Exclusive: Drexel University Welcomes Rankin Scholar Sean Williams for “Sole of Philadelphia” Sneaker Exhibit

On Thursday night, OSD (Obsessive Sneaker Disorder) co-founder Sean Williams was honored at Drexel University as its next Rankin Scholar. Williams and co-founder Dee Wells hosted an in-depth discussion on sneakers, their history, and why Philadelphia is such an important sneaker city.

“I’m interested in people that are obsessed with one garment or thing,” says professor of design and merchandising Joseph H. Hancock. He hosted Thursday’s talk and nominated Sean Williams to be Drexel’s Rankin Scholar. Hancock met Williams at the Liberty Fairs Trade Show, a bi-annual fashion trade event, where OSD had set up an educational booth so people could learn about historic sneakers.

“So I started talking to him — and anyone that creates an educational component on something like sneakers I think is worth the attention, especially of young merchandising students and people that are interested in fashion. What’s funny about fashion is that people disregard the things that people wear the most,” Hancock told WearTesters. He wrote his dissertation on cargo shorts, an effort to stress that if everyone is wearing a garment, like t-shirts or sneakers, they must be important.

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From left to right: Sean Williams, Dee Wells, and Joseph H. Hancock.

While professor Hancock was excited to bring Sean Williams and the SOLEcial Studies movement to Drexel, the university’s higher-ups didn’t quite understand why sneakers, a mass garment/product, were important. After a letter-writing campaign from faculty and staff across campus — spurred on by Hancock — the committee reconsidered its position and welcomed its new Rankin Scholar.

“The keynote for last night was proof that secondary education is finally ready for sneakers and its related culture,” Williams told WearTesters. “Drexel is proving itself sincere advocate for sneaker culture. It’s refreshing to have true support!”

As a Rankin Scholar Sean Williams will work in partnership with Drexel’s Design and Merchandising department and incorporate SOLEcial Studies as an added dimension to learning about the fashion and footwear industries.

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Hosted at Drexel’s URBN Center, Sean Williams and Dee Wells addressed a packed room of students for Thursday night’s talk. The pair answered questions from professor Hancock and opened the floor to questions from students and faculty. The backdrop for their discussion was a sneaker exhibit entitled “The Sole of Philadelphia.” In it were unique sneakers like the Air Force 1 ‘Questlove’ (drummer for Philly-based group The Roots), Reebok Question ‘T5DOA’ (which celebrates the storied relationship between Allen Iverson and rapper Jadakiss), and the Puma Clyde.

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@sol3flower (left) & @flykickz (right)

Also showcased in the exhibit were two artists whose love of sneakers has made its way into their stunning creations. @sol3flower is an NYC-based sneaker fiend that uses her extensive knowledge of sneakers to create fun products like wallets, pillows, scarves, and bags that resonate with sneaker lovers (one of her bags is a collage of several historic sneaker sketches).

@flykickz, who has come to be known as a “Sole Snatcher,” chops up sneakers and reinterprets them to create stunning three-dimensional canvases. “I wanted to offer everyone a piece of my world, from my sole to theirs,” she told WearTesters. “Being able to combine my love for art and sneakers and showcase at such an amazing place run by incredible people in the beautiful city of Philadelphia was an opportunity I couldn’t miss.”

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Sean Williams will be hosting workshops at Drexel to educate students and faculty on why sneakers have become the cultural phenomenon, what we can do about representation in the footwear industry, and how designers bring sneakers to market.

“With sneaker sales seeing exponential growth globally over the past few years, it only makes great sense to equip Drexel’s students with the tools to consider great careers in the sneaker industry,” said Sean Williams in a statement. “I’m happy they believe in me as a partner to achieve that mission.”

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Sean Williams and Dez Noland (@dezthatdesigner)

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Photos courtesy of Brian Cheng

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