Watch: Glasgow’s sneaker culture in city centre shopping explored

We visited Empire Glasgow and Sneakers ER in the city centre as part of our exploration into local sneaker culture and independent shops.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

Independent retail can be a fulfilling pursuit that allows passions to materialise, a stage for cultural expression and retainment, and grassroots community hubs to form. The issue is, with lockdown, the social enterprise was generally starved of its sociability and many of these endeavours have largely dried up. 

As the internet adapted to these drastic circumstances it provided the conditions for large brands to flourish, proving detrimental to the Covid-19 recovery process. Our wants and needs were being met with increasing convenience and it did not always appear worthwhile for the individual to turn back the clock.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Chain businesses and franchises that operate behind the logos of billion dollar companies that can trade at lower prices are taking over city centres and high streets across the world. It is a daunting prospect particularly for those at risk of losing what they’ve worked hard to build, their main source of income.

However, there is a faction of the industry that is bucking the trend - or so it seems - where its independent characteristics have actually pushed it ahead in the game: shops catering for sneaker heads.

“It’s the first thing you look at when you’re walking down the street”, said Taylor, founder of designer shoe reseller Empire Glasgow in Princes Square.

“For some people when they see someone they notice their eyes or hair or something.

“For me it’s always their trainers.”

The Trainer Station, also known as tts_services, transforms around 150 pairs of trainers a month.The Trainer Station, also known as tts_services, transforms around 150 pairs of trainers a month.
The Trainer Station, also known as tts_services, transforms around 150 pairs of trainers a month.
Hide Ad
Hide Ad

When I visited Taylor on a Thursday afternoon it was only the two of us in store. The walls were lined with shelves carrying neatly laid out trainers in a variety of colours and styles pointing sideways, most with big ticks on their base. It wasn’t until our conversation developed I realised Empire succeeds through quality of sales, rather than quantity.

The business started almost by accident. Taylor was interested in trainers when he was young and wanted the limited edition releases. He acquired the funds by selling his existing collection on sites such as eBay and Depop, and when his efforts proved successful the entrepreneurial spirit kicked in.

Empire operates by purchasing rare designs and then selling them at an inflated cost. The brand specialises in Nike, Yeezy and New Balance, with prices ranging from around £150 to £6000. And while this may appear expensive for a pair of shoes, sneaker heads are clearly willing to go to such lengths in aid of their collection.

Taylor took down a pair of Travis Scott Jordan 1 Highs wrapped in cellophane, on sale for £1700.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“These are more collectors items, one’s you maybe wouldn’t wear but keep on a shelf.

“I think definitely in the last few years in Glasgow there’s became a community in the city centre of sneaker heads.

“There’s now quite a few stores that stock these hard-to-get trainers.”

The sure potential for profitability allows the sneaker businesses in Glasgow City Centre to work coherently. Taylor explained that there are instances when shoes arrive below selling standard, in which case he sends them to Sneaker ER in Trongate, another retailer with an in house sneaker laundry service, to be repaired.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Sneaker ER opened in 2015 by local sneaker heads Alan and Rob. The pair entered the scene way back when it was just a few hundred people, and it was experiential knowledge that pushed them to be pioneers in the industry. Seeking to upkeep their treasured trainers but challenged by the lack of specialised products allowing them to do so, they formulated the solution of shoe detergents and protectors.

To market them they required photos of sneakers being cleaned, and thus the sneaker laundry service was formed, and with it its accompanying store.

“We repair shoes, we recycle them, bring them back to life, and kind of stop them going to landfill”, Alan said.

“I’ve been collecting sneakers for many years and basically I’d always wanted a way to look after them and no one made any products or did anything so back in 2015 we started.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“To get them out into the market we realised we had to take pictures of them being cleaned and repaired so we came up with the idea of the sneaker laundry.

“There was a throw away culture, people were just used to always buying sneakers, throwing sneakers away, buying a new pair.

“Actually that’s what the brands wanted you to do.

“But now, because there’s such a push for people to recycle and look after the planet, which is a good thing, the brands are kind of now getting more involved.”

Within a year of operating Alan and Rob were contacted by brands such as Nike and New Balance who were facing societal pressure to reduce their carbon footprint. Sneaker ER’s operating model was inherently sustainable, enhancing recycling within the scene and challenging “throw away” culture.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

What was once a niche interest born in 1970s New York has become a prosperous industry worldwide that has thrived because of the passion that drives it. The individual components that exist within have built the community spirit and made rare sneakers, for the most part, accessible to the average person.

“The sneaker culture, I mean it’s always been there’, said Alan.

“When I was a lot younger in the UK there was maybe just a few hundred people that were into it and we used to help each other.

“Someone in London would try and get me sneakers and someone in Italy would ask me to get them. There’d be small camp outs, we’d go spend the night in London, sleep over night outside Slam City Skates waiting for the new SBs and stuff like that.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“At that point you kind of knew everybody who was in the whole scene, but now in the UK it’s literally tens of thousands of people, everyone’s into it now.”

For updates on city centre life, follow the #LoveGlasgow hashtag across social media for inspiration, city guides, what’s on listings, days and night out ideas this spring.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.