Franklin native teaches sole college class about sneaker culture
Published 11:16 am Friday, April 29, 2016
For some, it’s completely out of the question to stand in line for hours, maybe even days, to pay hundreds of dollars for an item of clothing that simply protects your feet. For others, however, getting your hands on the latest Nike releases or a retro pair of Jordans is a way of life.
Franklin native and sneakerhead Jemayne King would definitely be grouped in the latter — he claims he could go a couple years without wearing the same pair twice — and you’d be hard pressed to find someone as passionate about the subject.
“I’ve subscribed to the culture since before it was even recognized,” King said. “One of the first shoes I wanted was the Ewing 33 Hi in the Knicks’ colorway. Patrick Ewing had a huge game to beat the Celtics in the  playoffs, something they hadn’t done in a long time, and it was cool to see the sneakers in team colors like that.”
A professor at Charlotte, North Carolina’s, Johnson C. Smith University, King now teaches the first collegiate English course solely dedicated to the sneaker culture. Students in his English 296 class are lectured about the history and socioeconomic ramifications of the lifestyle which connects shoes to sports, music and popular culture.
“My students and I would sit and talk about the sneaker culture before or after class,” King said. “One kid came up to me and saw my shoes [the rare, metallic gold Nike Air Flightposite 3 Battlegrounds] and said, ‘I don’t care what class you teach, I’ve never seen shoes like that before. I can’t believe you have those.’ And it grew from there.”
The author of “Sole Food: Digestible Sneaker Culture,” which explores the global impact of the sneaker culture and how footwear evolved from necessity to fashion statement through a series of essays, stories and poetry, King shares with his students his own experiences as a collector. However, he still teaches his class the same way he would any other creative writing course.
“It’s a culture with its own literature,” he said. “It’s like an art. It’s timeless. It brings people from all different backgrounds together, and it bridges the gap. The only difference is that we’re examining the dynamics of sneaker culture.”
One of the larger themes of his class concerns the standards of the sneaker community, where buying bootleg versions to save money is frowned upon but yet kids get jumped for wearing authentic and expensive shoes.
“It goes along with the social pressure,” King said. “It’s no different than if a woman buys a knockoff purse. I mean, it depends where and how well off you are, but people just want to fit in. The dynamics of the sneaker culture are a little different, but some people take it so seriously that they’ll go to any means to get them.”
If he can find time away from running his own line of Sole Food Brand apparel and co-hosting “The Gentleman & The Jerk” podcast, King plans to expand this course to other universities.
“I’m an authentic subscriber to the sneaker culture, and if the opportunity were to present itself, I’d love to share that even more than I already do.”