Jaden Zhai grew up loving basketball and by extension, basketball sneakers. But soon, the footwear became his primary passion — even when the shoe didn’t actually fit.
“One time there was a pair of LeBron shoes that went on sale and they were two sizes too big,” the 28-year-old recalls.
“But I begged my mom to get them for me and the salesperson kind of convinced her that I would grow into them … which I never did,” laughs Zhai, who now has a collection of over 75 pairs, starting with his first Nike Zoom LeBron IVs way back in middle school.
He said he’s one of a growing number of Ottawa “sneakerheads,” as they call themselves — people who buy, sell and collect limited-edition sneakers, many of whom have managed to transform their passion into a career.
In Zhai’s case, it started with a job at the Rideau Centre Foot Locker (where the employee discount helped him fuel his collection) and eventually landed him a job as a footwear designer for Fila.
Though his work took him to New York City, Zhai continues to run the Ottawa Sneaker Community Facebook page, which has grown from 100 members when he began in 2014 (it was started by a Foot Locker co-worker) to over 10,000 today.
Shoes as art
That’s one of the places Brea Cristobal first went to learn more about sneakers when she thought about using them as a way to showcase her art.
The 24-year-old artist and physiotherapy student did her