6 Influencers Talk the Dad Shoe, Responding to Haters & the Women’s Sneaker Game

How things have changed.

In 2013, FN spoke to a crop of influencers, including music video director Vashtie Kola, streetwear star Ronnie Fieg and DJ Clark Kent, about hot product and the challenges of defining sneaker culture.

At the time, Instagram was an emerging tool, women were overlooked by athletic brands, and designers were the primary brokers of sway.

Five years later, FN recruited a new panel, and one thing was clear: Who has the power to influence — and how they do it — is vastly different.

Included in the mix is Toronto leading lady of sneakers Anna Bediones, up-and-coming model Francy Bernard, host on MTV’s “TRL” Tamara Dhia, OG sneaker expert Russ Bengtson, social media style standout Mike “Upscale Vandal” Camargo and rap star Smoke Dza.

While their experiences vary widely, the passion for all things sneakers unites them.

“I was 14 when I bought my first pair of sneakers, and I still feel exactly the same when I get a pair I want. With butterflies, everything,” Camargo said.

Here, the group shares their thoughts on the changing influencer world, how women are received in the sneaker community and the trends that must go away immediately.

Mike “Upscale Vandal” Camargo

Instagram: 122K

Résumé: When not on the road with J Balvin and Pusha T, Camargo is the branding consultant for his Upscale Vandal Group.

Mike Camargo Upscale Vandal Sneaker Influencers
Mike “Upscale Vandal” Camargo, shot exclusively for FN.
CREDIT: Kate Owen

What makes an influencer authentic?

“Influencers right now are being bought. Because of social media, there’s paid promotion, and opinion is easily swayed. Real influencers have been that way since they started doing what they are doing — they can’t be swayed by money or popular opinion.”

Can you be authentic if you get a check from a brand?

“You could still be authentic because you wouldn’t accept the check if it’s not something that aligns with your moral compass. If you’re not really into that brand or whatever they’re promoting, then you just don’t accept that check. Everything I’ve ever worked on or promoted is something I naturally believe in, so why not capitalize? And you can spot when someone isn’t authentic, especially when it comes to captions and things like that. If you’re getting paid to post something and you’re following the exact captions they suggest, and you don’t kick back, that’s not authentic. If you can’t go to the person who’s trying to promote and say, ‘This is what I want to say,’ then it’s not authentic.”

What trends are you into? And which ones should go away?

“I’m not into any trends. I like that sport runners are coming back like that Puma Cell that’s being retro’d or like those 96s that are being retro’d with the fire on them, and I like that brands are using more vintage running silhouettes. And there are so many trends that I want to go away. I definitely want what they’re calling a dad shoe trend to go away. I don’t believe in that term ‘dad shoe’ — that s**t is corny. I also want the dirty-sneaker trend to go away, like that Margiela shoe that just came out or the beat-up Guccis — the shoes that look distressed but they’re not supposed to be distressed.”

What’s the next big thing to come in sneakers?

“I think Puma basketball is about to take over. You haven’t seen them take a stance since they originated with the Clyde, and the brand has so much of a blank canvas to work with. I’m excited for basketball shoes in general to take another step forward — retro or futuristic, whatever — because it’s been all about lifestyle. All basketball styles, to me, are ill.”

Anna Bediones

Instagram: 22.1K

Résumé: A blogger and creative consultant, Bediones has a long list of bylines under her belt with Finish Line and others, and operates her own blog, Annabediones.com

Anna Bediones Sneaker Influencers
Anna Bediones, shot exclusively for FN.
CREDIT: Kate Owen

Do you respond to trolls?

“I’m petty, so I like to respond. If it’s a comment like, ‘That outfit is wack,’ I don’t care. But if it’s something where my authenticity is challenged, I’ll speak up. But I don’t get many people being mean to me.”

What trends are you into? And which ones should go away?

“The dad shoe is getting out of control. I like that we’re getting away from fully monochromatic shoes again. We went through a phase of all white, all red, all whatever, and we’re moving back to shoes like the [Yeezy] Wave Runners with unconventional color combinations. [And] I want this Off-White thing to die. After the first round, I’m done with Off-White x Nike. This is a hot take, for sure. I don’t find the new Prestos interesting, and I don’t like that Mercurial soccer collection. How many more Off-White Jordan 1s can you do?”

Tamara Dhia

Instagram: 55.8K

Résumé: Once and anchor and on-air personality with Complex, Dhia can now be seen hosting MTV’s acclaimed ‘TRL’ revival.

Tamara Dhia Sneaker Influencers
Tamara Dhia, shot exclusively for FN.
CREDIT: Kate Owen

Do you respond to trolls?

“It depends on what the post is. If I post something about my work, and people are positively responding to it, I’ll jump in for sure and say thank you. [But] I come from Complex, where the comment section on YouTube is vicious, and I learned early on not to feed the trolls. I try not to respond to someone saying some slick s**t because I don’t want other people seeing that and saying, ‘She’s responding to the negative stuff; let me say something negative so she’ll respond.’”

Do women or men have a greater impact on their followers?

“The ‘Satin Shattered Backboard’ [Air Jordan 1] was such a great move in the right direction for women’s sneakers. I’ve been into sneakers since I was a kid, and since I was a kid, I’ve been buying boys’ shoes. Now, not only for them to market to us but actually produce something that’s so fresh that guys are trying to get it when it’s exclusively a women’s shoe, it feels good.”

Francy Bernard

Instagram: 18K

Résumé: An ascending model in the streetwear space, Bernard has done work for Yeezy Season 4 and Kith Women.

Francy Bernard Sneaker Influencers
Francy Bernard, shot exclusively for FN.
CREDIT: Kate Owen

Do women or men have a greater impact on their followers?

“A guy may like an influencer — he’s feeling what he wears, but because of the ego thing in men, they won’t like the picture or follow them. But they’re constantly looking at the page. With women, we’re in each other’s comments like, ‘You look so good; where did you get this?’ We’re more open to socialize with each other and show love.”

What makes an influencer authentic?

“Not being bought out, being true to yourself. Would you do it if you weren’t getting paid? Would you purchase something if it weren’t being seeded to you? If you would, you’re being authentic. If you’re naturally attracted to something, then you’re being authentic, and people can definitely see that. If a shoe brand would ask me to wear their shoes, and that’s not really what I do, people would catch on.”

Russ Bengtson

Twitter: 38.8K

Résumé: Aside from owning a jaw-dropping sneaker collection, Bengtson is a media veteran, known primarily for his work with Slam and Complex.

Russ Bengtson Sneaker Influencers
Russ Bengtson, shot exclusively for FN.
CREDIT: Kate Owen

Do you respond to trolls?

“People get wild internet courage. They say things online that never in a million years they would say to your face. If you’re a random person that wants me to mute you, here’s how to do it: Come at me hard when I’ve never spoken to you before and have no idea who you are. But if you come at me with a question, I’m more than happy to talk.”

Do women or men have a greater impact on their followers?

“Every dude with a pair of sneakers and an Instagram thinks they’re an influencer. [But] with women in sneakers, if women are posting in the sneaker space, they’re super into it. With guys, you have to dig through a lot of crap to find something that’s actually good. I’m curious to know if brands are listening to women yet. I look at Jordan, and Jordan is doing all this women’s stuff now, and a lot of it is still pink.”

What trends are you into? And which ones should go away?

“I’m nearing the point where I don’t want to see any more knit-sock-type shoes. I’m back to traditional construction. Give me a leather shoe with a wrap around the toe and some padding. I would also like to see the amount of retro cut in half. You walk into a Foot Locker or [another store], and it’s overwhelming. And the Balenciaga Triple S, I never want to see that again. I’m also over brands doing 50 collabs with one shoe — ‘Let’s take this one model that we want to reintroduce and give it to everyone who has ever worked with us before.’”

Smoke Dza

Twitter: 158K

Résumé: For the Harlem, N.Y.–based rap star — whose album “Not for Sale” is out now — rocking the latest and greatest sneakers onstage touring the world is a must.

Smoke Dza Sneaker Influencers
Smoke Dza, shot exclusively for FN.
CREDIT: Kate Owen

What makes an influencer authentic?

“Style makes an influencer authentic, how they put things together, how people watch them and then put together their own version of what they’ve seen.”

Can you be authentic if you get a check from a brand?

“It depends. Sometimes if it’s some slick s**t said, I bite back just because it’s fun. But most times, I let them talk on my picture and watch. I think it’s amazing that someone could just talk to a picture, send a whole bunch of comments and look crazy.”

What trends are you into? And which ones should go away?

“I like the Off-White thing. I want it to keep going because it gives an extra spice to whatever sneaker it is. [But] I’m sick of collabs with any artist I don’t want to dress like. A lot of brands will give an artist you won’t dress like a sneaker, and it’s like, ‘How is he going to sell that sneaker?’ [And] the same sneaker in a different colorway with 10 different artists, they’ve got to kill that.”

What’s the next big thing to come in sneakers?

“There’s going to be more rappers, more musicians, coming out with sneakers. There’s going to be a surge of musicians with sneakers. Musicians are going to trump the athletes. I’m watching Kanye [West] become close to a Michael Jordan, and for him to be competing with a Jordan drop is amazing.”

Want more?

Puma Inks Lifetime Deal With Basketball Legend Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier, Nabs Projected No. 1 Draft Pick Deandre Ayton

Jordan Brand Unveils Multiple Sneakers for Fall ’18

Influencers Talk Virgil Abloh’s Inspirational Debut With Louis Vuitton

Access exclusive content