When we started the 80s Casuals website 5 or so years ago, we had a few interviews with some who were associated with the culture in one way or another. As the site was re-vamped over the years the interview section mysteriously disappeared. We have now found the transcripts and here we have author Neal Heard who's passion for Trainers took him to far off lands in the early 90s and the publication of the book 'Trainers'.
80s. Lets start with the trainer obsession, when and how did this come about?
N.H. To be honest I never see myself as obsessed, I was like most other lads back in the early 80s. I became a Casual like lots of us did. I certainly was not a leader in any sense back then, so it was the boys of your book and then their 'copycat' brethren in Newport, who I then took the lead from. I can't say when it started but I remember firstly having Puma G Vilas and adidas ZX250 (not the 500 as I liked the lighter Nylon) and I left them in a box in the front room (when not wearing them) so I could look at them in between watching TV, and I remember my dad thinking I was mad!! So it was around here that I started to love trainers. But I can't stress enough how much most people from that era loved their trainers, lots more than me, and I mean that in a good way.
80sYou turned collecting and hunting down deadstock into a fine art, didn’t you? When did you start travelling abroad looking for trainers?
N.H. The best way to describe our deadstock hunting was that it was done as a profession. I don't mean that we did not love trainers or that I did not think it was the best job in the world, but I mean, we literally looked for them full time and that’s what paid the bills. Again, in all honesty, I was semi late into this too. My good friend Fraser Moss (who started You Must Create) had worked in one of Newport's independent sports shops (Edwards Sports) before he left for London, to work in Vivian Westwoods Shop on the Kings Road, at the age of 17. Frase was certainly no footy boy but appreciated the Casual look and he loved his trainers.
Anyway, around about 90/91 he realised that Trainers were becoming like Vintage 501's, as in, that they were collectable (especially to the Japanese) and he started to come back to Wales with two other good friends Idris and Chris who were all running a label called Professor Head back then. They knew there were stacks of little sports shops in Wales which should have lots of deadstock which the owner had no idea that other people would want. So they started coming home and emptying the basements and stock rooms of these shops and then either sold them to Japan or to Duffer st George (who were mainly into buying shell toes back then).
This became so successful that they and the duffer owners (Eddie and Marco) went to the states searching for deadstock and selling it on. Anyway, Frase knew that being an old footy boy, that I loved my trainers and he new that me and my best mate Griffo had made the odd foray looking for them ourselves, but mainly in a 'amateur way', as in we wanted to find the old models which were not around at that time. So I started hooking up with the PH boys on each trip and I can safely say, I will never have a better job.
I had always wanted to be an archaeologist and this pastime combined a few thrills in one go. Firstly travelling around with your mates having a laugh, secondly the big thing was persuading the shop owner to let you in his stock room without raising his suspicions that you were dying to get at the stock and thirdly, the best of all was the first time you walked into the rooms and saw the boxes. That was such a rush, to me it was like Howard Carter and King Tuts cave!! Amongst smelly damp rooms and piles of crap, sat old Adi boxes or Nikes, Pumas etc etc and after a while you could tell by the box what was in the room and it was just the best feeling.
Anyway, it went so well, someone actually paid for us to go to America on a finding mission in 1994 I think (this was actually Jimmy who later became co-founder of YMC, that’s how it started) . That's how serious it got, it was like any other investment, it's useful to know that Nike Air Jordans could be bought for £10 or less at the time and were selling for £300 to the Japanese. We had an account with UPS, and we would literally just raid the stock rooms and box them all up on a pallet and then phone UPS and ship them straight to Japan. It was mad. We were staying in top class Hotels and had a hired convertible Mustang, it was all like a dream.
We started in Toronto and worked over to Boston. The best over there was a little shop outside Boston, in a town called, Worcester Massachusetts, called Charlies Sports (a friend went recently and said Charlie had died), this guy was like out of Top Cat, he loved us and called us The Beatles, he had photos of him and Mohammed Ali and Babe Ruth on the wall, it was all so like a story it was unbelievable. Also a place called 20th Century Sports. But you would not have got these names out of us back then, not even for 50k, it was wanted information.
80s. Were they for yourself or mainly to sell on and make money out of?
N.H. As you can see, it was both, I could combine business with pleasure!!! But a massive bonus was that within reason we were allowed to keep what we wanted and that's how my collecting started, but again it didn't start like, oh I want to collect, I could just get my hands on superb trainers so I did. Luckily, the japs were mainly into Nikes, especially Jordans, or Shell Toes, anything States related really, so all the old classics from the footy days could be ferreted away easily into my possession, and there were stacks!
80s. Where did you go and what were you buying? Where was the best place you went?
N.H. We went all over the UK, Eire, France, Germany, Greece the USA and even Australia. The states was easily the best for numbers/business results, as I said, they had lots of Nike and thats what got the money. On a personal level, the UK was the best as it had more of the Trainers that I was into, so Forest Hill, Stan Smith, Trimm Trabb, Zx'z (not many) lots of the city series, you name it, it was around. Wales was great (Ron Jones sports of Maesteg, Castle Sports in Merthyr, Bolwells in Blackwood) but we also used to go up to the Sports Shoe Warehouse in Bradford, a small shop in Wigan was an Aladdin’s cave, a great little shop in Bournemouth and another in Wallasey called Showman I think. The best find in the UK was a shop called Hales Sports in Wimbledon. This had it all, an old Brother and sister operation, tennis rackets and bowls in the window, still selling Daley Thompson Vests 10 years too late. We empties it, it had boxed in all sizes, and all colours of trainers but also stuff like Adidas Superstar Tracksuits, full kits of Admiral football kits like Crystal Palace, Coventry and Derby etc, it was amazing. and we got so many good trainers from there it was amazing.
80s. What were you best finds? Cheapest/Dearest?
N.H. Hard to say really as so many. You have to remember that at the time re-issuing wasn't even dreamt of. We used to contact the brands and tell them the whole scene and beg them to re-issue certain models and they just did not want to know. It's amazing to remember this only 15 odd years later. So my best were the shoes listed above, all the old terrace classics. I never found a pair of ZX250 though!! The rarest were some original Nike Oregon I think, which were samples, from 1972/73 with hand written labels on them, probably handled by Phil Knight or his 1st salesman Steve Prefontiane. For cheapness, I was spoilt, we usually got the shoes for £5-10!!
80s. Before you started travelling, where d’ya get yer trainees from?
N.H. I stopped buying trainers in 1987 I think, when I thought the whole football scene had died and it was time to move on, also trainers became shite. Before that, I bought them near home, places like Edwards in Newport or the best in South Wales was strangely up the Valleys in a small town called Blackwood and this was called Bolwells. Strangely, I ended up emptying Bolwells of all its old stock as recently as 2001 with Griffo and he still had a huge Adidas Trefoil sign outside (which was later thrown in a skip to my chagrin). Anyway, I had a chat with Mr Bolwell all these years later and asked him how he always had the best stock and he explained he knew the reps well so they kept the shoes no one else in South Wales could get and saved them for him. That's what was so good about the whole deadstock thing, it had such a rich tapestry of people and tales in it. As it came to an end, it was like a new era of social history. In 15 years, most towns lost all of their independent stores and in came the chains.
80s. How many do you have now and are you still on the look out for your own collection?
N.H. I only have about 30 pairs now, since all the re-issuing came along I kind of lost interest in the whole thing.
80s. What’s your favourite?
N.H. Hard call, ZX250 probably only as they were like my 1st love, and you never forget that!
80s. D’ya think ebay and the re-issuing of all the old styles has killed off a large proportion of the market for vintage trainers? Is it worth travelling anymore?
N.H. God yes, you could still travel for interests and fun's sake to Poland or Yuogslavia for the old adidas factories but so much has been plundered, and the time I got out was when the re-issues were worth more than the originals!!
80s. Nowadays White Riot is your main priority, where did the name come from? Clash fan.?
N.H. I am not at all into the Clash really, neither is my Partner Dan Moss (Fraser of YMC’s younger brother), but when we both decided to have a go at a label together we were kind of stuck for a name. Anyway, the meaning behind the name can be mis-construed as controversial to those who are p.c or don’t know us. When I decided to actually move to London in 2000 I became annoyed by how much the appraisal of fashion and youth culture in this country had been stitched up by a middle/upper class elite. The saying ‘History is written by the Victors’ sprang to mind, even though this was no war. It seemed the whole media who basically did not and still does not really want to know of the movements of the British working class and particularly to my mind, the white working class. They give plenty of kudos to movements initiated by Black kids but anything else is construed as Chav like or crap. Hence how those in the media call Trainers Sneakers. Its always the same sort of person who loved the states or hip hop even though they are from Staines or Slough. It’s like you would be lead to believe that the 1980’s was all about Buffalo style or we were all aping 80’s New York Hip Hop. But where I lived and all over the country we did not even know what it was, everyone was doing the Casual thing. But finding reference to it is nigh on impossible. Anyway, I grew sick of it quickly and really White Riot was meant to some up my anger about that, not in a racist way but in an anti-elitist anti trustafarian Guardian reader way.
Neal is the author of the aestheticly produced 'Trainers' book or 'Sneakers' as it is known in other parts of the world. A must for anyone remotely interested in the core of our culture. Available at all good book stores.