What Makes a Pair of Kicks Cool? Here’s What a Filmmaker Learned From Sneakerheads

Former Jordan Brand Footwear VP Gentry Humphrey and director Hannah Storm. Image Source: ABC News Studios/Hulu

True sneakerheads know that the intersection of sports and fashion is the holy grail. Look no further than “Grails: When Sneakers Change the Game,” a new docuseries from director and producer Hannah Storm.

The six-part series charts the rise of Eastside Golf, a lifestyle brand started by two former Morehouse golf champions, Earl Cooper and Olajuwon Ajanaku. It gets into the duo’s experience as Black men in a white-dominated sport — and it delves into what happens when they secure a game-changing partnership with Jordan Brand.

“A cool sneaker is basically whatever you think is cool.”

Of course, it’s also a lesson in sneaker culture. It features several high-profile names in the sports, fashion, and entertainment worlds, including Fat Joe, DJ Khaled, and Marissa Hill. Focusing on this particular intersection of culture was somewhat of a departure for Storm, a pioneering ESPN anchor who has directed several sports-centered films, including one about NASCAR legend Danica Patrick.

“I was not a sneakerhead before now,” she tells POPSUGAR. “Now, I literally look at people’s feet to see what they have on.”

Still, the series is similar to her other projects in the sense that it looks past just the superficial to talk about representation in sports and how fashion can change our ideas of who belongs.

And, sneakerhead or not, your vision of sneaker culture will shift after watching the series — just like Storm’s did in making it. “If you’re a sneakerhead, you’ll love it, because there’s great eye candy,” she says. “But . . . I wanted this to be an inclusive series in the sense that you didn’t just have to understand sports, you didn’t just have to understand sneakers.”

We spoke with Storm about what she learned as she followed Cooper and Ajanaku’s journey, what her favorite styles are right now (hint: she’s into the classics as well as unexpected collabs), and why women deserve more of a voice in this space.

The Most Important Lesson About Sneakers, According to the Pros

Hannah Storm: I spent some time with Fat Joe and Mayor, and Mayor is a very well-known sneakerhead, very well-respected, as is Fat Joe. What I learned was: what is a cool sneaker is basically whatever you think is cool. It’s not necessarily that the sneaker is selling for this amount or that amount. And I learned this from the biggest sneakerheads. What resonates with you? What story are you drawn to with these sneakers? Maybe it’s the colorway, or maybe you feel a certain way when you wear this, or someone who you admire wears it, or you like the style. Really, what’s “cool” is personal. You shouldn’t be afraid — “Oh, I can’t wear Mids” or “I can’t do this” — you should never feel that way. You should wear whatever you like, whatever you feel good in, whatever speaks to you.

And by the way, don’t put it on a shelf. Wear it. . . . It’s going to sit in a box and disintegrate. So make sure you wear it at least once.

The other thing I learned is dressing from the feet up — how fun that is and how challenging that is. And, in a sense, it adds a whole new element to your style if you dress from the feet up.

Storm’s Favorite Sneakers of 2022

HS: I just think the classics for the last year have been the [Nike] Pandas. I have a couple of pairs. Also, I’m way into the New Balance 550s. They’re just so comfortable.

I like bright colorways but I also like neutral, because it’s easy. I get up super early for work, and it’s easy for me to put on something like the Jacquemus collab with Nike, which has beautiful tones, a little bit of brown. That’s one of my favorite pairs too.

Obviously I have multiple pairs of the [Air Jordan 5s]. I don’t have the AJ 4s because they were too hard to get and no one has them, but I have a couple in the new collection.

On Styling Sneakers For the Winter

HS: I like the winter with sneakers. We live in the Northeast, so it gets very cold here, so obviously the length of whatever you’re wearing definitely plays in. . . . Just because of where I live, I’m a huge socks person. And I think half the fun of sneakers with socks is put some wild, super-fun combination together. I would say that my sneaker game has upped my sock game, too. My big tip is invest in your sock game, too, because you’re going to need it here, you just need it for warmth. . . . It really does have to work together, but it does have to be practical.

Meet the Women Shaping the Sports Fashion World

HS: It was really important for me, because the culture is so male-dominated, to put female voices in the film. It was very intentional. So we identified a YouTuber named Marissa Hill. I met her, and I’m like, I love her. She has a great personality, she works like crazy. She unboxed something like 300 pairs of sneakers in the last year, like no one does that. She’s a former college athlete. So I’ve learned a lot from her — just about hustling in the business, how hard she works, I see that, also how incredibly knowledgeable she is, also with a background as an athlete, and she’s also a model. I learned a lot from her. It was very, very intentional for me to put her in there as a woman in a very male-dominated field. Christyna Pourhabib is an author and expert, and I thought it was important to have her as well.

But it was a challenge, to be honest, because I had to be super intentional about it. There are designers out there — Mimi Plange comes to mind, I think her stuff is gorgeous. But if I were to do “Grails” part two, it would be female-centric, because the women in that business need to be highlighted, and their struggles need to be highlighted.

All of my films and this docuseries, they all relate in some way to struggle, they all relate in some way to breaking down a barrier of some sort — that is my professional life, I lived that. And it was not easy, but you find a way.

I understand the notion of pushing forward and the notion of believing in yourself and moving past discouragement and disappointment. And I understand investing in yourself. So all of those things at a fundamental level I think make me really admire Earl and O all that much more and make me greatly passionate to share their story.

“Grails: When Sneakers Change the Game” is now streaming on Hulu.

Image Source: ABC News Studios/Hulu

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