Ever since our ‘mystery shoe man’ started working here, we noticed that he had a new pair of sneakers on virtually every day. His shoes always looked perfectly clean and right out of the box. Hell, they even had that ‘new shoe’ smell.
We began to wonder, “Is he constantly buying new shoes? Why does he sometimes have a different style shoe on each foot? Does he belong in some underground shoe cult?”
When asked, he would coyly respond, “Eh, I’m trying something new today.”
Finally, curiosity overtook our manners. We made up some lame excuse to head over to his apartment and get some answers. What we found was astonishing. It was larger than life. It was crazy.
It was also really, really, cool.
Entering his apartment for the first time, we thought we’d walked into an episode of Hoarders – there were so many sneakers either boxed away or littered everywhere that we weren’t sure how we’d navigate around the apartment. His ‘shrine’, a wall of shoes well over five feet high, took up the majority of his apartment.
After showing us around the place for a little bit, he went through what his morning routine is like. “It’s a very rigorous process.” He said dryly. “I have to take into account the clothes that I am wearing, the socks I have on, what the weather is like, what I’m having for lunch, what I need to get done in the day. You wouldn’t understand, but there is a laundry list of criteria that needs to be met for each shoe.”
Just when we thought we’d seen it all. We’d heard of collecting coins, stamps, trading cards, etc, but never sneakers. In Anchorman, Ron Burgundy’s place smelled of “rich mahogany and leather-bound books.” Our co-worker’s apartment smelled like thirteen different types of leather, something we didn’t think was in the realm of possibility.
After wandering around what felt like both a museum and a prison cell (a lovely 300 sq. ft. Chicago apartment), it was time for us to head back to work. Our co-worker took one last look at his collection, nodded approvingly, then shut the door to his apartment. Back to work we went.
On the car ride back, we asked, “Now we know why you have so many sneakers, but why do you wear a different pair every day? What is it about sneakers that you love so much?”
He looked out the car window, taking in the myriad of buildings, parks, and people that whizzed by our Uber. After a few moments, sounding somewhat emotional, he responded.
“My whole life I’ve worked at companies and organizations that have very strict dress codes. They required us to wear suits, ties, slacks, and dress shoes. Seeing as I collect all of these sneakers, I could never really wear them out besides on the weekend.
It was soul crushing honestly, since these sneakers are a huge passion of mine. I’ve been collecting shoes for over five years now, and I can say that my shoe collection is a part of who I am. I view my shoes like someone who views paintings, sculptures, or any piece of art.
Then, I received word that I got the job at Nerdio. I knew they have a fun startup-y culture. When they told me that there was no dress code, I got really excited that I was finally going to be able to show people a part of who I was – which is why I wear different shoes every day.”
A couple of minutes passed without any of us speaking. The silence wasn’t a void. It was a loading bar, allowing us to compile and process the truth of the matter. There we were, taking light jabs at our co-worker for switching his shoes every day, never considering that his collection of sneakers was truly a part of who he was. After all, people find art in many different types of forms, so why should shoes be different?
His words really hit home for us. It just goes to show that everyone has their own story to share, stories that on the surface may not seem relatable – but once heard, make perfect sense.
Some people think companies should have dress codes. Some people think that expressing yourself through fashion should be limited in the workplace. What we were reminded of that day is that it’s the differences that make people who they are, and companies that embrace that fact — companies that embrace their employees unique qualities — are truly a step above the rest.