There are a ton of individuals in the sneaker industry both at the forefront and behind the scenes and we look at 25 we feel have a long career in the game. While all of these people obviously have bright futures within the footwear game, we tried to narrow our focus on those who have also been in the sneaker industry for a while and have quite a bit accomplished on their resume thus far. So basically those who have been at it for a little while, combined with the fact that they’re still in a relevant position today to succeed for years to come. From living legends such as Michael Jordan and Tinker Hatfield to those calling the creative shots at the likes of Vans and adidas, if you aren’t familiar with all of these individuals, you can bet they love sneakers just as much as you do!
***Please note that the list is NOT in ranking order***
DJ Clark Kent
Importance: DJ, Sneaker Connoisseur, Designer
Most people know DJ Clark Kent for the beautiful “112” colorway that has graced numerous iconic Nike silos. Or, perhaps they know him as the co-host of ComplexTV’s Quickstrike show, or from putting together one of the great friends-and-family releases the LeBron line has ever seen in the form of the “James Dean” 8s. But, Kent’s sneaker legacy goes far beyond those formidable mentions. An early pioneer of the NY sneaker movement, Kent has become somewhat of an unofficial ambassador of the “Uptown”, or Nike Air Force 1. Not only that, but he helped launch Nike and 21 Mercer’s infamous Bespoke program. What we’re trying to say is; DJ Clark Kent is the man.
Eddie Cruz/James Bond
Importance: Founders/Owners, Undefeated/Union LA
You may not be familiar with the names Eddie Cruz and James Bond (no, not that James Bond). But let us tell you, they’re an integral part of the West Coast’s sneaker movement. Cruz and Bond co-founded LA staple Undefeated, along with the high-end Union LA. Now, we don’t have to tell you how big UNDFTD has gotten over the years. From their highly-rare and coveted Air Jordan collab, to team ups with Bape, adidas and Converse, UNDFTD has come a long way since it’s 2002 inception. And, with the market penetration and brand name recognition they’ve achieved over the years, UNDFTD shows no signs of slowing down.
Importance: Writer/Sneaker Historian
Gary Warnett is something of an old sage in the sneaker world. You’d be painting with a broad brush to simply call him a “writer.” No, Warnett, with his encyclopedic knowledge of sneakers (and hip-hop), embodies the term “historian” perhaps better than any other person we can think of. And, he’s also dabbled, fairly successfully, in some sneaker design as well. Long affiliated with London-based retailer Crooked Tongues, Warnett’s writing has been featured everywhere from Nike to Kith product launches. Basically, if a company wants their product to “read” as cool as it looks, they call Gary Warnett.
Importance: Product Creator, Nike Sportswear
If you’ve ever wondered how a brand like Jordan can understand their customers, perhaps better than any other brand in the world, it’s because of people like Gentry Humphrey. Humphrey was a part of the formative years at Jordan Brand, and helped shape what we know and love (or love/hate) about JB today. They even call him Mr. Jordan Brand. And as the GM of Jordan Brand, he maybe had the dream job of countless sneakerheads, Gentry has since moved on to head up product creation at NSW (Nike Sportswear). Which is why now, even more than in years past, you see NSW putting out that fire. We know we’re not the only ones who can’t wait to see what Gentry cooks up next.
Importance: Designer, Fragment Design & Nike HTM
If you know nothing of Hiroshi Fujiwara, all you need to know is that he’s the “H” in HTM. But beyond that, he’s been dubbed the “Godfather of Street” because of his role in influencing the streetwear movement in Japan. Back in the day, Fujiwara was a DJ who helped bring hip-hop and streetwear to the masses in Japan. But nowadays, he’s one of the most respected fashion designers in the world (not just sneakers). From Supreme to Visvim, Fragment and Neighborhood, to Kangol, Levis and Oakley, Hiroshi has a hand in many things in today’s game. This guy is a true OG.
Importance: Founder, Supreme
If James Jebbia is a name that sounds familiar to you, that’s because it should. After helping to open streetwear staples Union NYC and Stussy NYC, Jebbia went on to found a little company by the name of Supreme. Now, we know that Supreme is a love it or hate it brand. But to be honest, Supreme has had a crazy amount of influence on today’s sneaker world. From the early days of skate videos and low-key collabs, to today’s insane hype-driven sneaker releases, Supreme seems to be an unstoppable force in the sneaker world. And it’s all (or, mostly) because of James Jebbia.
Importance: Founder, Staple Design & Reed Space
Most of us know Jeff Staple for his legendary “Pigeon” colorway that has graced the silhouette of some of the sneaker world’s most iconic kicks. But Jeff Staple is more than just a sneaker designer, he’s a mini-mogul. His company Staple Design has had a hand in everything from footwear and clothing to design and art for the likes of Gap, HBO and Levis. And in 2002, he also opened Reed Space, one of NYC’s finest retail shop/art galleries. We’ve loved watching Staple, as his brand continues to grow and are super excited for what the future holds.
Importance: Shooting Guard, Los Angeles Lakers; Nike Basketball Signature Sneaker Line
Of course we all know who Kobe Bryant, aka, the Black Mamba is. But thinking in the abstract, have you ever thought about what his legacy in the sneaker game is? Sure, we’re all familiar with his excellent Nike signature line. But what about his ground-breaking adidas line? What does the future hold for Kobe and his kicks? As one of the more popular athletes in the world (seriously, dude is a gawd in China), what will his footwear legacy be? Sure, we’re looking forward to seeing more excellent stuff from Nike, like the surprising super-high Kobe 9 Elite. But, we’re super stoked for the future of the Kobe brand. Can you say retro?
Importance: CEO, Nike, Inc.
As Nike’s Chief Executive Officer, Mark Parker likely needs no introduction. But, his longevity and influence on sneakers has been, perhaps, more dominant and wide-ranging than any other person on this list. Joining Nike in 1979 as a footwear designer, Parker has been influential in building what has become the most valuable sports brand in the world. And, if that weren’t enough, he still keeps pumping out those gorgeous HTM designs. We’re still hoping to track a few of those babies down.
Importance: Designer/Media Director, Patta
DJ Masta Lee may not be a name that a lot of us are familiar with. But, if you know who or what Patta is, you’re familiar with Lee’s work. As designer and Media Director for the legendary Dutch brand, Masta Lee has been instrumental in bringing some of the most coveted sneaker collabs of all time to market. Seriously, Patta is a heavyweight. And, with a resume like that, why wouldn’t you be excited for what’s to come?
Importance: Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers; Nike Basketball Signature Sneaker Line
Ah, LeBron James. Of course, as Nike’s flagship athlete, LBJ was deemed heir to the Nike throne before he even had an NBA team, much less played in an actual game. And, while the weight of the crown may be heavy, James has carried it with a level of poise and energy, the likes of which has never been seen. As the popularity and his global brand continue to grow, we’re very ecstatic to watch what the future holds for LeBron and his kicks. And, basically, we can’t wait to get a shot at some of those inevitable Nike retros too.
Importance: Founder, Nice Kicks
Matt Hafhill is one of the sneaker world’s good guys. From founding what is now one of the most-read sneaker websites in the entire world, to designing some of the cleanest NBs in recent memory, Matt might not be the oldest OG on this list, but his influence on the sneaker world is no less significant. Back when Nice Kicks started in 2006, it was really difficult to get concrete information on upcoming sneaker releases. Nice Kicks has become that resource. And much of that is due to Matt Halfhill and his team’s grind. Very recently, Halfhill announced that he’s passing the Editor-in-Chief reigns of Nice Kicks to one of NKs most familiar names, George Kiel, but you can bet you’ll still hear from him frequently, whether on radio or as a go-to source for any number of ‘sneakerhead’ related stories in the mainstream press.
Michael Dupouy/Julien Cahn
Importance: Founders, La MJC
The names might not be familiar to you, but perhaps their brand, La MJC might. No? Well, how about those excellent yearly All Gone books, documenting all the major moves in the sneaker/streetwear world each year since 2006. Style and substance, La MJC continues to impress. Not just a book publisher, they’ve also tried their hand at the design side of things, with tremendous success. After collabs with the likes of New Balance, Asics, colette and UNDFTD (just to name a few), you better get familiar with these names. Can’t wait to see what they’ve got in store for many years to come.
Importance: NBA Hall-of-Famer, Jordan Brand
Seriously, do we even need to write anything here? Your footwear closet would never have been the same if it weren’t for Michael Jeffrey Jordan. Perhaps the single most important signature athlete in the history of sneakers, MJ is, and likely always will be, the greatest.
Importance: Owner, Packer Shoes
Okay, so Mike Packer hasn’t actually owned Packer Shoes since 1907. But, as a third generation Packer, he was involved for years before taking official ownership in 2011. We also couldn’t help putting that 1907 date up there to illustrate just how remarkable a feat that is in a sneaker world where brick-and-mortar shops are constantly going the way of the dinosaurs. But the boys (now located) in Teaneck, NJ, know how to run a proper footwear shop. And, not only does he own one of the oldest footwear stores in the country, but as Executive VP of Ewing Athletics, Mike Packer has also been instrumental in the revival of the beloved Ewing brand. That’s a busy man!
Importance: Founder, A Bathing Ape; Creative Director, UNIQLO UT Collection; adidas Endorser
Many don’t realize that Nigo’s A Bathing Ape has been around since 1993(!), but it’s true. Initially started as a small streetwear company in Japan, it wasn’t until they released the Bapesta in ’93, that they really started making waves. What was essentially a ripoff of the Air Force 1, the Bapesta had Nike execs spinning. And, while Nigo and Bape put their own spin on the silo with neck-breaking colorways and stupid-awesome collabs, Nike found out that their patents on the silo’s design weren’t as airtight as they thought. And of course, after teaming up with some kid named Pharrell, on brands like BBC and Ice Cream, it was all over. Today, Nigo continues to pump out top-notch menswear through his own label Human Made. But it was his recent signing with adidas that has us really excited. We can’t wait to see what Nigo’s next line of sneakers are going to look like.
Importance: Managing Director, size?, Foot Patrol
With all the heat dropping stateside, we often lose track of all the good stuff dropping over in the EU. And, as the Managing Director for UK heavyweights size? and Footpatrol, Paul Ruffles has been instrumental in shaping the UK footwear scene. After a turn at UK athletic retail giant JD Sports, PRuffs slid on over to help establish size? and Footpatrol as the leaders of footwear culture in the UK. Not only are size? and Footpatrol some of the finest sneaker shops the Brits have to offer, but their sneaker design portfolio, particularly in recent years, has been ridiculous. It’s not just that they’ve put out crazy collabs like last year’s “Urban Safari” series (seriously, those Huaraches are amazing), but they’ve been able to convince folks like Nike to bring some old gems out of the vault for retro. Oh, you love those AM93s you just copped? Thanks PRuffs!
Importance: Musician; Co-Founder BBC and Ice Cream Labels; adidas Endorser
Sure, Pharrell has been making hot music since the early ’90s (seriously, he helped make “Rumpshaker” for Wreckx-n-Effect all the way back in 1992!). But it wasn’t until he teamed up with Japanese style icon, Nigo, in 2005 to found both Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream, that Pharrell turned his hustle to the sneaker world. Perhaps one of the hardest working people in entertainment today, Skateboard P seemingly never stops hustling. And, if you’ve been paying attention to his work with adidas lately, his fingerprints are still all over the sneaker game…even in 2014. Respect.
Importance: Designer/Founder, Kith
A lot of Ronnie Fieg’s newer fans aren’t aware of the long road he’s taken to get where he is today. Long before Kith was one of the finest sneaker shops in the world, Ronnie was a retail buyer for NY footwear purveyor David Z. RF’s ascendance to NY footwear royalty is the perfect example of how hard work prepares you to take advantage of opportunity when it presents itself. Not only is Ronnie’s hustle an inspiration (seriously, dude never stops working), but he’s almost single-handedly brought numerous footwear brands into the consciousness of US buyers. It’s bigger than Asics. Trust.
Importance: Complex, Senior Staff Writer; SLAM EiC Emeritus
You might know Russ Bengtson as one of the faces of ComplexTV’s popular Quickstrike show (hint, he’s the one with the wicked grizzly beard). But beard-farming aside, Russ is a true sneaker writing OG. Before becoming a senior writer and host with Complex, Russ was a founding contributor over at SLAM magazine, and even led the charge on their special KICKS edition. You won’t find many better sneaker (and basketball) writers than Bengtson.
Simon "Woody" Wood
Importance: Founder/Editor, Sneaker Freaker
Simon “Woody” Wood may not be a household name to the average sneakerhead. But we assure you, his influence and longevity in this game cannot be understated. In a world where printed publications are vanishing faster than Jordans fly off NDC, it’s crazy-refreshing to have a top-notch sneaker publication printed and delivered on a consistent basis. And doing it all the way from Australia is an achievement not to be taken lightly. On top of publishing one of the sneaker world’s most consistent magazines, Sneaker Freaker has also dropped some fantastic sneaker collabs. We may have to wake up at (or stay up until) crazy hours to try and cop them, but kicks like the Puma Blaze of Glory “Sharkbait” or “Alvin Purple” Gel Lyte IIIs are totally worth it!
Importance: Designer, Nike
We all know about Tinker Hatfield’s legendary design portfolio. From all your Air Jordan favorites, to countless Air Max and Nike Running shoes, all the way to today’s crazy-limited HTM collection, Tinker is quite possibly the most important sneaker designer in history. All hail Tinker Hatfield.
Importance: Founder/Publisher, FreshnessMag.com, SneakerNews.com, SneakerCon Sneaker Show, JordansDaily.com
You might not think about it all the time, but 2003 is kinda ANCIENT in internet years. And back in ’03, the landscape of sneaker websites was far different than it is today. Which is why Yu-Ming’s site Freshnessmag.com was so special. Not just focusing on sneakers, it covered toys and street culture, perhaps better than any of it’s peers. And, while most sites like these are surpassed by the next latest-and-greatest, Freshnessmag.com continues to be one of the most important sources in sneakers and streetwear, period. It doesn’t end there though as Yu-Ming continued to build his portfolio by founding SneakerNews.com, which he still serves as Editor-in-Chief of, and for an extra feather in the cap, he’s the main man behind one of the best sneaker shows in the country, SneakerCon. It’s definitely safe to say Yu-Ming will be in the sneaker game for quite some time moving forward.
Importance: Global Design Director, adidas Originals; Formerly Creative Director, Stussy
Formerly serving as the creative director at Stussy, and we all know some of the dope footwear collabs they’ve been a part of, Paul Mittleman is currently positioned as the global design director at adidas for the Originals line. While constantly battling the Swoosh for worldwide dominance in the footwear market, adidas’ buzz has seemingly never been hotter and the future is looking extremely promising with the likes of Kanye West and Pharrell now under the adidas umbrella (props have to go to Jon Wexler on those signings as adidas’ Global Director of Entertainment and Influencer Marketing). And while we all await to see what the product will look like exactly, you can best believe Mittleman will be right in the center of it all.
Importance: Director, adidas Creative Studio (NYC); Formerly Nike Sportswear (NSW) Global Design Director
Having been with Nike for close to the last decade, Marc Dolce recently announced that he would be leaving The Swoosh for adidas to head up the brand’s new creative studio in Brooklyn. While at Nike, Dolce has design credits for the Penny V, Zoom Rookie and the Lunar Force 1 and his extensive design background and project management within the world of basketball sneakers certainly boasts well for the Three Stripes. If his impressive rise through the ranks at Nike goes in similar fashion at adidas, there is a lot to look forward to from Dolce and company in the next 10 years.