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How to love Sneakers but have a Conscience

Guest author Daniel Navetta also goes by the name “The Air Vegan” and with the Instagram channel by the same name and his new project coined “Futurevvorld”, he’s been working on bridging the gap between sneaker-focused hype culture and conscious consumerism. Which seems impossible of course, making his work all the more interesting.

The Air Vegan - Daniel Navetta - NYC - Ethical Sneaker Culture - Photo_ Colin Ridgway for Antagonist

February 25, 2021

Words — Daniel Navetta
Photography — Colin Ridgway

I find myself saying this a lot lately: “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes”. The quote is not mine, this old school blogger dude named Mark Twain is credited with writing it, but it has echoed loudly in my mind as I come to some realizations about the road ahead.

Where my Journey started

When I really think about it, my journey to veganism started almost 20 years before I adopted the lifestyle, and I owe that credit to the ethics of the NYHC music scene I embraced in the 90’s. As an adolescent, I tagged behind my older brother as he embraced a sub-culture of music that changed my life and eventually took me around the world as a musician, but it also instilled in me an awareness of the foundational principles of vegetarianism and a larger desire to change how we relate to the environment and animals.

The scene consisted of a morally enthusiastic youth movement, low on cash, but high on a greater mission. The small venues I hung out in always had a table for band merch located in the back, and those tables usually left space for an advocate for animal rights causes to promote their mission.

“We were low on cash, but high on a greater mission.”

There was often a small TV, and it played the horrors of factory farming and animal abuse on loop. It was graphic, alarming, and honestly, it was too much for me at the time… so I continued onward, a meat consuming, cigarette smoking, alcohol indulging young man, too small minded to see the bigger picture. 

That mode of operation and ignorance would continue for a while, but it started to show some cracks early on. Looking back, the next biggest moment would come at the end of the 90’s, and it still haunts me to this day. 

The Air Vegan - Daniel Navetta - NYC - Ethical Sneaker Culture - Photo_ Colin Ridgway for Antagonist
The Air Vegan - Daniel Navetta - NYC - Ethical Sneaker Culture - Photo_ Colin Ridgway for Antagonist
The Air Vegan - Daniel Navetta - NYC - Ethical Sneaker Culture - Photo_ Colin Ridgway for Antagonist

I was 18 and giving my future serious consideration for the first time and here in the states, Al Gore was running for President. He spoke about climate change in dire terms, forecasting a future of alarming catastrophe and it felt like a crossroads, yet nobody really seemed to take him that seriously. Not enough of the country anyway, because he lost the election and climate change remains a fringe issue for a large enough majority of the population who, in what feels like a fever dream now, still very recently aligned with a President who didn’t believe it’s real threat. 

“How can we shift a feeling of being powerless into action?”

Losing battles like this on a grand scale is crushing. How do we as individuals, with no real tangible role in environmental policies make any impact of substance? It’s an overwhelming dilemma… and I’m sure you aren’t unfamiliar with the feeling. How do we shift a feeling of being powerless into action? Where do we begin?

Starting with Myself

Six years ago, I finally had enough. That was around the time I changed the way I live and committed fully to a vegan lifestyle because I could no longer blame others for their inaction on a grand scale, while my personal choices didn’t abide by principles that addressed the related predicament. At the time, switching to a vegan lifestyle, I did not consider how that would impact my enthusiasm around sneakers. 

For context, I’ve been borderline obsessed with sneakers since I was a child. In 1986, I got my first pair of sneakers that I really coveted, the Magic Johnson Converse Weapons. In 1989, I wore Jordan 4’s to school picture day and every subsequent birthday and Christmas gift was assigned to a pair of sneakers I wanted, it never varied. Anything that Nike marketed in Sports Illustrated was on my radar. Anything Jordan wore on TV was a must-have. I formed an allegiance, a largely irrational allegiance to consumption at an early age. 

The Air Vegan - Daniel Navetta - NYC - Ethical Sneaker Culture - Photo_ Colin Ridgway for Antagonist
The Air Vegan - Daniel Navetta - NYC - Ethical Sneaker Culture - Photo_ Colin Ridgway for Antagonist

And here I stand, an accumulation of many things, a sneaker enthusiast, a vegan, and a grown man looking into the future again… standing at a crossroads.

The Conscious Sneaker-Head Dilemma

I was asked to write about being a “sneaker-head” with a conscience… and these are the things that I consider now, so many years later, when history is not exactly repeating itself, but I can definitely recognize the pattern of rhymes. 

This is the election of 2000 all over again, except in sneaker culture. It’s our last gasp to make some real changes. The technology exists for brands to make huge strides towards being carbon neutral. The tech also exists for recyclable uppers and circular production. The question is, what are we doing with that information?

“The technology exists, but what are we doing with it?”

We need to start voting in a manner that indicates to brands there is not only a demand, but a directive from us to embrace that methodology moving forward. And yes, we are seeing it with some of the big brands in small flurries… and I am so grateful and encouraged by that progress, but it needs to become the rule and not the exception. 

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I fell in love with the artistry and function of sneakers as young basketball player in the 80’s. Sneakers were serving a purpose at the time, and it was a simple as that, I was not considering any of the far-reaching consequences. However, it’s bigger than that now, and we truly need leaders. 

Where are the Movers and Shakers?

Unfortunately, like the Gore election, there are very few people who really seem to care. The exceptions to the rule have been few, but there are real advocates inside the castle.

Sean Wotherspoon comes to mind for demanding vegan friendly materials when his opportunity came to do a collaboration with the world’s biggest brand, and for that, he deserves the respect he’s gotten. Who else is willing to carry that torch?

Sean Wotherspoon vegan adidas Super Earth sneaker - Photo: Adidas
Photo: Adidas
NIke Space Hippie sneaker line - conscious sustainable and vegan sneakers - Photo: Nike
Photo: Nike

Nike’s recent venture into the Space Hippie line is definitely one to mention, but will this be enough? If left up to any of the major sneaker brands, will they go beyond a clever marketing experiment and really implement a circular structure for their business? Have they benefited from careless consumption enough yet? Will we ever see an Off-White Nike drop, or a Travis Scott collab consider the environment? Who’s responsibility is it? Maybe all collaborations should have a mandate to be responsible in a significant regard.

“It’s easy to blame the brands, but more logical to analyze our own behavior.”

Personally, I think it’s easy to blame the brands, but I think it’s more logical to analyze our own behavior. Mine is far from perfect, but I have made a commitment to use my platform to promote the ideas that I think are relevant. Luckily, some people seem to agree and rally behind me to help these ideas gain momentum. 

Accelerating into a Futurevvorld

As the page has grown, a significant number of designers and key players at multiple sneaker brands are following the Air Vegan. As the follower count increased, I opened bigger conversations around transparency, workers’ rights, global impact reduction, repurposing materials, and transparency, because somebody has to do it. I say this all as someone who honestly owns too many pairs of sneakers.

The Air Vegan - Daniel Navetta - NYC - Ethical Sneaker Culture - Photo_ Colin Ridgway for Antagonist

I created the Air Vegan because it was something that I wanted but didn’t exist. I surrounded myself with people who care about the things that I believed in. We all want to know about the brands that are doing better. We want to hear great stories about material innovation, and we want to better understand how to interact with the goods we already own.

I don’t want to skim through Hypebeast or GQ with the hopes of possibly finding something I can feel good telling my friends about — I want to visit one location for footwear, fashion, and material innovation. I wanted to open things up and celebrate the great work that’s being done in this growing community of people who seek heightened awareness. I think the Air Vegan was a seed that sprouted the garden of Futurevvorld, my latest project.

The Air Vegan is a conversation and a living library of the journey that I am on, while Futurevvorld adds a more global perspective and editorial structure. The last thing I want to do with my work, however, is bastardize the biggest brands because they have the greatest potential and resources to lead us into a new direction. I don’t really want to shred the sites that have largely ignored the overconsumption because I don’t want to scare people aware from the movement.

No more having no Opinion

I thought about writing a sad, heavy piece about the present state of affairs, but I chose to keep some optimism because I consistently receive positive energy from the community. But what’s the right thing to do? It is not cut and dry, and I enjoy the artistry of these sneakers, I always have. But I can no longer walk away from the mercy table without it weighing on my conscience.

So I try to consume only the things that I love and I wear my sneakers into oblivion. Then I give them back to Nike so they can grind them down… and on the rare occasion that I end up with a pair that I don’t want, I donate them locally to someone who truly needs them. The days of being a sneaker-head without a conscience are over. 

“The times of being a sneaker-head without a conscience are over.”

If you feel the same way, prop up the people you believe in and drop a mention in the inbox of anyone who doesn’t use their voice in a positive way. Maybe they are unaware of their power, and maybe they don’t care, but we’ve passed the point of having no opinion. 

Nobody is going to do it for us

Where do you stand on these ideas? What can you do? How do you plan to make choices that align with your beliefs? Nobody can decide for you, definitely not me, but I’m grateful for your supporting as I try to navigate turning a lifelong passion into a responsible and environmentally mindful hobby.

I’m always open to suggestions, because the greatest asset we possess is a dialogue. Let’s get these topics into bigger arenas, sneaker conventions and panels, and onto the major sneaker sites who’ve largely ignored any big discussions around these issues. 

Let’s create a demand for what we want, because I’ve been around long enough to promise you one thing; Nobody is going to do it for us. 

Your friend, The Air Vegan

Follow Daniel’s personal journey on @theairvegan
His new project Futurevvorld is to be found here:

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