How the Founders of Sidewalk Hustle Built Their Bonkers Sneaker Collection

·9 min read

Image via Hawley Dunbar

When Tristan Banning and Hawley Dunbar launched Sidewalk Hustle as a podcast and music and culture blog back in 2007, they were very much on trend. It was the early days of podcasts and the golden age of the blog, and with social media still in its infancy, a site that reported on concerts, style, and fashion news was a big part of many people’s days online.

A lot has changed over the last 14 years. Blogs are more or less extinct, and social media apps like Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram have taken over—and Sidewalk Hustle has evolved right along with them. Now a muti-tiered social media hub that includes a central website, a YouTube channel, a TikTok account, and a massively popular Instagram feed, Sidewalk Hustle has transitioned from blog to full-blown web phenomenon. If you’re into fashion, streetwear, or sneakers in Canada, this is the account to follow.

Dunbar and Banning are some of the most passionate sneakerheads in the country, and the Sidewalk Hustle Instagram page is a dazzling repository of fit pics, sneaker shots, and photoshoots built around the freshest kicks. From Air Max celebrations to Dunk Low highlight reels, they keep up with everything the sneaker world has to offer, showing off their love of shoes with obvious glee.

Turns out the duo has a passion for fresh pots too. During the pandemic, they launched their very own coffee brand, Carry-On Coffee Club, featuring premium beans sourced from Ethopia and Columbia, and branding by multi-disciplinary Toronto artist Justin Broadbent. It’s been wildly successful, with each drop selling out within hours.​​​​​​

Complex caught up with Dunbar and Banning at their loft in downtown Toronto to talk about their all-time favourite sneakers, how they shop for kicks in Canada, and how to wear the latest and greatest sneakers even in Canadian weather.

The founders of Sidewalk Hustle standing under a basketball hoop
Image via Hawley Dunbar

What were your first pairs of hype sneakers?
Tristan Banning: I got my first pair of Jordans when I was young. Sneakers didn’t mean anything to me then. I’m 39, so this is like, mid-’90s. I had a pair of Jordans and took them to the pool and just went swimming and left them outside, and when I came back, they were just gone. I had to call my dad from the public phone and ask him to come get me. He bought me the shoes, and I had them for about 45 minutes before they were stolen. That taught me the value of sneakers at a young age. Why would I take them off and put them in a locker? Innocence lost.

And Hawley, what about you? Were you into sneakers as a kid as well?
Banning: When I met her, probably 15 years ago, she wasn’t into sneakers at all. She wore flats and cardigans.

Hawley Dunbar: I dressed like a grandma.

Banning: I tried to get her into it. I tried to get her some colourful adidas’, something I would like. She hated them. She was like, “These are awful.”

Dunbar: The first shoe where I was like, “This is the shoe for me,” was the Tokyo Air Max 90 with the fluid base and rubber accents. It was made specifically for women so it fit properly and was actually the right size for me, which was rare. I wore these all over Japan when we went there. We randomly got these in Pittsburgh. We’d already been working with some sneaker brands, but we got gifted not great silhouettes, stuff that we didn’t want to keep. But these, it’s a simple shoe. I was just like, “That’s sick. I want more of these.” I love the city editions. I have the Paris ones as well, but sadly we got the wrong size, and they don’t fit properly.

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Your sneaker collection is obviously huge. What do you do with them all? Where do you store your sneakers now?
Banning: We actually have an entire sneaker room with plastic storage boxes. The reason we started doing that was that we needed a better solution than what we had before. We had in our closet in our bedroom [with] some shelving that went 17 feet to the ceiling, completely full of sneakers. We ended up breaking it. It literally came crashing down in the middle of the night. So we realized we needed something more… adult. Now we have the whole sneaker room.

Banning: The sneaker room used to be our office.

Dunbar: Now it’s a fucking dropping ground.

Banning: ​​​​​​Now it’s where everything goes to live. On the side we keep all of the props that we use for our photo shoots, like basketballs and things. And there are about 130 pairs or sneakers in here. We have a lot in our closet in the hallway too—all the stuff that doesn’t deserve actual boxes. Of the 150 pairs in the house, those are all shoes that we want to really keep. No disrespect to any brand, but a lot of shoes get sent to us that we shoot some content with but that we know we don’t want long term. Most things we get are coming in and out of the house, not staying.

A closet filled with sneakers
Image via Hawley Dunbar

Is this solution enough for you? Do you still run out of space?
Dunbar: I wish we had another wall of boxes because I would have kept some of them. We even have some of the storage boxes doubled up, like our Converse shoes, two in one. We just don’t have the space. We have to be really diligent: Am I actually going to wear this? Am I going to wear it for just one season? Do I actually care about it? If not, it’s going in the closet.

Banning: In our closet we have just the shit-kickers. A lot of what I have in there is just destroyed, although I’ll wear them. My idea of destroyed, to a lot of people, isn’t destroyed at all, just a little dirty. As we lined up our Air Maxes today for Air Max Day, I was thinking about the Air Max One Curry. I got them for a steal, for less than retail, but they were too small and I didn’t want to suffer through it. I gave them to a buddy. I was wondering if I could call him and get them back for the shoot.

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What’s the shoe you’re most protective of in your collection?
Banning: Some Nike bespokes. One of one. We had the privilege of having them made.

Dunbar: Oh yeah. They’re the nicest sneakers we own. They’re so fucking nice. We designed every single detail down to the sole and the colour of the airbag. It took me like four hours. If you ever get a chance, it’s definitely a special occasion.

Banning: The Nike Lab in New York on 21 Mercer had this thing where you’d go in the back, spend a thousand bucks U.S., and they’d walk you through the whole process. You can choose a silhouette, Air Max, Air Force One. And then you design the shoe. It’s literally one of one. If you were to look at mine, it basically is a Safari version of the Atmos Elephant Air Max. And this looks like a doper version of that.

Dunbar: I wear those less than anything else. I would never forgive myself if anything happened to them. They’re so sick.

What was it about the Atmos Elephant that appealed to you as the inspiration?
Banning: That Atmos Elephant shoe made me a collector. It took me ten years to go back and be in a position of having disposable income, no debt, space, and all that stuff, and being able to justify it. You know, it’s a business expense!

You guys travel a lot for work. Do you shop for sneakers abroad?
Dunbar: When we were travelling, we’d always look. I got some great shoes from Nike Lab in China. They got a lot of shit. It’s tough for me to get shoes in my size there—my feet are quite big. I did manage to get some really nice stuff there. We’ll always go and shop. We went on amazing trip to Shanghai for Converse about four years ago for a spring collection. There is a fake market in Shanghai, and we’d see the craziest shit on the streets. Like a Nike and adidas collab. I think they’re a bit ashamed of it, as a society.

Banning: There would be like an Air Max on an NMD sole. It was the craziest thing. I wish I’d bought some. When we were in Asia, the shoes weren’t selling out in the same capacity. It showed me how weird we are in North America.

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Weird in what way?
Banning: Societally. The sneakerhead culture. It’s everywhere—I follow sneakerheads in France and Spain. But mainly it’s North American. Is it from hip-hop? Basketball? Basketball is the intersection of so much culture. When you’re in China, you can get anything. A shoe is sold out everywhere but they have it in stock. But what happened was, because it was sold out in Canada, I wanted them. But because you could get it easily in Shanghai, I didn’t want them anymore. No one gives a shit there.

Dunbar: ​​​​​​​That was the prime time for us getting things before a drop. We needed to get things as soon as it came out and it was a race to get content out. Now it’s not like that so much anymore.

Banning: It’s interesting. So many places, people don’t seem to care. Whereas here, we’re like knifing people in the streets for these things.

Or stealing them from a swimming pool.
Banning: Yeah. That taught me some life lessons.

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