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Simon 'Woody' Wood of Sneaker Freaker

Studio Visit

30th August, 2013
Lucy Feagins
Friday 30th August 2013

Sneaker Freaker issue 27!  Photo - Eve Wilson.

Sneaker Freaker HQ in Fitzroy, Melbourne.  Photo - Eve Wilson.

I have never seen more sneakers in one place than I saw at Sneaker Freaker HQ.  Seriously.  Photo - Eve Wilson.

Sneaker Freaker HQ.  Photo - Eve Wilson.

Simon 'Woody' Wood, aka Mr Sneaker Freaker, at his Fitzroy office.  Photo - Eve Wilson.

Pretty chuffed to finish up MAN WEEK with a guy I've been meaning to interview for quite some time - say hello to Simon 'Woody' Wood, Melbourne-based creator and editor of super cool not-to-mention legitimately world famous Sneaker Freaker magazine!  I  seriously cannot imagine a better interview candidate to finish up with this epic week, I hope you guys are with me on that!

Woody started Sneaker Freaker in 2002 - as he says below, issue 1 took him about 3 hours to put together, and was more of a 'fanzine' than a proper mag.  More than 10 years and 27 issues later, Sneaker Freaker has grown into a successful business and a global phenomenon.  The print issue comes out three times a year and has stockists all over the world, and Sneaker Freaker's popular website also attracts over 500,000 visitors a month.  The team published a Sneaker Freaker book in 2005, which sold over 50,000 copies, and over the years they've partnered on design collaborations with various shoe brands.  Sneaker Freaker now has offices in Barcelona, Cologne and Moscow and was the first (perhaps only?) Australian magazine to be translated and published in foreign languages!  Incredibly, the whole thing is still produced primarily by 6 dedicated guys in Fitzroy - and printed locally too!

There's a lot to love about Woody.  Firstly, and importantly, the guy seriously knows his stuff.  With a personal collection of over 1000 pairs of runners, what Woody doesn't know about sneaker culture just isn't worth knowing.  He's also the NICEST guy, totally chilled out and quite humble about the cult-status beast he has created.  Also impressive is the fact that Sneaker Freaker is still a staunchly independent publication - no mean feat for magazine funded by ads for some of the biggest brand names in the world.  Woody's approach to producing his magazine is very much about 'keeping things honest', and staying true to his original vision - creating a niche publication that does one thing, and does it well.

Sneaker Freaker Issue 28 is at the printers as we speak - at 160 pages it's their chunkiest issue yet!  You can order a copy online here.  I've never met a man who doesn't LOVE runners... so if you have a bloke to buy a gift for this weekend (or in the forseeable future), you should totally consider a Sneaker Freaker subscription (only $35 for 6 issues - ridiculous bargain!).  DON'T FORGET you can also win a Sneaker Freaker subscription in our MAN WEEK giveaway which is still open until midnight tonight.  Leave a comment on Monday's post to be in the running to win this and a bunch of other prizes.

Huge thanks to Woody and his team for sharing their world with us today, and letting us run around their amazing sneaker museum (aka Sneaker Freaker HQ) to take these pics!  If a cooler workplace exists then I would like to know about it.

Tell us a little bit about your background – what did you originally study, and what were you doing before Sneaker Freaker?

It seems a long time ago now but I studied Media at RMIT. I was actually pretty committed to a career in radio, but one day, and I still have a vivid memory of this moment, I was shown how to use Quark Xpress on an Apple computer. Boing! Everything changed and I ended up editing the RMIT student newspaper Catalyst amongst other jobs at uni. After that I did the usual thing and spent several years in London working in advertising, which was a blast.

When I came back to Melbourne, I worked my way from advertising into the fashion industry. I also started a tee shirt label called Wankuss and worked on and off in the film industry on huge turkeys like Ned Kelly and Queen of the Damned, which were really great experiences. I’ve never really had a linear career path.

Is it true that you originally launched Sneaker Freaker in 2002 mainly as a means to get free shoes!? After visiting your offices in Fitzroy recently I think we can safely say – mission accomplished!

Free shoes are no joke! When the right pair turns up, they still make me hyperventilate. But to answer your question, the catalyst for starting the magazine was really just to make something fun for the hell of it. There were no sneaker magazines so I had to make it up as I went along. But I figured that I could write the words, design the magazine, take all the photos on my new super expensive Nikon Coolpix digital camera and I’d get a load of free shoes as well. On any level it has worked out pretty well.

Just another box of SHOES at Sneaker Freaker HQ. Photo - Eve Wilson.
How did the first issue of Sneaker Freaker come to fruition, and how has it evolved editorially since?

I’d say I put about, oh, maybe, three hours of planning into Issue 1, which consisted of emailing everyone I knew. I definitely wrote and designed the whole thing in a week so it was a pretty quick turnaround. Anyone who has seen that first issue will understand but it was totally a ‘fanzine’ in the true sense of the word. A few thousand copies were given away and now they’re super collectible and go for $200-300 on eBay, which is pretty funny because I didn’t keep more than a handful of copies. As you’d expect, I’ve learned a lot over the past ten years and Sneaker Freaker is pretty slick now, especially since the advent of pro digital cameras. I sometimes think we’re a bit too professional these days, but there’s no doubt the magazine is so much better. Less typos too! I hope.

Sneaker Freaker pagespreads.  Photo - Eve Wilson.
What were your original goals for the magazine and did you ever anticipate the publication would become so widely recognised and collectable?

There was no business plan or idea of where it would lead and I wasn’t even sure there would be a second issue. But once orders from international stores started coming in and the global media got hold of this ‘crazy Imelda Marcos sneaker guy from Australia’ story, I knew there was a lot more to it than I originally expected. I learned over time how to build my ‘cool’ idea into a real business but I also had to learn to trust people in other countries. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. I’ve been pretty lucky in that department.

What do you think was the turning point for Sneaker Freaker, when you were first able to identify that you had created something really special?

Pretty much right from day one, things just blew up. I’ve never been totally in control to be honest, it’s just had this frantic energy which has multiplied as we’ve gone from one thing to the next. It’s just been amazing how our operations have expanded on such a global level.

The first big turning point was when we published an anthology of the first six issues and it sold more than 50,000 copies. That put the magazine into Borders (RIP) and Barnes and Noble. All of a sudden we had 1200 stores in the US and the international side of our business boomed.

The second turning point was when we published our first edition in Spanish. I think, and I’m pretty sure this is right, that Sneaker Freaker is the first and maybe the only Australian magazine to be published in foreign languages. We now have offices in Barcelona, Cologne and Moscow and if things turn out as planned, we’ll add France and Italy to that list. Of all the crazy things that have happened, publishing in foreign languages is the one development that I could never have foreseen.

Sneaker Freaker pagespreads.  Photo - Eve Wilson.
It might surprise our readers to learn that despite Sneaker Freaker’s international success, the magazine is still actually locally produced right out of your Fitzroy HQ! With this in mind can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of Sneaker Freaker HQ – how is your office structured, how many people do you employ, and how do you collaborate with your international contributors?

Yeah, that’s right, despite the fact we could save a bunch of money printing in China, we still print locally. In fact, up until last year we printed in Brunswick, but the company went bust thanks to venture capitalists. The approach to making the magazine hasn’t changed a whole lot. We still put out three issues each year and maximum energy is put into each edition. It’s a love thing. We definitely go beyond the bare minimum, which is what many magazines have become in the past few years. There’s six of us in the office and we all do whatever’s required to get the job done. Most of our time is spent updating the Sneaker Freaker blog as we entertain about 500,000 visitors each month.

Ok I totally forgot this guy's name but he is the art director at Sneaker Freaker.  Here he is creating a new layout for SF's next issue.  Photo - Eve Wilson.
Be honest, how many sneakers are in the wardrobe of Simon ‘Woody’ Wood, 11 years on from the first issue of Sneaker Freaker?

To be honest I have no idea how many shoes I own. It’s a constantly growing pile of boxes that lives in the office. Let’s just say it’s over 1000. Well over 1000. Don’t get me wrong, I still buy loads of shoes as well.

As a bonafide sneaker enthusiast, can you share with us your top must have sneakers?

Here’s my top list, but I have to warn you, this changes pretty much every single day. When you’re packing so many pairs in the closet, it’s not about how many you do own, but how many you don’t. Any collector will tell you the same thing.

1. Dapper Dan New Balance Custom – I was told by the previous owner that these custom New Balances were made by Dapper Dan. He was an infamous and revered Harlem tailor who built a rep making leather tracksuits and custom jackets for hip hop heads back in the '80s. Pretty much all the Eric B and Rakim gear was Dapper Dan. It’s a long story, but he was shut down due to copyright infringements and the use of luxury logos. Dapper Dan recently popped up again after 20 years on the downlow and I was fortunate to interview him for the mag, which was only his second in all that time. He confirmed that these one-off shoes were made by his own hand back around 1990. They’re still totally wearable.

2. Nike Air Max 2013 – The sneaker market is largely based on retro models, but I’m wide open to new-school thinking. This sleek machine is the 2013 edition of the Nike Air Max franchise, which is one of the most famous in all the sneaker kingdom. You can jump on Nike iD and bust out your own colours, which is exactly what I did.

3. Nike TN Tiger - Certain shoes have bad reps, largely on account of the company they keep. The TN, or Tuned Air to be more precise, thrives on bad-boy streed-cred. The result is a shoe with a somewhat thuggish personality, but I’m a massive fan of this Tiger edition. They’re big in Penrith apparently.

4. Adidas Springblade – Every now and then, something bananas comes along that really forces you to examine not only your own aesthetic but the boundaries of style and function. I’ve seen some seriously ugly shoes over the years, but the Springblade is something else entirely. Yes it’s shocking, but I prefer to think of it as a sculpture, more a work of art than a sneaker. They say you can run in them, but I prefer to walk confidently down the street and soak up the vibe. If you want to snap necks, the Adidas Springblade is the new benchmark.

5. NB998 x Sneaker Freaker Tassie Devil – I’ve designed quite a few collab models over the past decade, but this Sneaker Freaker x New Balance ‘Tassie Devil’ from April this year was the most successful by far. Shades of purple and eggplant Wolverine suede with creamy speckled midsoles added up to a serious hype monster. I’m doing my best to keep these looking fresh, but if all else fails, I do have three more pairs on ice.

6. NIKE Air Burst – I’ve been searching for this specific shoe for years and was pretty satisfied to find it in Flight Club NYC recently. Released back in 2002, I credit this ‘Storm’ edition as one of the first to bring a modern aesthetic in materials and textures to retro sneakers. It’s hugely influential even if it’s not widely known.

Woody's top 6 current fave sneakers.  Photo - Eve Wilson.
Which local Australian creatives are you loving at the moment?

Anthony Lister and Ben Quilty’s paintings, Andy Sargeant at SouthSouthWest for design, Taku’s music and the Highs and Lows crew in Perth.

Can you list for us 5 resources across any media that you turn to when you need of a bolt of creative inspiration?

I read 15 different car magazines every month and my favorite is Hot Rod, which is over 50 years old, but still the best. I’ve learned a lot from the way they carefully craft their heritage stories but still keep the magazine fresh and modern. Vanity Fair and Wired are still inspirational, their long-form features are beyond comparison. Aside from those magazines, I find it theraputic to buy stuff I don’t really need so I’m always on eBay hunting Casio watches, car parts, vinyl, obscure Japanese toys and of course sneakers. The weirder the better is my motto.

Quirky details from Sneaker Freaker HQ.  Photo - Eve Wilson.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Most of my days start with early morning calls and emails to the US. If I’m working on the magazine there will be a million more emails, stories and features to edit and sneakers that need wrangling for photo shoots. By the late afternoon I might knock out a collab design and then try and can catch everyone in Europe on phone calls before I generally finish up, which is around 8pm.

What would be your dream creative project?

My dream creative project would be to totally dismantle a Lamborghini Espada and rebuild it into a bad-ass street machine.

What are you looking forward to?

Having the time and the skills to follow through on my dream project.

Sneaker Freaker pagespreads. Photo - Eve Wilson.

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

I’ve lived and worked in Fitzroy for 20 years and it’s always been my hangout. Along with all the other Fitzroy people from my generation, I moved to Brunswick ages ago, but I’m still working in Fitzroy. Call me old fashioned, I just don’t like going south of the river.

What and where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Melbourne is full of amazing places to eat, no doubt, but with three young kids I don’t get out as much as I used to. For something truly special, something beyond the merely ‘great’, Attica in Ripponlea is it. Ben Shewry is widely acknowledged for being a genius with his approach to food, but it’s his humble manner and refusal to play the fame game that sets him part.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

You’ll find me every Saturday morning having a cup of tea watching my two boys playing football at Auskick.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

I have no idea what’s in it but Jim’s Special Fried Rice from Coconut Palms on Smith St is pure crack.

Sneaker Freaker HQ details. Photo - Eve Wilson.

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