If you’re anything like our style team, you’ve already burned through the six short episodes that make up Netflix’s Sneakerheads — a new sitcom that explores the modern culture of sneakers and follows one sneaker-buying squad’s quest to track down an elusive pair of Jordan Zeroes (they don’t actually exist, don’t worry). From the absurdity of ultra-exclusive drops and heated auctions to the terminology that can make outsiders feel like hypebeasts are speaking another language entirely, Sneakerheads does a great job of exploring sneaker culture while informing newcomers of its more obscure aspects. That move was very much by design according to Allen Maldonado, who plays the show’s lead.
“My character, Devin… he’s coming in as the person who takes all the shots when he doesn’t know what a ‘hyperstrike’ is or what these auctions are,” he explains. “So you live through Devin, as far as the sneaker culture aspect of it.”
Watching Maldonado as Devin fighting to keeps his life together when a passion he’s been trying to bury comes bubbling to the surface might leave you wondering if Sneakerheads is a reflection of the actor’s own life. The short answer is “no.” While Devin is straight-laced, Maldonado is unafraid to express his passion for kicks. He brims with energy when asked to share his real-life sneaker-buying experiences, from growing up in a single-parent home and forcing himself to ignore all-things Jordan to going HAM at the sneaker store when he finally made it.
We chopped it up with Maldonado this week about the wide appeal of Sneakerheads, the pivotal sneakers that shaped his tastes, the signature AJ-1 he dropped to coincide with the show, and the one sneaker trend he can’t get behind.
Near the end of Sneakerheads your character Devin exclaims, “Nobody wants to watch a tv show about shoes!” How did you react when you first saw the script?
I immediately loved the idea of doing a show about sneakers, because it’s never been done. This is the first scripted series about it and I was willing to take the risk just because I believe in the culture and I believe the culture would respond the way they have, and… it’s been incredible, man!
Sneaker culture has a lot of gatekeepers that can really alienate casual sneaker fans. What will non-sneakerheads find in the show that won’t make them feel left out?
I believe the show educates you about the sneaker culture and doesn’t make you feel bad for not knowing it. My character Devin, even though he was a sneakerhead in the past, in the past five years the game has totally changed and he’s coming in as the new person. He’s coming in as the person who takes all the shots when he doesn’t know what a “hyperstrike” is or what these auctions are. You live through Devin as far as the sneaker culture aspect of it.
But what I think people really enjoy — outside of the sneakers — is the self-improvement that Devin is going through. He’s going through a mid-life crisis, he’s at a point where his life in the present doesn’t really match his life in the past and he’s unsure of how he wants to have his life in the future. I feel like during this pandemic and during this time, a lot of people have been dealing with themselves in a similar way, and I think that’s an aspect of the story people are really gravitating too because we are all in that position.
The world is changing now — do I change with it or do I stay the same? Devin is going through that in the world of sneakers.
One of the best parts of the show is the dynamic between Devin and Bobby. I read that you hand-selected Andrew Bach (King Bach) for that role, what was your thinking behind that, why was it so important work alongside Andrew?
It was important for me because I was playing the straight character for the first time in a series. I’m known for playing the Bobby type characters, the high-energy funny man who energizes the scene comedically, so I knew I needed someone I could trust to stay as grounded as I need to be and not feel forced to bring up my comedy in order to get a laugh.
Having someone you could trust, that makes me feel like I don’t need to do anything funny — because he’s going to ignite that comedy in that scenario — is important. We worked together in a movie called Where’s The Money? a couple of years before, and I felt like we had amazing chemistry but I felt like we were in the wrong position. He was the straight man and I was the big comedy guy and I was like “man if we switch places, I think we can make magic,” and that’s basically what we did for Sneakerheads.
What’s the furthest you’ve ever gone to for a pair of sneakers?
I like to consider myself a novice sneakerhead. Because there are levels — there are gentlemen who have shoe collections worth millions, I’m not that and I’m not the guy who is heavily informed about when the next shoe is gonna drop. For me, it’s the special moment rather than the lengths of going to get the shoe.
The first shoe I ever got that was expensive was in high school. My mom was a single mom raising three kids so buying expensive shoes was not an option, it was ludicrous, like, “No, we need to pay the bills.” But she bought me a pair of Crazy 8s. As I got older, I walked into a shoe store and they had the Crazy 8s in there, and I asked for every Crazy 8 in every colorway, I said “I want to buy them all.”
It meant something to me because I remember when I could barely afford one, and now I’m in a position where I can buy as many as I want. That’s a pat on my back, like “You did it, kid! You moved the chips forward and you deserve this!” that was a special moment for me.
So were the Crazy 8s that pivotal first pair of sneakers that made you realize you were a sneaker guy?
No. This is a story I haven’t shared, but early on because I couldn’t afford these shoes, I would basically make myself not like them. I was like “If I can’t have them I don’t like them. I don’t like those Jordans — cool whatever!” I had to really force myself to believe that I didn’t really care about these sneakers.
Coming from the situation of growing up in a single-parent home, we had a lot of struggling. I didn’t buy my first pair of Jordans until I was 25, 26, it wasn’t that I wasn’t making any money, it was just that I really tricked myself into not liking these shoes because I couldn’t afford it.
The first time I bought sneakers as a “sneaker guy,” I think I bought like seven pairs of Jordans. It was just excessive! But it was making up for the time when I had to dictate my decisions due to my situation rather than from my heart and that’s something I’ve continuously grown better at as I’ve grown successful. I’m kinda dealing with survivor’s remorse!
I went through a similar thing in my 20s, where I realized I didn’t need to keep wearing Vans Classics because my mom wasn’t buying my shoes anymore.
Right right, exactly man! “Yo give me that two for $89 man. Just run them, I don’t know what they are just run them. I know they some Nikes or something, run me those I’m good.” That’s how it had to be, it was cool, it was a school year, I got the two for $89!
Let’s talk about your sneakers The Wild Ms, what’s behind the name and what were you going for with that mixed animal print design? You’ve got zebra print, tiger, leopard…
Shout out to Katty Customs. I’ve said it before and I continue to say it, because I believe the world is going to realize that she is iconic. The type of creativity that she’s been able to execute with shoes is ridiculous. We began to talk as Sneakerheads was set to release and I wanted to do something special for the culture along with the drop of the series.
Look I’m not going to take any credit for the design, because all I said was, “AJ1s are the shoe, do your magic!” and that’s what Katty Customs came with man. She came with some fire, I love it.
I can guess where she got the motivation from as far as the animal print. The different things that I do as a person, how it represents me, not only am I an actor, writer, producer, I’m an entrepreneur, long-distance runner — I’m not one animal. I’m not one thing and at any moment I can be what I need to be and that’s what I feel she got the energy from to come up with that particular print for the shoe. Just because I am who I need to be when I need to be, that’s the gift that God gave me.
What is it about the AJ1s that you love?
Man, you can just wear the AJ1s with anything! They’re a universal shoe. I’m talking casual, formal, you can bust them with a suit you can wear them with sweats. They can be the only thing you’re wearing, you can be wearing a white t-shirt and some regular jeans but if your AJ1s are crisp you don’t need anything else. It’ll be the highlight of whatever ensemble you’re putting together.
I used to be about the 11s, but the AJ1s won me over just because they just go on and off so easy. I’m all about efficiency. I don’t want to touch my laces — I want to slide my shoes on and off and get to moving. It’s a no shoe in the house policy, so its just convenient to my lifestyle!
What’s your least favorite modern sneaker design trend?
Ahh man, what’s the shoes man — I gotta keep it all the way 100, what are those called? The Balenciagas…
Oh, you mean the Triple-S, the “ugly shoe?”
That’s what I’m saying, see?! You even gotta mention it’s the “ugly shoe.” I ain’t feeling that I feel like somebody lying to me like this is a joke. This is one big joke that someone is making.
“We are being laughed at, people!”
This is how I feel about that shoe. Respectfully of course…
Sneakerheads is all about celebrating the modern sneaker scene, but I think an important thing the scene needs to do is self-examine. I know you’re a novice — in terms of the sneaker world — but what is something about modern sneaker culture you wish was different?
Oh wow, that’s a very good question… I guess the exclusivity of it all. The idea of what makes sneaker culture great is that, but what also turns people off is that exclusivity. For a novice getting into the game, they’re going to get ridiculed for not knowing certain things, and sometimes that can discourage people from immersing themselves into that culture.
Allowing everybody to grow as a sneakerhead without any type of criticism — I wish the culture would embrace new sneakerheads to the culture rather than make people feel bad for not knowing everything.