There are events and then there are events. But one dedicated to just shoes? If you ask the founders of Sole DXB, in its second year now and kicking off Friday, they'll tell you shoes, sneakers to be precise, mean a lot more than something you slip your feet into.
"What you stand on is what you stand for," says Hussain Moloobhoy, one of the three founders of this unique event. "It underlines you as a person."
Taking on the sneaker culture phenomenon that came to prominence in the US in the '80s, thanks mostly to the popularity of basketball legends like Michael Jordan, who launched his own line of shoes, the movement has come to encompass a generation of hip-hop loving, skateboarding, graffiti splashing and break-dancing sub culture. In short: a creative community driven by their desire to be different and unique.
The Dubai event, then, is a platform for that community to get together, share ideas, celebrate and generally have a good time, explains Moloobhoy.
It helps that the 32-year-old and his two partners-in-crime come from very creative backgrounds: Moloobhoy runs his own advertising firm, Kris Balerite is an art director in another ad agency and Joshua Roberts Cox founded his own design company. The three met a little over a year ago at a shoe-customising event organised by German sports apparel maker Puma.
"At our first event last year, we expected around 400 to 500 people but more than 15,000 turned up," says Moloobhoy. "We were not surprised that there was a community, we were surprised so many came. So this year we are going to make it much bigger."
A free-for-all event kicking off at 2pm at the Al Serkal Avenue in Al Quoz, musicians, designers, graffiti artists and anyone who's ever worn a sneaker is invited. Performers include UAE musicians Hamdan Al Abri, Robin, Malikah, Beat Antenna and a number of DJs including Shef Codes, Emtee Pockets, Brooklyn and Mike Daniel.
Famed sneaker designer Nash Money will show off his skills and so will skaters from around the country who will compete for a prize. Other activities include toy launches and exhibitions by UAE-based artists.
The fundamental concern, reiterates Moloobhoy, is that the event needs to be a grassroots one.
"We want to connect with enthusiasts out there and get as many regional enthusiasts involved while staying true to the culture," he says.
"We could have easily gone out there and got international artists. But it's about growing from within. We are not an event company. We are all about pushing out a community."
Balerite, 28, a self-confessed sneakerhead, says it's also a celebration, and a bit of nostalgia.
"I think the first event was more about finding out if there were people like us. And now that we know the community exists and is flourishing, we want to celebrate that," he says.
Heart and sole
"Also for people in their late 20s and 30s… that whole BMX generation, sneakers meant a lot more those days. It's a whole generation of people who were studying to be lawyers and doctors and whatever and who grew up listening to Run DMC and De la Soul and who wore sneakers as a representation of who they were. So it's a bit nostalgic."
The culture, he added, is however alive and well.
And for the new generation, it will also be a chance to learn about its history, says Cox, 27, whose passion for sneakers ran so deep he became a product designer and eventually set up his own design company.
Memories with sneakers
"People collect cars, some people collect sneakers. I think there is a whole generation of people who associate memories with sneakers, whether it's the shoe Michael Jordan wore where he won the dunk competition or the first pair of sneakers you got for Christmas.
"Also, there is the whole creative angle to it where people treat it like an art project — to be more individualistic."
While brand marketeers are also welcome, with many signed on as sponsors, Cox says sneakerheads will not be easily swayed by gimmicks.
"You won't find a more educated consumer than a sneakerhead. We know exactly what we want and we hope to get from the brands."
All activities will be conducted within a controlled environment, says Molloobhoy. "We were once stereotyped but that is not what the culture is about today. We're very respectful of the laws. There are dos and don'ts and we have to abide by those. We do have permissions and we are definitely all about respecting where we live," he says.
"In the end, we are here to prove Dubai has a real heart."
Don't miss it
Sole DXB kicks off at 2pm on Friday at the Al Serkal Avenue in Al Quoz. Entry is free. Go to soledxb.com for more.