Growing up in Nashville with a country singer and hit songwriter as his father, Thomas Rhett, 26, was practically weaned in cowboy boots. But he has always felt most at home in a pair of kicks. Professionally, he finally shed his cowboy heels ("I was going to break my ankles dancing in them," he says) in favor of sneakers when he ramped up his stage show a few years ago to include dance moves. He even outfitted his band in matching pairs.
"We move as a unit and look like a unit as well," he says, citing Bruno Mars and James Brown concerts as inspiration. Now, he's carting 40 pairs on the road for his 40-city Home Team Tour in a bus that was recently outfitted with a crib in anticipation of his wife Lauren's pregnancy (a girl is due in August) and an adopted child coming from Africa. Sneakers aren't the only thing the country star has in abundance: He has racked up seven No. 1 singles on Billboard's Country Airplay chart, including his most recent, "Star of the Show," which he wrote with his dad, Rhett Akins, making them the first father-son duo to top the country charts.
When did you start collecting?
Thomas Rhett: When I was 7, with a pair of teal green Nike Ken Griffey Jr. shoes with Velcro straps. I graduated to Vans at age 12, and they're still my go-to for walking around. My co-producer Jesse Frazier is the biggest sneakerhead I know; I learn so much from him -- from who's doing a new colorway to designer John Elliott collaborating with NikeLab.
What do your sneakers say about you?
Wearing wild colors brings out my personality. The fresher colors represent my fashion sense and my musical style, both of which are somewhat all over the place. Yes, I'm a country music singer, but I grew up listening to hip-hop, pop, jazz, R&B, gospel and folk, too.
What was it like to first rock sneakers onstage instead of cowboy boots?
I wore John Varvatos Converse Chuck Taylors, and I was terrified because at that point there was hardly any country artists wearing sneakers.
Best sneakers you've been gifted?
A pair of black Yeezys that my producer gave me when we had our first No. 1. Now I want the new zebra Yeezys -- I really need to pull the trigger on those.
Has your penchant for footwear inspired any songs?
Not yet! I have a song about T-shirts; I've got to do one about sneakerheads next.
Watch Thomas Rhett explain ditching cowboy boots for sneakers on stage ("It was probably the most terrifying transition as a country artist I've made in my entire life") and do a blindfolded test where we ask him to identify his sneakers just by touch.
Where Thomas Rhett Shops:
He went on an "Ultra Boost spree" on the app in February. goat.com
"The best place for new releases," he says. flightclub.com
"Our first sneaker store in Nashville -- finally!" stay-rooted.com
This article originally appeared in the April 1 issue of Billboard.