This week’s interview is with Karem Keiko – journalist, model and content creator. For her interview here on Kickstory, she chose a shoe that has a very special meaning – the Nike Dunk High x AMBUSH. Not only a wonderful shoe in itself, but it also represents her admiration for Yoon Ahn, Creative Director of AMBUSH.
Her first contact with Yoon came through A$SAP Rocky’s ‘L$D’ music video, and from then on, she started to research and learn about the history the brand that started in the jewelry market, and is now a reference in the world of streetwear.
“I am 22 years old, graduated in Journalism but I work with content production in an advertisement agency, so I guess I work in advertising. In 2018 I was thinking about making some videos about sneakers, and people would even tell me to go for it and my greatest motivation was “there are no girls talking about sneakers, you need to create content; you know this stuff, you like it”. So little by little I started doing it, first on YouTube and then on Instagram, where I got more engagement, and so I started making my way into the scene. I just started talking about sneakers now, but I’ve liked them since I was little.”
Have you always wanted to study Journalism? Where did your interest for journalism come from?
When the time came to take admission exams for college, I was not sure about what I wanted to do, although I knew it would be related to communication. First I thought of Graphic Design, but gave up on the idea. Then I thought of Advertising but my dad is also in Advertising and he told me “I don’t think you would like to work in an ad agency”. So I thought about Journalism even though I knew I didn’t want to work in the field. My classmates in college used to say “Oh I want to work in the big media outlets, I want to work in Television” and I was like “I don’t want that” (laughs). By chance, an opportunity came up for an editing job in content and content production which caught my eyes.
I like my job a lot, and for now I don’t feel like leaving it to make a living out of sneakers content. That is not something I want to do right now.
We met in a Photoshoot for Fila where you were one of the campaign models. Besides showing and talking about your sneakers you also focus on your outfits. How did you get into fashion and started working with it?
When I was in school, out of nowhere I felt like I wanted to study Fashion. My mom has had a clothing store since before I was born, so I grew up in this environment and would always ask to put together the shop window and choose the clothes to dress up the mannequin. I actually visited some Fashion Colleges and as I wanted to study abroad I even took the SATs, but out of nowhere the Dollar price spiked, so that didn’t happen.
After that I thought of Fashion Journalism and it seemed like a great option. But throughout college I kind of gave up on that idea, even though I liked the subject a lot. I would always follow up on brands, stylists and fashion magazines – I’ve always been crazy about fashion magazines. So that’s how the story goes. I didn’t plan on creating an Instagram account and showcase my outfits, it just happened, people liked it and asked for more. Which was also strange because I would put together these looks just because I liked it and then people began to say “ oh I really like your style; give us a tip on how to use this piece; how do you wear this?; where do you buy that?”.
Back when I was in school and I was around 15, a friend and I had a fashion blog on Tumblr, which only lasted for about a year, but we were noticed by Kylie Jenner (laughs). So I’ve always liked the area and that’s how it began.
At any moment did you think that one day you would have an Instagram focused on both streetwear and sneakers?
I never thought it would happen. The only thing I knew was that someday I would like to work with something related to sneakers. When the time came to do our final thesis in college I knew I wanted to write it by myself. I thought “a lot of people get jobs because of the theme of their final thesis. So I’ll write a book about sneakers”. I talked to my mentor and she said that I had to have a partner for it. But the thing is, I wanted to do it by myself because there was no one I wanted to partner up with. I actually wasn’t close to anyone and the people who I had contact with wanted to write about sports journalism and I didn’t – I wanted to write a book about sneakers.
I was even inspired by Kickstory and wrote about you guys in my final thesis. My idea was kind of doing what you guys do, but in a book format – talking to people and telling their stories through a pair of sneakers. I had a list of people who I wanted to interview, I had even spoken to some people I met during some events. But then my mentor told me “If you want to work on your own you’ll have to write a monography and it must be related to journalism”. So in the end my final thesis was about analyzing websites that work on specialized content in the sneaker culture.
At that time there wasn’t much content on Instagram about it yet. So I began posting and a bunch of people said “oh that’s nice, can I see your final thesis for college? I also want to do mine about sneakers too.” But the thing is, I had a really tough year while working on my thesis and I ended up not finishing it the way I wanted. I had plans to redo it after college was over, after I had a moment to breathe. But so far I haven’t been able to yet, because I got a job and from there things started happening. But I still want to go back to it and get it going again.
Even though sneaker culture is something quite big and so popular nowadays, there’s not that many written records and one place to get information. How was it to find this information for your final thesis?
It was quite complicated, because each paragraph and information you bring up in the monography has to have a source. I would tell my mentor “There isn’t one. I’ll state that I got it from a sneaker website, ok?” and she would say “no, you must have a source”. So I had to go back to documentaries I had already watched and take notes of everything and write down the minutes that I got the information from. I would watch movies while writing all about it and still there were not many documentaries on the subject, or work about sneakers in the Brazilian academic area, although I did manage to find about three foreign final thesis on the subject. So I developed my final thesis based on documentaries, some academic work, SneakersBR, Kickstory, Instagram and some other sources. I really want to write a book because there isn’t one in Portuguese. Although it’s a wish of mine, that’s a plan for the future.
Do you remember when your passion for sneakers began? Did you have that moment when you saw a pair and it just “clicked”?
I do remember. I love sneakers because father’s influence. I’m not sure if he knew that all of this existed or if he was actually into the “sneakerhead universe”, but he had a collection with over a hundred pairs. So since I was little I remember opening his shoe drawer and seeing millions of pairs.
My father is a TV presenter and a broadcaster. He had a show on Globo’s Japan branch so he used to go there at least once a year and when he came back he brought me new sneakers because back then whenever my grandfather would go to Japan, he also brought my father sneakers. That was his childhood and so he used to do the same for me. I remember once when I was in fourth grade, my father brought me some crazy looking Pumas. It was white with a black sole and it had velcro, it didn’t look like a kids shoe and I wore them a lot. And then one day I was wearing them on an event, which had nothing to do with school, when a friend approached me and said “Karem? Oh I knew it was you because of your sneakers”. People would recognize me because of the different kinds of sneakers my dad brought me back from Japan, since I was a child.
Back in 2012, I used Tumblr and was about 14 years old, Adidas released the Jeremy Scott Wings which was the first pair of sneakers I saw and thought to myself “oh wow, I need those”. Then suddenly a bunch of pictures began to show up and I started to save them all. I took a bunch of screenshots and annoyed my parents endlessly until my birthday came and they got me one.
Since my father is a broadcaster, I’ve always listened to all kinds of music – I like rap, but my favorite band is Green Day. I’ve already been to Green Day, Gorillaz and Juntin Bieber concerts all by myself, like, completely random things (laughs). So a lot of my passion for sneakers has a lot of influence from rappers. When I was about 15 and in school, I wanted a Yellow Boot, so I saved money and went to the Timberland store at Higienópolis Shopping Mall and bought it with the exact amount needed (laughs). So I guess that since always, without meaning to, I grew up loving sneakers.
WHENEVER I SEE AN ASIAN GIRL DOING SOMETHING COOL I GET OBSESSED, IT’S ABSOLUTELY AWESOME TO SEE ASIAN GIRLS AT THE TOP OF SOMETHING, BEING RECOGNIZED FOR WHAT SHE DOES. I EVEN SENT A MESSAGE TO CARLA, WHOM YOU INTERVIEWED, TELLING HER ABOUT HOW MUCH I ADMIRE HER WORK.
And out of all your sneakers, why did you choose your Nike Dunk High x AMBUSH your Kickstory interview?
I’m a huge A$AP Rocky fan, I even have a tattoo. When he released the L$D music video that was shot in Tokyo, I was obsessed, and the girl in the video is Yoon. Because of her I went through a period when I wanted to change my hair. I decided to bleach it because I had seen an Asian girl – Yoon – with her bleached hair and I thought “I can do this and it will look cool”. I only found out she was a designer and had a brand afterwards. Whenever I see an Asian girl doing something cool I get obsessed, it’s absolutely awesome to see Asian girls at the top of something, being recognized for what she does. I even sent a message to Carla, whom you interviewed, telling her about how much I admire her work. There had already been some sneaker releases with Ambush, but when I saw this one I thought “Oh wow, I need these, and if they keep on releasing it, I’ll need them all” (laughs).
I like AMBUSH a lot. Yoon is Korean but she lives in Tokyo and is married to Verbal who is Japanese. There are a lot of Japanese influence in the things they create and I really like it. One thing I love about AMBUSH is that it is a brand that breaks the barriers of gender. And this is awesome because I never picked my outfits in the women’s section only, I actually look at the men’s section first, looking for something I like. I think the only feminine item I’m wearing today is this bodysuit (laughs). I also love how they get things from day-to-day and transform them into jewelry and inspiration for clothes, I think that’s so dope.
So I love all of it, Yoon’s story, AMBUSH’s mesage and so I fell in love with these sneakers. I even cried when I got them – I think this was the first pair of sneakers I cried for when they arrived at home.
I was so desperate to get them that my followers even helped me out by going on Nike.com and trying to purchase them for me. I posted so much about it that this guy sent me a message saying “hey, I’ll try to get them for you and if it works out, you can transfer me the money afterwards” and he kept on updating me all the way through. At some point they approved the purchase but then it got canceled. This one I managed to get on Cartel 011’s raffle.
Do you see a difference from when you were writing your final thesis, to now, that you are creating content and working with brands, you know the people, and that you are “inserted” in the “scene”?
Everything kind of happened at the same time. I had already been seeded a pair of sneakers before working on my final thesis. I already had a couple of videos on YouTube so after that I started posting more frequently. The first pair I got was the Nike Air Force 1 Shadow, because a friend of mine coincidentally worked at Nike’ and when I started posting my content she reached out to me and said “Karem, do it more often, It’s so hard to find other girls producing this kind of content and I want to include you in what we’re doing around here. Post more videos, do anything.”
While working on my final thesis, I used to tell my friends that it is a completely different world than I was expecting. Being very honest, I really missed seeing content about sneakers because what I used to follow were the sneakers releases, that was all I would see in my feed – all very commercial and a lot of reposted releases. So when I finished my final thesis I wanted to create content because there were not many people doing so. I didn’t want to know about what sneakers were coming out, there were a lot of foreign pages posting that same information. My feed was all about “this sneaker will be releasing tomorrow, that one will be released on Monday”.
People came to me to say “Karem, where can I find this sneaker? Karem, what are those?” so I started posting. I wanted people to know the reason why we like sneakers. I wanted to dedicate myself, even if it were just my friends that saw it the beginning. I knew it would help out since they would ask me on Whatsapp all the time. So I decided to start posting because maybe someone else might want or need to know this information.
WHILE WORKING ON MY FINAL THESIS, I USED TO TELL MY FRIENDS THAT IT IS A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WORLD THAN I WAS EXPECTING. BEING VERY HONEST, I REALLY MISSED SEEING CONTENT ABOUT SNEAKERS BECAUSE WHAT I USED TO FOLLOW WERE THE SNEAKERS RELEASES, THAT WAS ALL I WOULD SEE IN MY FEED – ALL VERY COMMERCIAL AND A LOT OF REPOSTED RELEASES.
For a content creator it is super gratifying when a brand recognizes your work and supports what you are working on. How was your first contact with these brands?
This friend of mine told me “I have to assemble a presentation with influencer creators, which will be shown to the Nike Global director. Nike wants to find people who translates what the brand is about instead of influencers with millions of followers. I’m going to put you in the presentation, alright?” and I said ok. Few days later she told me “Oh my God Karem, we showed the presentation and the foreign team loved you” and I said “What? Are you kidding me right now?” and she said “No, they absolutely loved you and the national Nike team already knows you”. And that was it. Sometimes I wonder why the brand liked me, though I’m glad they did (laughs).
Do you have any advice to women who also want to create something of their own, either about sneakers, fashion or whatever it is?
Here’s my advice: you go for it, don’t be afraid and don’t care about what people say, especially men who think women cannot talk about sneakers. Take a leap of faith and risk it. Don’t be shy and keep on training until it comes out the way you want it to be. That’s it.