At age 22, Joel Stoddart is something of a sneaker success story. Having worked his way up from the shop floor, he now works on marketing materials for some of the biggest brands in the business. We sat down with Joel to talk about how his childhood passion turned into a career.
Hey Joel! For those of us who don’t know you, give us a little introduction and tell us about yourself.
I’m Joel Stoddart, born and raised in East London, haven’t gone anywhere since – hold tight E17! I’m just a guy that loves food, trainers and anything that’s beautiful in general. I’ve been working at U-DOX, a creative agency, for the past three years. It’s been an interesting ride so far, I’ve learnt quite a lot, seen things from a few different perspectives that I was kind of blind to before. Having worked in retail before I was once on the other side of marketing – I was being marketed to – and now I’m the guy behind it, which is a little bit weird to be honest, because I’m still out there buying products. I guess I’m kind of on both sides now.
Everyone seems to have an anecdote for the moment their sneaker obsession began – tell us yours.
Well when I was a kid, around 7 or 8, I started watching things other than Dragonball-Z, like MTV Base. Obviously I enjoyed the music, but I would always watch what people were wearing—I was always interested in other aspects of the music rather than just the song. So I became heavily influenced by how these rappers dressed and for a while I wanted the trainers that I saw these guys that I aspired to wearing. But after getting a little older and hitting high school I started wearing trainers that other kids weren’t wearing, because if you did come in wearing the same pair as someone else you’d get ripped! It was already one-upmanship back then with other people in your class. Then I went on to try and get pairs that no one else could find at all. I started venturing out of Footlocker and JD and hitting up Carnaby Street and Newburgh Street, where I stumbled into No.6 – the old adidas concept store – and met Paolo [Caletti – former store manager] for the first time.
You mentioned you used to work in retail; how did you get from working on the shop floor to being behind the scenes working on marketing materials for U-DOX?
After discovering No.6 I’d go there maybe three times a year: for my birthday, for Christmas and if I’d saved up money in between. I struck up a relationship with Paolo because I’d be chatting to him every time I went in. He’d be like “hey man, you’re so young, how do you know about these things?” A few years later I was working at Tiger [the Danish general store] selling plates and pens and shit, and I’d take my earnings and spend them in No.6 on my lunch breaks. One day I must have said something to him that clicked because a month or so later he called me up and said “I was just wondering if you would like to work at No.6?” And I was like “Yeah man, one hundred per cent!” So I handed in my notice and did my two weeks. Just before I started I went to Portugal on holiday, and the whole week all I was thinking about was getting home and starting work at No.6!
U-DOX was doing all the creative artwork for the Consortium releases at the time, so any time there was a shoe coming out they’d come and do the vinyls for the window and the in-store displays. So I met Matt [Tarr] and Chris and they could see that I was passionate about the products, and we just kept talking about stuff from there. About two years later, Niranjela [Karunatilake] came in and she was in the middle of putting the second Sneakers book together but the team was pretty small at the time and a lot of them weren’t really interested in footwear in that way, which is what they really needed for the book. So she asked me to come in as an intern to begin with and I was like “Yeah, standard!” After doing that for three months, I went back to No.6 and after a bit Niranjela called me asking for more sneakers for the book. As I came in to drop them off, Russell [Williamson] spoke to me and offered me a job. After that it was just the task of calling up Paolo and telling him that Russell had just poached me. He guessed as soon as I called him and went off on a rant in Italian! I was upset to leave No.6 but I had to move on – there’s only so long you can stay on a part-time wage.
What’s been your most exciting moment in your professional career so far?
Going to Germany to visit the adidas headquarters in Herzogenaurach, definitely. I went out the night before and we had a cab booked for 3 in the morning so I barely slept. I was so gassed that I couldn’t sleep anyway! I was so tired but I had the biggest smile on my face the whole time I was there. I was walking around the offices, meeting some of the designers, seeing samples … I was just amazed! People were saying I looked like a toddler in a sweet shop, and I was like, “I am!” While I was there I got given a sample of my favourite collab ever: the BAPE Super Ape Star from 2003 in an unreleased colorway. That whole collab set the bar: they went in with the packaging, the story behind the shoe made sense, there was mutual interest from both sides. Anyway, I was just chatting to Jeff Metal – the graphic designer for Originals and Statement collections – and he said, “Have a look through the trainer pile behind me.” And amongst all of it I just saw an embossed ape head. I pulled them out and I was like, “Oh shit this pair didn’t even release!” When he gave them to me I had to stand there for five minutes asking him over and over if he was sure! I was just walking around Herzo gassed up with this one foot with everyone looking at me.
In the sneaker community, U-DOX are perhaps best known for the two encyclopaedic books you’ve published. It must have been a huge operation – can you give us an insight into the process behind them?
So the first book released back in 2005 – I can only imagine how hard it was to get all the shoes together back then without social media to help source them. As I said I was recruited to help put together the second book and to track down specific shoes that we needed. Every day I’d be trawling through the Crooked Tongues “Today I’m Wearing” section on the hunt for somebody with a specific pair, asking to borrow them and then arranging couriers to go pick them up and bring them back here to shoot. Phil [Aylen] our photographer literally slept in his studio for months while we were shooting all these trainers that were coming in! The brands were actually really helpful as well. We’d give them a call and they’d send over loads of old samples; Reebok were really helpful and so were Vans—they sent through a ton of the Syndicate stuff. And Mubi [Ali] – how could I forget – he gave us access to a LOT of his stuff. The majority of pairs in the book are actually his! We actually ended up with too many shoes for the book and had to cut it down to a total of 256 pages. So then we ended up sat around a desk arguing over which shoes should be left out—it got heated! Then it was down to the copywriting and research for each model, finding out the colorway names, release years and locations—so much went into it.
The app came next and that took even more work. We did 360s, which is 51 individual photos, for 537 shoes and then detailed shots as well. Phil never wanted to see trainers again!
How would you say that working behind the scenes has shaped or changed your own personal taste?
I don’t think it has changed it at all – I still wear exactly the same trainers and clothes I did beforehand – but it has made me more selective about what I buy, which is good for my bank account! If anything it has given me a greater appreciation for some of the stuff I already liked; for example, seeing what went into the adidas Superstar 35th anniversary campaign that Chris Law and Chris Aylen worked on with the DVDs, flipbooks, and point-of-sale stuff. We worked on a part of the 45th anniversary last year and that was big, but still nowhere near as big as the one before. Seeing people sweat and cry over these adverts and posters makes you realise what goes into it all. It made me see some of the shoes I own in a different light and it adds another memory onto them.
London is often described as a melting pot for cultures – do you think that extends to the sneaker culture here too?
Yeah, that’s why I love London so much because of the diversity of people and cultures. I mean like when I was growing up a lot of kids my age were inspired by the US, and even the older guys were dressing in the super baggy jeans and the 4XL t-shirts. Akademiks, Avirex, all of that shit! But we started to fade out of that and go back to the straight-up sporty look; you know the slightly slimmer track pants, the Nike Windbreakers … New Era caps were still big for a while. Jordans were never really big in my area, it was straight up Air Maxes – 90s, 95s – although I never used to see people wear Air Max 1s, which is mad. Air Force Ones too. The only adidas that people would wear would be Stan Smiths, and only the blacked out ones.
So then even though Londoners appropriate from many other different cultures, there is still a unique look that belongs to London?
Yeah, although I wouldn’t say it’s unique to London anymore. With grime blowing up and Skepta being in such a spotlight, you know, that look has managed to make its way to other countries. Now you get guys in Japan dressing like roadmen, it’s kinda funny! But I’d say that was, and still is, our look. But back then it wasn’t a popular thing, looking like that was frowned upon, you know? The trackpants, blacked out look … it wasn’t a style it was a uniform. I’d get dirty looks, get security following me around when I went into shops. I was like “I’m not gonna steal anything!” So now it’s crazy to see a once frowned-upon style go into high fashion; seeing high-end brands taking hold of it and turning it into £600 jackets and tracksuit bottoms is mad.
Honestly it’s so hard for me to say. I grew up on Nike and wore it religiously for years and years – nothing but 90s and 95s – but adidas has been there for years now too. My first pair of adidas were these disgusting Stan Smiths from the “End-to-End” project. They were white with graffiti all over them, oh my god they were bad! I think it’s a 50:50 split between them, because I’ve got a lot of memories of adidas before I even worked for them, but Nike was just that staple growing up.
What’s killing it for you in the footwear world at the moment?
In terms of a project: adidas Futurecraft. That 3D printed sole unit and the tailored fibre is amazing. The etched leather Superstar was good too. The Parley for the Oceans project is cool; I always enjoy seeing new technologies and repurposed materials actually looking good on a shoe.
What’s in your rotation at the moment?
adidas UltraBoosts, because they’re one of the most comfortable pairs around. I run in the Energy Boost too. Sock Darts, because I love that shoe, it’s comfortable as well. It’s got aspects of the Presto in there too, which is another of my favourites. Loads from the adidas Equipment line – I love it all. It all still looks modern today and considering it was made back in the early ‘90s that’s a good sign. I really rate the Spezial range too; I love passion projects because it always shines through. The small details that go into the shoes – down to the insole, the little details on the tongue tab – it’s all on point.
Biggest steal? Rarest find? Top five pairs you own?
Well I can answer the first two in one: I went to Paul’s Boutique in Berlin and that shop is just a madness. Before going in you expect it to be laid out neatly but it’s the complete opposite; they’ve got floor-to-ceiling pigeonhole shelving and it’s just crammed full of trainers, no matter what they are or how rare. I don’t even know how it’s possible to get them in! I was in there digging for three hours or something just sat on the floor surrounded by shoes. Literally just as I was about to leave I clocked this gold Trefoil and I thought, “Nah it can’t be that shoe.” I walked over, pulled it out and it was the ostrich leather Kegler Super from 2000 that was made to commemorate Adi Dassler’s 100th birthday. There were only 100 pairs made, all individually numbered with an etched 24-carat gold bar on the side. I think there were only 20 pairs available to buy so how they came to be in there I have no idea. The best thing was looking at the pricetag and seeing that they were only €44—considering they cost £600 at retail that’s pretty easily my biggest steal.
Top five pairs I own are: Hideout Footscapes in grey, Linen Air Force Ones from 2001, the No.6/No.74 Stan Smith Vintage that they made for the opening of No.74 back in 2008, Neon Air Max 95s, and then the ZX 500 in general. I don’t like buying the same shoes again and again, but I’ve got like 15 pairs of those.
If you could bring back one shoe in its original form for the market today, which would it be?
Ahhh one is too hard! I could say three: the Air Max2, I just always remember that fat bubble – like the 93 but bigger. I actually voted for that in the Air Max Vote Back campaign. Then the Air Max Deluxe from 2000, which is very similar to the 97 but with a mad gradient upper. That shoe is hard. Then probably the ZX 220. It’s a pretty basic nylon runner with a pigskin toewrap but I’d love to see it brought back. I’m sure Gary Aspden will do it at some point!
Collabs still seem to be king when it comes to sparking queues and selling units. Who still makes you take notice as a collaborative partner?
I still get excited about Footpatrol collabs—always have. Solebox, Hanon, Sneakernstuff or Titolo have been consistently good with all of their projects. Same goes for Highs & Lows – I’m wearing their EQT Supports now.
What are you looking forward to for the rest of 2016?
Travelling – I’m going back to Canada for the first time in 14 years. There’s also a few exciting things going on at U-DOX coming up that I can’t quite talk about yet, but you’ll see soon hopefully!
This interview is part of Sneakers Magazine Issue 31 – GET YOUR COPY HERE!