Dalton Christopher grew up in Lexington carefully following Michael Jordan and other favorite NBA players, and the shoes they wore.
“I knew all the shoes by the time I was in kindergarten,” Christopher said, although his parents didn’t necessarily buy them for him.
In high school, his family moved to Mercer County, and Christopher found himself the “new kid” at school, and he couldn’t seem to find friends who loved the latest sneakers as much as he did.
“Nobody there likes shoes,” he said.
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So in 2013, Christopher took to Instagram and started 859approved, a social networking group for Central Kentucky shoe lovers.
In about a year, his followers had grown from about 100 to 1,000.
“That was a really big feeling,” said Christopher, 23.
The next year, he branched out to Facebook, and his following continued to grow.
The group now has more than 11,000 followers on Facebook and more than 5,500 on Instagram.
It’s a place to share a photo of yourself in your latest kicks, get tips on where to find the shoes you’re looking for or, most commonly, to buy, sell and trade sneakers.
Members run the gamut from teenagers to adults who have collected sneakers since they were teenagers themselves. They have ranged from University of Kentucky basketball players to moms.
“It’s a very mixed pot,” said Christopher, who is now a UK senior, studying journalism and digital media.
He also works for Cameron Mills Radio and has a weekend job at a shoe store.
For me, it’s just following the journey of my favorite players through buying shoes.
Christopher said 859approved has grown to be about much more than kids collecting basketball shoes.
“We’re more about bringing our community together,” he said. “I do it just to give people kind of a place to go.”
He said he feels a responsibility to be a positive role model for teens in the group.
“Sometimes kids get bored, end up going somewhere they shouldn’t go,” he said.
He regularly hosts meetups at local restaurants for 859approved members who are interested in getting together.
Before Christmas, Christopher organized a “shoe boutique” at Rain Damage skate shop downtown, where people in need could come and pick out a free pair.
Members of 859approved donated the shoes for the boutique from their collections.
“They want to do stuff to make their community better,” Christopher said. “They don’t know how to sometimes.”
Billy Hobbs, who runs a business providing custom-painted sneakers, said Christopher has “really done a lot as far as (helping) the local sneaker community.”
He smiled at the term “sneaker community.”
“People are like, ‘What?’ But it’s a thing,” Hobbs said. “A subculture that a lot of people don’t really understand or know about.”
Hobbs, 40, is a lifelong shoe-lover himself, and his teenage son is too.
“It’s an addiction,” he said. “I grew up in the ’80s, when sneakers started getting kind of big. … I loved whatever Michael Jordan was wearing, or Dr. J. All the guys that I watched, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, when you watch those guys play, you want to be like them, and you want to wear what they’re wearing.”
Shoe manufacturers have tapped into that, with new styles being released amid plenty of hype. Fans wait in long lines in hopes of snagging their latest favorite.
“It’s something new every weekend,” Christopher said. “If it’s not a Jordan shoe, it’s a LeBron shoe or a Kyrie Irving shoe.”
Over the years, Hobbs said, entertainers like Kanye West have gotten in on the action. The newest releases in West’s line of Yeezy sneakers can be hard to come by, and collectors sometimes pay thousands of dollars to buy them in the resale market.
Reselling shoes, Christopher said, can be a means of earning money for teenagers who aren’t yet old enough for a regular job.
“It teaches them business sense at a young age,” said Christopher’s roommate, Addison Coffey, a moderator for 859approved. “It teaches them how to handle themselves,” because customers might be twice their age. The two met and became friends through 859approved, when Coffey bought a pair of shoes from Christopher.
Jared Reding, a junior at Bryan Station High School, said he has gone the 859approved page since middle school to buy and sell shoes.
“It’s made me a lot of money,” and friends, he said.
Christopher said the shoes he buys typically cost about $160 to $200 a pair.
He has about 70 pairs in his current collection, “a good percentage” of his paycheck from the shoe store goes toward his sneaker habit.
“For me, it’s just following the journey of my favorite players through buying the shoes,” he said. “There’s like a personal little memory attached to each shoe. None of them are just random.”