DMT Beauty Transformation: The Sneakers I Wear As A Tribute To My Dad’s Memory
featured Khareem Sudlow

The Sneakers I Wear As A Tribute To My Dad’s Memory

April 14, 2020DMT Beauty

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We all have these little things about us we can’t really explain or understand. And often, it’s probably the result of something we saw from our parents when we were children. My dad, James, passed away when I was very young, and every day I’m learning new things about myself, a lot of which I can attribute to him. For instance, it wasn’t until recently that it clicked why I have this infatuation with the adidas Originals Superstar — and how they actually influenced my career today.

My dad was the kind of guy that always wore suits and hats. Even when he was dressed down, it would never be jeans — it would still be slacks and a polo shirt. The Superstars were the only kind of sneaker he wore. Growing up in our house, fashion was something you just did. My dad worked in the Garment District as a seamstress for a coat manufacturer; his father worked there as well. I never knew we didn’t have a lot, because my mom always made sure we were dressed nicely. Getting dressed was about showing that you put effort into the way you look, which has always been a value in our household. On top of that, my dad would bring coats home from work for us, so we got used to wearing things most kids weren’t really wearing. That instilled in me a sense of individualism as an adult. To this day, I don’t really pay too much attention to what everybody else is wearing. I do my own thing, and I’d definitely attribute that to my childhood.

One Easter not long after he passed away, my mom and I went to the mall to do some shopping. At the sneaker store, she told me I could pick out one pair. When I went to the white shell toes, she was like, “Really? You’re going to get a white pair? We had this discussion. You’re going to get them dirty.” I said, “I promise I won’t get them dirty; they’ll last through the whole summer.” She ended up getting them for me, but she was right, they didn’t stay clean for long. I wore those sneakers every chance I could.

This was during the late ’80s and early ’90s, when adidas was really prominent in hip-hop and Black culture. These were the sneakers you saw all the artists wearing, anybody who was famous. But it was a representation of what everyday people would wear as well — either the culture influences pop culture, or it might be the other way around. Being from New York and the sneaker culture here, the Superstar was solidified, in my mind, as the sneaker you wanted to have. It was a sneaker for us. You saw people on TV who looked like you wearing them.

Even to this day, when people who are just getting into sneakers ask me “Where do I start?,” I always direct them toward adidas, because they work for almost everyone: people who casually wear sneakers and people who are sneakerheads. It’s not super intimidating to somebody who’s not really into sneakers, and it’s versatile because of the design. That versatility contributes to how I wear the Superstars, which is casual but elevated, not just jeans and a T-shirt. I’m going to put more of an “oomph” in it. That’s something my dad showed me.

Even though my dad sewed in a factory and fashion was essential to our family, I never thought I could have a career in it — my parents instilled in me to go to school, get a job, work at it for 30 years, and retire. But in the end, I couldn’t avoid the industry. In 2009, everybody had a personal blog, so I got into styling my friends and having them pose in makeshift photo shoots. There was a website where you could link up with photographers and makeup artists to set up test shoots, so eventually, I started getting paid gigs. But in 2011, I broke my ankle and was on bedrest for two months, so I couldn’t go to styling jobs or update my blog. While on bedrest, I would watch videos about hair, makeup, all kinds of things. And I just had a moment like, If these girls can do it, why can’t I? So I started uploading videos on fashion. For me, it was a creative outlet, but then people started watching and requesting more videos.

I found this love for sharing fashion and styling with all these people around the world, so I started being more consistent with video uploads. And I was like, Wow, this is really a thing. I wasn’t active on Instagram until later, but when I started, my audience from YouTube migrated over. I remember my first check from ads, for $300. I was like, You can actually make money from this? I really started to think of it as a business I was passionate about, but I was still working a traditional 9-to-5 at the same time. Two years ago, I quit that job, and I’ve been doing content creation and influencing full-time. I think my dad would love what I do. He would be proud of me for taking that risk, because he was also a risk-taker — he’d be proud of me for doing things the way I want to do them.

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For me, the Superstar represents my journey of self-discovery, because to know where you’re going, you have to know where you came from. It makes me think of my own legacy, of what kind of example I’m setting for future generations. I think, in the end, I just want people to be individuals and help them let that shine through in their senses of style. I’ve always dressed really different from everybody else, and I was always the girl people would look to for inspiration or ask, “How does this outfit look?” But as far as making it into a career, I never thought that would be me, because of access and representation — if you don’t see it, you don’t really believe that you can be in those shoes. That’s why it’s really important for me to do what I do today: so I can show young Black girls that you can have a career in fashion, even if it’s not a traditional way of being a seamstress or merchandiser or planner. You can take control of your own destiny.

This story was told to Chelsea Peng and edited for length and clarity.

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Kia Marie, Khareem Sudlow

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