The Netherlands has a very peculiar relationship with fashion. In a country where mostly everyone seems to dress up in three tones - grey, white, and navy - and where centuries of incredible embroideries, renaissance gowns and East India Company textiles seem to have flatlined into the ubiquitous white-tee-blue-jeans Dutch outfit, it's no wonder Sneakers Culture has emerged as an emergency release valve - both in the streets and at the office.
Sneakers are everywhere in Amsterdam. Walk into any party, and you'll see a significant amount of dudes and dudettes rocking immaculate soles, flashy Jordan colorways, and of course white crew socks. Move to the office, and you'll be greeted by a crow of techbros (including yours truly) ready to show off their latest purchase.
Which begs the question: where do these people buy their coveted sneakers? No idea, but I know where I buy them: either Sunika, Baskèts, or Solebox.
Sunika ('Sneaker', in Japanese, at least according to the owner) is a small urban wear store well hidden away from most tourist routes. It's by far the most relaxed spot in Amsterdam to shop for sneakers, with the dudes at the counter just letting you look around rather than stalking you as if this were a damn Louis Vuitton boutique rather than a sneaker store.
Stores like Sunika are the reason Zalando or Amazon will never fully replace retail: the knowledge and advice of most employees at the store, the fun vibe when walking around together with a very diverse clientele, and the fact that every single sneaker on display has been carefully picked and curated out of the huge production catalog of Nike, Adidas, Reebok and the likes make this an incredibly enjoyable place to be on a lazy Sunday morning.
Shop here if: you really like sneakers but are tired of shitty Foot Lockers.
Brands to check out: as of mid-2019, this place has some very legit Mizunos, as well as a kick-ass selection of New Balance kicks. Oh, and they had Boost on sale for below 50 EUR, which is insane!
With two venues in Amsterdam - one in hip De Pijp, and a flagship store in Elandsgracht, just across the Negen Straatjes, Baskèts is, in their own words, a 'store that connects and unites Sneaker Culture and Contemporary Fashion'.
Mmmkay, whatever you say chief.
The contemporary fashion part, I'd say pass. Baskèts carries a very small selection of hipster brands such as Soulland, Arte, and (god forbid) Stussy, as well as more mainstream stuff like Nike ACG and TNF. They also have a fully owned brand, also called Baskéts, which has some of the worst clothes I've ever seen in that price range; both in terms of quality as well as general inspiration. I think if you're looking for high-end / pretentious streetwear, you'd be better off just crossing the street over to Tenue de Nimes.
But the Sneaker Culture part, they sure got that one down to an A.
These guys stock quite a few overlooked gems from Nike, such as some ACGs, monochrome React Elements, Vandalised, Daybreaks, and a couple interesting Air Max colourways. On the Adidas side, they carry Yung-1's, Yeezys (the Boost go, as usual, through a raffle), and more interestingly, a full array of ZX 4000s with their 3D-printed polymer sole, which - medio 2019 - are still quite hard to come by in physical stores.
As far as minor brands go: a small selection of Karhu, Mizunos, a couple interesting Puma collabs, and if that's what you're into, they also have more Vans than the world'll ever need.
Shop here if: you like sneakers that ooze style and quality - stuff that you can wear at the office - and are prepared to drop more money than reasonable for the honor.
Brands to check out: as of mid-2019, they had all of the ZX4000, including the limited edition 'I Want, I Can' - which would go quite well with your jeans and white t-shirt if you ask me.
Half concept-store and half high-end boutique, Solebox is the Amsterdam flagship store for one of the most interesting European retail experiments. It's over the top, in many ways, but it delivers on the premise by offering reasonably priced shoes and not-so-reasonably priced streetwear.
If you've ever asked yourself whether there's a lot of money to be made in selling sneakers at physical retail stores, Solebox is the answer, and the answer is 'a lot of it'.
Walking into the store is an experience in and of itself. The concept of Solebox Amsterdam is to replicate a chemical research lab, and they got very close to what a Marvel writer would think a research facility looks like. There's robot arms, microscopes, lots of bright lights, a wall shakes reagent bottles in unison. Boy, what a trip.
The shoes themselves, they are quite OK. Raffles are regularly held for limited edition Nikes and Adidas (note to self: if you ever stand in line for a pair of shoes, please do question your life choices), on top of that there's a good selection of Adidas Boost and Nike Airs, and the selection of colourways present in-store is remarkable in that it fits the avant-garde aesthetic while still being wearable in the street or (maybe) at the office. A remarkable feat!
Shop here if: I don't recommend you actually buy your sneakers here, as the retail price is not great compared to online or elsewhere. But visiting this place is something else!
Brands to check out: as of mid-2019, they have some very cool Boost and Converse collabs, as well as a nice selection of niche brands such as Saucony, Filling Pieces, Yohji Yamamoto. If you're into spending half a grand to look like a fat high schooler, they are apparently the only store in Europe stocking BAPE streetwear. Bah.
And thus concludes our Amsterdam Sneaker tour! Most people who personally know me are quite surprised when they find out I see sneakers as a form of modern design. I don't collect them and I own just enough to fit in a small briefcase, but I do like the insane amount of variation and personal expression they offer.
If you live in the Netherlands, I'll hope you'll consider visiting Solebox, Baskèts or Sunika next time you're planning to buy a boring white leather shoe or boring brown suede boot - and override that terrible decision by getting something that broadcasts to the world who you really are in an affordable and fun way.
For that's exactly what kicks are for 👟