In 1960, the Swiss photographer Rene Burri shot a photograph in Sao Paulo. The photograph is called ‘Men on a Rooftop’, and Teju Cole wanted to find the exact spot where the image was taken. So in March 2015, he went to Sao Paulo to look for it. It took about a week of going into high-rise buildings, asking for permission to take a picture, and trying different lenses, but finally, he found the exact spot the picture was taken, he found Rene Burri’s photograph again. In his essay ‘Shadows in Sao Paulo’ Cole says of the experience – “But in discovering all that can be known about a work of art, what cannot be known is honored even more.” This is Cole’s focus, what is not known, what cannot be known, what do we not see, where are our blind spots?
The pair of sneakers you see above is called Air Jordan 1 ‘Banned’. Why? The story goes that in 1984, Michael Jordan, debatably one of the best players to ever walk the basketball court, had signed an endorsement deal with Nike. The collaboration had birthed the first pair of Air Jordans. But when MJ wore them unto the court the NBA was not pleased. Why? Because back then the rules mandated, all white or all black sneakers, no other colors. MJ insisted on wearing them and was fined $5,000. But those sneakers had caused a buzz, the crowd loved it, and so, Nike decided to pay the fines for MJ, so he continued wearing them, and soon school kids would save up all they had and stand outside Nike shoes to cop the latest Air Jordans. Nike sold $70 million worth of Air Jordans by May 1985, one month after they were released into stores. By December 1985, they had made $100 million on those shoes alone.
How much was invested? Reports say MJ was paid $500,000 yearly for 5 years. The Air Jordan 1 is now considered a classic and now has several colorways. There is something special about the way pencil jeans can sit on it, and so can cargo shorts, wide bottom pants, etc.
The point of sneaker collaborations is more sales. Product placement. If a celebrity will wear it, then the word will get out there. Jordan proved that this could work, but even before his Nike collaboration, as far back as 1934, Chuck Taylor pioneered a sneaker collaboration with the Converse All-Star.
While it has undergone many iterations with added padding, better curvature, flat soles, the original structure of the Converse has been retained since they signed American basketballer Chuck Taylor as an ambassador. These days the All-Stars are called Chuck Taylors and his name is present in the ankle patch. The collaboration gave Converse 80 percent of the sneaker market, but eventually, Nikes, Adidas, and other collaborations rose to prominence.
These days, we have musicians, actors, and other celebrities especially African Americans joining their basketball counterparts as collaborators with sneaker makers. Kevin Hart, Pharrell Williams, Rihanna, Beyonce, and many more on this list.
If you won’t buy the sneakers for the style, you will buy them because of your favorite celebrity. Yeezy sales hit 1.3billion dollars in 2019, still trailing Nike’s Air Jordan sales of 3billion dollars.
But I am buying Yeezys as fast as I can. I swear I am.
“If you are looking for money, please get a job.”
“Now, you can send stories and manuscripts via email and receive rejections the same way. Back then, I had to send via letters and buy stamps, had to wait patiently for the mailman.”
“Rejection is part of the process”
-Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2016 Farafina Workshop
I applied four times for the Farafina Workshop, or was it five? I am not sure, so let’s stick with four: each year since 2013. I think I got the rejection mail once.
In retrospect, I never thought I would use a word like retrospect.
It is one of those words I have learned in the camp. Our language instructor, a very small man, loves big words, the other boys laugh at him, and I do too some times, but I listen when he teaches. He says I am his best student yet, that it is a pity we met in such unfortunate circumstances, when he said the last sentence, it was a whisper.
I do not know when it will be my turn, I would love to be eighteen before I die, but if there is one thing my short life has taught me, it is that we cannot always get what we want. When I think back to my life before now, I realize it was scattered, just like under the bridge at night, not arranged at all. I was always trying to survive. Either carrying cement blocks at construction sites or mixing, I didn’t think of the future. When I ran between speeding cars on the expressway hawking pure water, I never thought of death.
So in a way, I am happier now, or maybe this is not happiness, I don’t really know, I used to think happiness was to be inside a fine car and live in a fine house, and eat anything you want. But at least I know where I will sleep today, and what will happen sooner or later. Keeping a diary is not against camp rules, the camp commander told us on our second week here, all thirteen of us, new members, that when we were gone, our personal effects, he said effects means our things, will be returned to our parents, I have no parents, I do have one uncle, but I do not know where he is, so I guess they will either burn this diary or keep it. I like to write, I went to school once when I was little, I don’t remember it all, but I remember some parts, little flashes come to me if I lie down and look at the clouds — I am a little boy, about five or six, walking with my exercise books under my arm, multiplication tables, dictation, blue short knickers and black and yellow striped pencils, also flash before my eyes. When I stopped going to school and started hawking, I never needed to write, but by the second week here, I found that I had a beautiful handwriting as our writing instructor calls it, some of the other boys cannot write at all, but I can, that is one reason I decided to keep a diary, because I love the way the thoughts in my head come out in blue ink on this paper, it makes me smile.
Let me tell you how I came to be here.