If you look at this city through the lens of Portlandia, Kinfolk and travel pieces published by The New York Times, this is a twee land of arugula ice cream, secondhand indie vinyl and intimate dinner parties featuring locally brewed saisons and fresh persimmons. But the most celebrated cultural artifact of this city, and the only product made here that really matters to the global economy, is missing from that picture.
Portland is Sneakertown.
To the extent that kids in Beijing or Johannesburg give a shit about anything in Oregon, it's our sneakers and streetwear. Any hope Portland has of becoming a true global city hinges on the people at Adidas, Nike and Under Armor—the three largest athletic footwear brands in the country—all of whose design teams are either headquartered here or on the way. Which is why this week's issue is about shoes, and not locally roasted coffee or our active small-press publishing community.
There are definitely some very real problems with the footwear industry, which relies on grossly underpaid Third World labor and intensive marketing directed at impoverished urban communities where folks would probably be wise to pass up a pair of $200 sneakers.
And yet, there is so much good that comes from it, too, especially in the way sneaker culture unifies people across cultural divides. It also empowers kids like Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, who grew up in a rough area of Oakland dreaming of the day he'd have his own signature shoe, which he designed so it could be priced at a comparatively reasonable $100.
The Air Jordan sneaker line includes some of the most durable icons of street fashion, and was created in Beaverton. The Air Jordan just celebrated its 30th anniversary, and we ranked every iteration, an exercise that doubles as a history of streetwear fashion in the past three decades. In the same vein, we talked to a man who's owned them all, the world's most prolific sneaker collector, who was once banned from Nike stores, and who recently moved to Portland.
Because we know our readers want some classic weirdness, we also sent one of our writers to spend a week wearing eccentric footwear in public—it turns out no one in Portland bats an eye at Crocs, toe shoes or an adult skating around the mall in Heelys. We also put together an oral history of the boot made famous by Wild.
The last part of this issue is a big directory of the city's notable shoe stores, most of which are locally owned. We urge you to consider shopping at one of them the next time you need a new pair of kicks.
But most of all, the next time you absent-mindedly strap on your pair of Air Force 1s, reflect on the fact that they probably mean more to the world than any Decemberists record.