Every OG sneakerhead has come to the realization that there is a price to pay when it comes to collecting vintage sneakers—some of those kicks will eventually deteriorate and become unwearable.
Once that's happened, the primary alternative to wearing them is letting them sit in the box to rot away. Japanese artist Kosuke Sugimoto (better known by his Instagram handle @shoetree_2016) sees a better option for the sneaker afterlife that keeps them off-foot and unboxed.
Since the end of 2016, Sugimoto has been taking unwearable Nike sneakers from the 1990s and turning them into botanical works of art. His rectifying and restoration of the shoe encompasses his theme of “justification of deterioration” which was inspired by the natural foliage growing in ruins and run down buildings around him. The artist has been featured in galleries and stores throughout Tokyo.
Sole Collector caught up with Sugimoto to talk about his process, which typically starts with locating a partially destroyed pair of kicks that have become unwearable after 10 to 20 years of aging. After finding the vintage silhouettes at auction prices, Sugimoto takes the shoes and applies dry moss to the parts that have deteriorated the most, protecting and preserving them from further destruction. He finds the curvature of the sneaker especially appealing and uses it as a guide for placing the moss on the sneaker’s upper.
“I like the curves of sneakers and going along the line, putting on moss also fulfills the role of protection and prevents the collapse of the sole,” said Sugimoto. He finishes the creation off by sticking a potted plant inside, giving the illusion of a plant organically growing out of the sneaker.
Sugimoto's creations breathe life back into what looks to be a lost cause and give a new glory to what is perceived to be dead. He draws inspiration from a variety of aesthetic sources including famous Japanese anime Castle in the Sky, which features similar aesthetic parallels of overgrown buildings and thick foliage.
It's always a shame to see vintage sneakers rendered unwearable with age, but Sugimoto's work manages to literally give new life to pairs from the past. See more of his work at shoetree.tokyo.