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Why Sneakers?


Why Sneakers?

10,000 years in the future, I will ruin an archaeology PhD.

Beneath layers of sediment and a few dozen boxes of No Thai, plucky young researchers will discover my bedroom, and in an instant, all their thesis work about Anthropocene males will crumble. So much for Class of 12016.

The heartache stems not from the room itself, but what it contains. Between fossilized textbooks and the laundry I put off doing for 10,000 years straight, the researchers discover shoes. Not just shoes – sneakers. Not just sneakers – but dozens of sneaker boxes, stacked into corners and closets, their contents nestled safely inside.

“I thought this era’s Millennials only bought experiences!” scream the researchers, their hours in the library evaporating under the weight of my conspicuous consumption.

So they’ll rant. And they’ll rave. They’ll exhale once in exasperation. And after a frustrating pace around the room, they’ll ask the same question that friends, teachers, and ex-girlfriends’ parents had all asked me over 10,000 years in the past: “Why sneakers?”


While some long-time readers may know the story behind my love affair with sneakers, the vast majority of my friends and classmates either a) don’t know or b) don’t care. Regardless of either group’s size (like a class with a Ross curve, most are B’s), I’m not being hubristic when I say that most notice my predilection with athletic footwear. My laptop is covered in Nike stickers. This blog’s largest topic is sneakers. For the first two weeks of my Junior year, I wore a different pair every day and was only called out in two club GroupMe’s.

In other words: I’m not subtle.

But like those disgruntled archaeologists, let’s return to our central thesis: why sneakers?

For me, sneakers are a synthesis. There’s a grand irony to the fact that something I step on represents my self-concept, but follow me on this one: no other object class combines art, design, performance, utility, and cutting-edge tech quite as elegantly a sneaker.

Just think about all the mind-bending design work that went into making an Olympic-level 8oz knit marathon flat – and past that, what considerations were taken to make that performance look good.

Distracting? Sure. Superfluous? Maybe. Unnecessary? Not quite. After all, even NASA had a style guide. This tension of functional form isn’t contradictory; and in many ways, it’s at the core of who we are. While individual personality traits themselves define consistent behaviors, there’s no Newtonian law stating that bundles of traits remain consistent. Even the great Walt Whitman, in his seminal poem “Song of Myself,” broached the idea that human beings are built to be complex:


“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself/

I am large, I contain multitudes”



So here I am: runner/writer; comedian/economist; designer/A- in Financial Accounting.

A bundle of contradictions, with sneakers at every turn.

I’m a lifelong endurance athlete who appreciates relentless function – hence, Flyknit Racers. I’m also a voracious cultural consumer who follows Instagrams dedicated to what artists are wearing – hence, SFB’s. In addition, I’m a business student at one of the world’s top public universities who appreciates entrepreneurial spirit and novel ventures – hence, Greats Royales.

Wearing and owning these diverse pairs amplifies every part of who I am by letting me quite literally put my own unique footprint on the world. Even better, I can look good doing it.

So, to that future archaeologist: here’s why sneakers.

I love sneakers because no single object genre grants true self-expression the way they do, since no single object could ever hope to capture all the sides of my personality quite like them. Throughout time and space, human beings have derived identity from (and will likely continue to love) seeing their traits amplified by what they consume. For me, that’s sneakers.

Sure, relatability is a cop out answer, but it’s only a cliché because relatability drives decisions. It did, after all, drive the decision to fill my bedroom with the stacks of boxes that just disproved your dissertation.

And really, sorry about that - if you need help rebounding, there are Air Jordans under the bed.



Shoe Review: Nike "SFB" Special Field Boot (2009)


Shoe Review: Nike "SFB" Special Field Boot (2009)

Shoe: Nike Special Field Boot 8” (British Khaki/Desert)

Release: March 2009

Price: $150, from

In 2005, Nike’s Innovation Kitchen received a mandate unlike any other: design the next generation of tactical boot. Paying homage to Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman’s service with the 10th Mountain Division during WWII, the Nike SFB (“Special Field Boot”) was developed with the needs of both armed forces and first-responders alike. Category-first features included the Natural Motion Cushioning unit (similar to Nike’s Footscape outsole) and a puncture-resistant forefoot shield made of lightweight thermoplastic. The resulting shoe was lightweight, quick-drying, comfortable, and flexible – the opposite of the heavy Rothco/Belleville boots it was designed to replace.

Prototype Nike Special Field Boot - note the initial resemblance to the Air Force 1 sneaker. (source:  Out of the Box )

Prototype Nike Special Field Boot - note the initial resemblance to the Air Force 1 sneaker. (source: Out of the Box)

Four years after development began, the first-generation SFB was released in March 2009. Initial reaction was positive but subdued. Due to its genre-first feature set, the initial SFB model didn’t comply with the Army’s AR-670-1 uniform regulations, which were last updated in 2005. This meant that any soldier reporting for duty in Nike combat boots was considered ill-dressed, and therefore unfit to serve.

That's not to say the boots weren’t up to snuff – in fact, initial reviews were generally favorable. It just meant that the SFB would have to prove itself against traditional, heavy-weight combat boots. And prove it did: despite the regulations, Nike SFB’s became popular with service personnel across other branches of service, even becoming the choice of Army soldiers deployed overseas. Finally, after years of strong sales and widespread adaptation, Nike released an AR-670-1 compliant SFB in September 2014 to rave reviews.

In many ways, the SFB resembles a cross between a performance running shoe and a standard-issue military boot. To quote Nike Innovation Manager Tobie Hatfield: “Throughout the evolution of [the SFB], it… became very clear that America’s elite military operators and first responders share similarities with the world’s top tier athletes.” Both require uncompromising performance, reliable gear, and no expense spared in development. Their lives quite literally depend on it.


Nike’s Special Field Boot is the only sneaker I own that I’m profiled for wearing. There’s no hi-viz Swoosh, the Natural Motion sole is a “trained observer” thing, and oh yeah, it is genetically a combat boot. Not some fetishized “Ramones”-style black leather zip “combat boot” – but the sort of boot you’d wear because your 9-5 includes kicking doors and pointing firearms.

Photo credit:  Kristen Eisenhauer

Photo credit: Kristen Eisenhauer

Fashion may be danger, but its relationship with true peril is always a somewhat defanged intrigue (studded leather, camo prints) rather than a full-on embrace. Breaking that code doesn’t make you more fashionable in the eyes of the public, either; if anything, it makes you someone who shouldn’t also be carrying a backpack.

That being said: I love my SFB’s. Since these are the most utilitarian shoes I own, we’ll start with functionality. I bought my Gen 1 SFB’s in August 2015, and wore them any time Michigan weather got too awful to consider anything else. The water-resistant suede lower and nylon upper do a superb job keeping out the elements – paired with wool socks, you’d have to be submerged before you felt any moisture on your skin. In addition, the Natural Motion outsole does a surprisingly good job on slick ground. My Bean Boots (designed for cold mud in the swamps of Maine) lose winter traction faster than my SFB’s, a testament to the work of Hatfield and his team. And as for performance under stress, I’ve both run and hiked miles in these shoes: I wore SFB’s on my Mt Washington ascent this past May and found them agile, yet durable. I would have preferred my purpose-built Vasque light hikers (especially on the descent – that thermoplastic shield does a number on your toes going down), but for shoes that I bought as a fashion piece, Nike’s SFB performed well. From day one, my SFB’s have trucked through mud, rain, snow, and sleet like they were designed for it. Which makes sense, since they were.

This being Nike, there’s also an aesthetic component to that performance that’s likely why you chose the Swoosh over competitors. There’s a reason everyone from Kanye West to Shia LaBeouf rocks these boots: the SFB is no slouch for looks. Athletic, muscular, purpose-built, futuristic, and oddly intriguing, Nike’s combat boot is an odd mix of traits that just seems to work. With the right wardrobe to support them, the SFB will sing.

Photo credit:  Kristen Eisenhauer

Photo credit: Kristen Eisenhauer

In my opinion, the Nike SFB is the Mercedes-AMG G-Class of sneakers: you’re never quite sure where the styling ends and the function begins. And even if you could draw a line, the numbers don’t lie – it’s not like any utility was compromised just to make a handsome product. So why not just enjoy the result? The badass, good-looking, high-performance result?

Aesthetics of function aside, the Nike SFB is not exactly a versatile shoe for every day wear. I find myself wearing it exclusively with long pants, and even then only with tapered jeans or sweats – finer-gauge chino fabric just doesn’t seem ruff enough for combat boots, no matter how stylish they are. Then, there’s that whole “profiling” bit from earlier. I’m not terribly concerned about wearing my SFB’s in the informal company of peers, but if I have office hours or even a group meeting, I choose another shoe. Call me crazy, but I’d rather avoid explaining my love for Shia LaBeouf to someone who now believes I’ve been radicalized.

Who wore it better? 

Who wore it better? 


Does that prevent me from wearing them at all? Of course not. But for a shoe designed to perform in any environment, there are some very real limits imparted by everyday life. Compared to shoes like the Greats Royale or the Vans Sk8-Hi, it’s hard for me to recommend the SFB as a “wear all week” casual staple. But if you have the right wardrobe to support them and skin thick enough to absorb a few side-eyes, you can’t go wrong with this sneaker-boot hybrid. Nike’s SFB is a solid addition to any shoe rotation.


COMFORT: ★★★★☆

STYLE: ★★★★☆


VALUE: ★★★★☆




WAYWT 2/26/2016


WAYWT 2/26/2016

Decided to break out the Techwear for my last day before Spring Break. Today's layering: Arc'teryx Alpha SV shell, Arc'teryx Cerium SL down sweater, and an Allsaints Tower Tee. One of these things is not like the other. If only Smartwool made extended layers...



Bonus: a shot from my walk home last night. The blue glow off fresh snow reflected onto the copper of the old buildings - eery, but amazing. 



WAYWT 2/22/2016


WAYWT 2/22/2016

Feelin' like Hader. Today: oversized sweats, combat boots, and dark neutrals. Really impressed with my Ronin Division Tonal Hoodie - thick fleece, soft lining, and a gorgeous shade of rust. 



Ronin hoodie detail

Ronin hoodie detail


Techwear: The Future is Hi-Viz


Techwear: The Future is Hi-Viz

Originally published Jan 19, 2016 on

In the November/December 2015 issue of The Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine, fashion writer Luke Leitch discusses the quaintness of the fashion trend he calls “fauxstalgia”: a harkening for anachronism not linked to an individual’s life experiences, but to an idealized version of the past worn as a costume in the present. In Leitch’s opinion, a New Yorker wearing cotton and leather on a rainy day ventures extends beyond self-expression and into detrimental fetish. “In a city that is probably amongst the most technologically-advanced in the world”, says Leitch, “so many guys wear incredibly utilitarian clothes with details… that are about as useful as your appendix.”       

If dressing like the Brawny paper towel man is viewing the modern world through rose-tinted glasses, techwear is night vision goggles. Techwear is a glimpse into a future where man controls his destiny: where plant fibers fail, GORE-TEX emerges. In essence, techwear describes clothing that renders traditional silhouettes in technical fabrics designed to imbue clothing with properties other than preventing nudity. An obsession with utility, modularity, and adaptability characterizes the genre. To the strictest tech disciples, a single outfit prepares them for double-digit temperature ranges and any wind or rain imaginable while conjuring an image decidedly more tasteful than “bright orange anorak”. Bad news for lumbersexuals everywhere.

Function? Without doubt. Fashion? That’s up to you. Techwear redefines items unfairly compartmentalized as “not stylish” for nothing more than the content of their character. Tech hallmarks include GORE-TEX shells, polyester fleece, zippers, cargo pockets, and copious pull-tabs, all paired with technical footwear designed for performance at the expense of heritage. That last part is key: while techwear borrows from classical silhouettes (see Arc’teryx Veillance’s Blazer LT), it eschews nostalgia in favor of mutation.A Nike ACG jacket may evoke the lines of a classic MA-1 bomber, but its GORE Windstopper face fabric and reflective detailing signal a fundamental change in the garment’s ability to interact with the world at large.

That’s not to say every garment in the techwear lexicon was created just to push aesthetic boundaries. As brands like ACRONYM and Isaora take intentionally bold strides into the avant garde, others (like Nike and The North Face) find their core purpose – to innovate in the name of performance - leading them towards producing techwear almost by consequence.  This blend of function, fashion, and wearable tech not only extends man’s control over his environment: it also looks so damn cool. Every child who grew up on Blade Runner and Judge Dredd holds a special place in their heart for clothing that looks straight off the streets of a smog-choked Tokyo, anno 2035. The future was chrome, until chrome became plastic, until plastic became carbon; now, the future is tech.

Yet, as Flyknit sneakers, modular mid-layers, and athletic clothing permeate our culture at large, it’s hard to shake the feeling that techwear is, ironically enough, not that functional. Well at least within a contemporary societal lens. First, almost on principle, techwear is prohibitively expensive: Arc’teryx Veillance jackets reach well into the 4 digits, and a single Boris Bidjan Saberi waterproof rucksack can command up to $400 at retail. The Arc’teryx Alpha SV hardshell pictured here is designed to withstand hours of winter exposure; but it’s also been styled, and accordingly retails for a mind-boggling $680 USD. It’s almost as if techwear’s practicioners see the hefty price tag as a barrier to entry meant to draw only the most devoted into their vision of a neon-soaked tomorrow.

Next, techwear may simply be a complicated fix to something that really wasn’t broken. Does the urban subway commuter really need GORE Pro in the event of afternoon showers between the office and 34th Street Station? Do the reflective glass microbeads woven into a Stone Island jacket really keep a cyclist more visible at night than simply mounting a light? For the same reason our culture loves the cotton t-shirt, maximized performance may just not be worth the hassle if the alternative is only moderate discomfort. And if every other 18-35 year old in the Manhattan area is dressed in traditional (if not contrived) flannel and leather, the synthetic walking shadow in the 3-layer shell will find their ability to function within society’s comfortable expectations perhaps hindered – no matter how adaptable their clothes are.

On an absolute scale, technical clothing claims top prize; adjusted to fit rational, present day relativities, it’s simply out of reach.

Now imagine the arguments presented above (high cost; superfluous technologies; conspicuous difference) in the latest issue of Motor Trend: rather than praise the Lamborghini Aventador SV, a “brutal” car with a “$493,905 base price [that’s] (on some scale) justifiable”, for its “extremely great” drive within a “thoughtfully stripped down interior”, the magazine’s reviewers would have torn the world-beating SV to shreds for its lack of economy and moderation. In other words, they would have missed the forest for the fact that it wasn’t an ocean.

Techwear, in its current form, is not pedestrian. That’s a very good thing. While it may straddle homage, techwear is also making tangible progress towards evolving the dogmatic fashion fallbacks that make educated observers like Leitch scratch their heads. There’s a grand irony to all this aversion: today’s visionary futurism often turns into tomorrow’s present. In 1987, Lamborghini’s Composites Divisions created the world’s first carbon-bodied supercar, but was told their prototype must be scrapped due to the prohibitively high costs of manufacturing that much carbon. 28 years later, BMW’s i3 – a plucky, all electric carbon-bodied city car starting around the price of a 3-series sedan – debuted to the public.

I’ll see you in the future.


AS RAKESTRAW | The personal site of Alex Rakestraw.