They’re too young to walk, but they can still wear kicks.
Here is six-month-old Archer Brooke, in a teeny pair of Nike Air Jordan sneakers and shredded jeans, sitting next to a basketball for size reference. Here he is again, dressed head-to-toe in a bandana-print sweatsuit, swinging between his father’s enormous kicks. Here he is one more time, captured in what must be mere weeks after his birth, enjoying a catatonic newborn rest. Above him is a photoshopped Peanuts thought bubble. Inside sits a crisp Nike high-top, an omen for things to come.
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Chris Brooke, Archer’s photographer, stylist, and father, estimates that his personal sneaker collection sits around 50. It’s an obsession that started in the mid-’90s on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. Chris’s father (and Archer’s grandfather,) would make VHS tapes of the Chicago Bulls games that were broadcasting late into the South Pacific night, so that Chris could watch and obsess over them over and over again. “I wanted to be like Mike,” he recalls. “So shoes were a big part of that.”
It only made sense that he’d break his first kid into the family tradition. Chris’s Instagram, “The Sneakerhead Dad,” stars Archer and his rapidly growing streetwear wardrobe. For the uninitiated, the terms “streetwear” and “hypebeast” generally refer to the loud, jagged, juvenile designs pioneered by skater and skater-adjacent clothing brands like Supreme, A Bathing Ape, and Off White. (“Sneakerhead” is slightly different. That word is used to describe anyone who collects a lot of athletic footwear.) Aesthetically, streetwear is a concoction of hip-hop cockiness, ecstasy-dealer sleaze, and a little bit of name-brand athleisure, all cranked to their most profane.
The style toiled in relative obscurity for years until around 2016, when bona fide superstars like Kylie Jenner, Bella Hadid, and Justin Bieber started weaving the look into their ’fits, (short for outfits, the universally agreed-upon label for any streetwear ensemble). Today, streetwear is about as mainstream as fashion can get, to the point that it’s trickling down to multiple generations. There are plenty of kids who’ve gathered huge Instagram followings for book reviews, dances, and local activism, and now some of the youngest hypebeasts on the planet have followed suit.
Originally, Chris describes his Instagram as an easy way to blow off some creative juices, but Archer looked cute enough in his sweats, sneakers, and tailored jerseys that stardom was inevitable. Today, “The Sneakerhead Dad” hosts 30,000 followers, which means that Chris has been injected into an insurgent community of mothers and fathers who double as the managers for their own streetwear icons.
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Mason, a 1-year-old from the UK, favors Nike joggers, Supreme jackets, and thin gold chains. His parents have cultivated nearly 60,000 followers in 220 posts. Five-year-old Tyler Huan is a little more aggressive. You can routinely spot him in vertigo-inducing mohawks and angry leather jackets. Ryder’s parents often paint his face with airbrushed Post Malone tattoos, (complete with the crown of thorns). Sherry Ballan has gotten the whole family involved: Her husband and two kids sport vicious ’fits to the tune of 95,000 followers. Each of them can be roughly lumped into an overarching “hypebeast kids” aesthetic. Streetwear for elementary schools, blessing toddlers with a closet that the average 22-year-old would kill for.
Chris doesn’t describe Sneakerhead Dad as a money-making venture. He’s certainly not opposed to the idea, but that reality seems far away. Instead, he’s in it for free clothes. He routinely works with other brands on Instagram who deliver Archer fresh gear in exchange for glowing posts on Instagram.
“Obviously, when we first started out, it was all products that we personally owned and purchased ourselves. So we liked the product,” he explains. “But when brands came on board we remained true to what our style is and what we represent. We have had to turn down plenty of offers because of a simple question we ask ourselves, ‘Would we buy this?’”
Here’s how it works. Chris gets an Instagram message from a clothing brand asking if they’re interested in a collaboration. After taking a careful survey of their style, Chris tells them what he offers: One post per product, and “four to five” photos for the company to use on their own social media channels. “If they use any pictures of ours, [they] tag us,” he says.
One recurring issue is how quickly Archer grows out of his wardrobe. “He is only six months old and is in 3.5c size shoes, so I think he has already outgrown six or seven pairs!” adds Chris. There aren’t many toddlers with multiple pairs of limited-edition shoes, and it made me mildly concerned about how much of a financial burden Archer’s ever-evolving clothing necessities were putting on the Brooke household. Chris says not to worry; he’s been into shoes for a long time, and he knows how to sniff out a good deal.
“The benefit of being a sneakerhead is that you know plenty of people in the community who have kids of their own and don’t mind passing on their kids’ kicks for below retail,” he says. “There [have] been times where I have spent $140 AUD on a pair of Timberlands for him but that’s rare. Usually, it’s around $30 to $40 AUD per pair.”
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Chris reiterates that the brands he’s partnering with aren’t nearly the size of Nike or Adidas. (But that doesn’t mean he’s giving up hope of someday hitting those lofty heights.) The other parents I spoke to for this story echoed a similar process; complementary apparel, no money changing hands. Celina Ochoa, who runs the @hypekids805 account which features both her son and daughter, told me there are times where she’s working with “40 shops at once.” “I’m a full-time working mom,” she says. “But in between I take the photos and post them.”
Of course, this wouldn’t be possible without a base of clothing lines committed to pairing down dirtbag-chic for the world’s children. Sydney’s Ballerinas and Boys is one of them. The company advertises itself as “streetwear for your minis,” and it’s owned and operated by Grace Leong, a mother of three who’s currently on leave from her corporate job.
“When Zayn, [her middle child] was little I had a vision on how I wanted to dress my son. I wanted to dress him just like his dad. Ripped jeans, black distressed tees and cool kicks,” Leong explains. “I could walk into any Footlocker and find the kicks, but finding the clothes proved impossible. Any kids wear store I went into had the boys clothing limited to green and blue, dinosaurs or trucks. That just wasn’t for us.”
Scroll through Ballerina and Boys’ Instagram and you’ll see the fruits of her labor. Hundreds of boys and girls in lime-green tracksuits, sleeveless hoodies, and camo joggers, like a Saturday night at Berghain afflicted with Benjamin Button syndrome. Leong tells me that she never directly slides into influencers DMs for brand deals, and instead puts together what she calls a “rep team.” Twice a year, the company put out a call for anyone interested in becoming an official Ballerina & Boys advocate. “They get first access to our releases and will share any upcoming sales,” she says. “In return we get to use their photos on our social media channels.”
Leong tells me she wants to change the way we think about kids’ clothing, untethering it from the Saturday morning mascots and primary colors of the Target children’s aisle. “Our most popular pieces have been those that featured zipper details, raw edges, and oversized fit,” she says. Some millennial parents desire style over everything, and in 2019, you kind of have to grow up quickly.
“For so long kids clothing was pink for girls and blue for boys, thankfully we’ve come so far,” Leong says. “One of the coolest things about the streetwear for kids scene is that there is no limits, no restrictions. What was previously looked at as gender-specific clothing is now completely unisex.”
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There will come a time when Archer ages out of his Instagram paradigm and is just another middle schooler in Jordans. That’s the pressing question for all of these influencers: Is there a finish line in sight? Or do they expect to be attached to the modeling industry for life? As Rebecca Jennings wrote for Racked last year, companies often put a premium on influencers with kids, because it allows them to advertise to a whole demographic of parents or soon-to-be parents. In that sense, Sherry Ballan is optimistic. As she encroaches on the six-figure follower threshold, there’s no reason to slow down.
“I personally have always been into fashion and styling. Since becoming a mom, I’ve balanced it all into our family life and it all transcends naturally to my kids. Honestly, I’m excited to see how they evolve into their own personalities and style,” she said. “My account has organically grown due to our family fashion and relatable lifestyle behind the outfits we wear. Many of my followers grew with me and connect at a personal level, we’ve established a wide range of audience from my feminine to streetwear clothes.”
Chris Brooke, on the other hand, is a little more measured. Like any new father, he is cautious, and prefers to treat his current Instagram relevance as an early chapter of a much, much longer journey. He swears there will never be a moment when a free turquoise windbreaker is more important than his son’s happiness.
“This for us isn’t about getting free stuff or one day getting famous, we have made this a fun family activity that also documents our son’s life to one day look back on,” he tells me. “As soon as Instagram starts to have a negative impact on us as a family, we will simply walk away.”
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