If The Sneaker Fits

P448 John Paillettes, $275; Main & Taylor (Pairs with Madison outfit on page 57)

JUST TWO YEARS AGO, you’d be unlikely to catch a corporate vice president pairing a velour hightop with a flash

Wayne Kulkin, former CEO and new creator of shoe brand

y suit, or a CEO sporting a sparkly sneaker with a skirt and blazer. But times have changed, says Wayne Kulkin, the former CEO of luxury shoe brand Stuart Weitzman who launched his own sneaker company, StreetTrend LLC, last year.

“It’s amazing; around the world you see extremely fashionable men and women wearing cool sneakers with [business clothes],” Kulkin says. “It’s quite interesting to see how fast a category so big like sneakers has changed in the past 24 months.”

According to a recent consumer report from Bain & Company, sneakers and casual footwear now comprise 50 percent of all shoe purchases for women and 65 percent for men, due to obvious factors such as comfort, versatility and personal expression. There’s also an element of exclusivity to such shoe buying, where independent sneaker brands produce a limited amount of shoes at different price points, distribute them to retailers and, once they’ve sold, move on to the next design.

“Limited editions and collaboration are the buzzwords,” Kulkin says. “It’s not the easiest thing to do, to come up with the right designs and ways to produce cool shoes in small quantities. But with only 500 pairs available, the odds of bumping into someone else with the same shoes are low.”

In Raleigh, the trend has caught on fast and you can find your very own pairs of unique sneakers at boutiques such Main & Taylor, Uniquities, Madison and Vermillion. It’s a trend that Kulkin says will have quite a bit of staying power; after all, who’d really rather wear 4-inch heels over sneakers every day of the week?

“X amount of women and men still wear dress shoes,” Kulkin says, “but we will not go back to that environment in the future where everything was so formal. The world is fast, communication is flat, and everything is moving at warp speed. It’s influencing peoples’ perceptions about how they should look and feel.