfriend bought her for Valentine’s Day.
Some shoes come with serious emotional attachments, like the first pair of Jordans Shelton bought herself. Her parents had five kids and couldn’t afford the hot shoes of the season when she was growing up, so when Shelton got her first job, she bought a pair of retro Air Jordan 5s.
“I’m in a position now where I can buy what I want, when I want it,” Shelton says. “Shoes make me happy.”
Those Retro 5s now belong to her little sister.
Shelton’s giving heart extends to the wider community. Her nonprofit, H.O.P.E. Group, will have a table at SneakFest to accept donations of new or gently used shoes. They will be cleaned up and taken to Synergy Services to distribute at youth and women’s shelters.
“People come to the shelters with holes in their shoes or no shoes at all,” she says. “We want to give them shoes that we don’t wear anymore, but that we could wear.”
Kendall Harris is a T-shirt-and-skinny-jeans guy. He’s all about comfort, especially because he co-owns Ruby Jean’s Juicery in Westport and is on his feet all day.
His go-to footwear is all-white Vans.
“That’s what I’m most comfortable in — that’s who Kendall is — but most of my friends wear basketball sneakers,” Harris says. “I grew up around skateboarders. That’s the difference between me and the other KC Sole members.”
Harris also differs from other sneakerheads in his laid-back attitude toward footwear.
“I don’t want to have to be super careful in my shoes — mine get all dirty,” he says. “And I don’t want to pay $800; I’ll pay $80.”
He’s still a player in the big league of collectors, with about 100 pairs. There are a few pairs worthy of extra TLC, like the Jordan 6s and 11s — two of Jordan’s three-peat shoes — that he bought in high school before sneaker culture exploded. He also has a strong connection with the Jordan 14 in the Oxidized Green colorway.
Harris recalls that in third grade, he and a girl he played with at recess each had a pair.
“That shoe is closely tied in my memory to the first girl I liked,” he says.
Harris considers his collection a permanent part of his life. While he’s considering setting up a table at SneakFest, it would only be for display.
“I don’t like to sell my shoes,” he says. “I want to keep them for my son.”
Glenn Robinson has a rule: “I buy sneakers to wear sneakers,” he says.
His collection numbers around 75 pairs.
“Once I got into sneakers, I thought my collection was impressive, but there are some people who have been collecting for decades, hanging onto them since they were kids, and they’re in pristine condition,” he says.
Robinson’s favorite pair is modeled after an ugly Christmas sweater; he wears them in July for fun. He wants shoes not everyone can get, such as exclusive releases that are collaborations between brands and stores. He also likes skateboarding Nikes.
While he’s got eight or nine pairs of shoes to go with every outfit, not every pair he owns is worthy of being showcased on a table. A dozen or so are beaters — shoes that he bought on sale but that still look cool. At home, they sit on a shelf, not in a box like his prized pairs. The problem is where to wear them. As a member of KC Sole, there’s pressure to always put your best foot forward.
“I can’t go to Wal-Mart in bad shoes,” Robinson says, laughing.
He has no intention of parting with any sneakers this season.
“There are only about 10 pairs I’d put on the table,” he says. “They were hard-earned.”
Instead, he’s coordinating vendors for this year’s SneakFest.
“I don’t necessarily call it work,” he says, “because I love it.”
The one-day convention is from 1 to 7 p.m. Saturday at Municipal Auditorium, 301 W. 13th St. Tickets are $10 and available through Eventbrite. Apparel and art vendors will be on hand, as well as a shoe artist and barber. Giveaways, contests, special appearances and a shoe museum are on the agenda. Hosts JC Tha Great and Ray tha Jerk, and DJ Q and DJ Rocky Montana will provide entertainment. The event is sponsored by Hot 103 Jamz (KPRS) and Kansas City’s Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund.
KC Sole, the organization behind KC SneakFest, also is planning All About Soles, a 5K run at Kessler Park at 8 a.m. Sunday. Registration costs $25 at Eventbrite. A portion of the proceeds as well as shoe donations will benefit H.O.P.E. Group.