Beyond Vanity: A New Documentary Sheds Light on Cape Town’s Sneaker Culture

31 January 2019

Content - Film

The film from Imraan Christian takes a hard look at Cape Town youth's obsession with "bubbles."

On the day a highly anticipated new release finally hits the shelf, a queue of sneakerheads snakes outside Shelflife in the Cape Town CBD. Shelflife is but one of many sneaker shops—Lost Property, Jack Lemkus etc.—in the city that service a large community of sneaker lovers, most of them from the city's coloured neighbourhoods.

To an outsider, sneakerheads are just vanity slaves and victims of consumerism. That's the immediate impression to their insatiable appetite for sneakers. A new documentary by renowned Cape Town filmmaker and photographer Imraan Christian reveals the politics behind Cape Town sneakerheads' love for sneakers. The documentary, which is titled Just Dala: Meet The Bubbleheads of Cape Town, is released by Highsnobiety.

"Like, you would say in Cape Town, in the Cape Coloured communities, people don't earn much. They live off the minimum," says Yaya Jeff, a member of the online sneaker store Unwanted Kicks, as he gets interviewed in Just Dala. "But when it comes to street swag and clothing lines, especially footwear, they would [rather] have less to eat and be wearing the most expensive kicks (sneakers). They put their all into it,"

According to Rolo Rozay, one of the country's well-known sneaker connoisseurs and co-founder of Sneaker Cartel, a popular sneaker shop on Long Street, bubbles (as sneakers with air bubble soles are known) are part of Cape Coloured culture.

"People say we're uncultured," says Rozay. "I'm like, 'Don't talk kak.' We got car culture, taxis, [and] we got fashion sense… I think bubble culture is big in the south: Wynberg, Grassy Park, but the bubbles just had that thing in Cape Town."

Some of the Cape Town sneaker scene's most notable names get interviewed and share their relationship with bubbles and what they mean for young Coloured people. Stashes of Nike boxes act as the backdrops for some of the subjects as they get interviewed in the documentary.

If you've been to Cape Town and challenged yourself to observe beyond Table Mountain and the city's tourist attractions, you might have noticed that, alongside Jordans, bubbles are a big thing to Coloured youth in the city—they are worn by anyone from gaartjies (taxi conductors) to school children and high profile personalities.

"Everyone needs to have a bubble. Newborn, old granny, grandpa," says Saeed "King Aitjie," founder of Unwanted Kicks, in response to Bliqees, "The Queen of Kicks," who states that her father used to get her pairs of bubbles.

She takes out a toddler-size bubble and says, "Kids are starting to camp out, waiting for toddler releases. One person sees you do it, and then the next person wanna do it, and it grows like that."

Popular Cape Town rapper YoungstaCPT's appearance in the documentary was a given. The artist has one of the most impressive sneaker collections in South Africa's hip-hop scene, specializing in classics—from retro Nike Air Jordans to staples like the Nike Air Max and the Nike Air Force One—as opposed to trending silhouettes like the ubiquitous dad sneakers. Read more on Okayafrica here.