How We Got Here —
Text by Nate Kan
Photos by Zhou Zheng
Text by Nate Kan
Photos by Zhou Zheng
Everyone’s journey is a unique inscription through time and isn’t a path that can be retraced or duplicated. How We Got Here is a series of concise recollections of personal journeys as told by talented creative individuals with different backgrounds, careers, and interests who share their struggles and motivations to explain how they reached this point in their lives.
Next, we connect with Sam Zhang and hear how his love for design, a well-told story and of course, sneakers took him from his home town of Beijing to Sydney and back again as he shaped his editorial career that today focuses on chronicling the growth of street culture in China.
— 30, Beijing —
I started buying sneakers when I was 12. The culture was different back then. People just wanted to buy the basketball shoes their favorite players were wearing. For me, it was none other than Michael Jordan, but his Washington Wizards days. Unfortunately, I came into MJ fandom a bit past his prime with the Bulls.
Still, my Jordan 17s are my first memories of how I got involved with sneaker culture, but growing up, I’ve always had an affinity for aesthetics. My dad, for one, is an architect. I was always surrounded by beautifully arranged magazines and strong editorial content. This love of design is why I hold sneakers in such high regard. They’re works of art to me with many layers beneath them. At first glance, sure, “they’re just shoes.” But if you look deeper, it’s a rich commentary on culture.
My love of stories and reporting took me to Sydney where I graduated with a degree in journalism. Right after school, I was ready to drive head-first into the world of sneaker and street culture media. But I was kind of taken aback by the difference in mindset. Apparently this love of the story and sneakers wasn’t always universal.
This love of design is why I hold sneakers in such high regard. They're works of art to me with many layers beneath them. At first glance, sure, 'they’re just shoes.' But if you look deeper, it’s a rich commentary on culture.
I got my start working at a large sneaker and fashion publication, but it always left me for wanting; not “more,” exactly. Just something better. I eventually got my wish and ended up at SIZE. Growing up in China, SIZE was our sneaker and street culture bible. It provided a great two-way conversation between the emerging culture of sneakers and culture in China but also with the rest of the world.
There are perhaps certain stigmas associated with sneaker culture, especially in China where the hype can be real. But SIZE has given me the opportunity to help people understand that there’s more to it than just chasing kicks and drops. I’m always trying to temper this insatiable crave for short fast throwaway content with my editorial background but most importantly, my belief that stories and meaning are critical to the final product. I do defer to my younger editors for a fresh perspective. These kids born after 1995 can see where things are headed, but I make sure to stay the course and protect our vision that story is the foundation.
Why do I do what I do? Because I love it, but also because I feel compelled to educate audiences about what’s happening here. We just celebrated 15 years and yet people from China and abroad are always astounded that there’s this amazing culture that’s been growing here the whole time. We have this amazing opportunity to help grow and nurture street culture in China.
They need to know, and I want to be the one that shows them.
Why do I do what I do? Because I love it, but also because I feel compelled to educate audiences about what's happening here. We just celebrated 15 years and yet people from China and abroad are always astounded that there's this amazing culture that's been growing here the whole time. We have this amazing opportunity to help grow and nurture street culture in China.