The Origins of Sneaker Culture
It all started in the early 1917 with the first basketball sneaker being the Converse All Star Chuck Taylor’s. That Chuck Taylor was the first athlete to have a pair shoes named after him, but sneakers weren’t widely affordable for everyone until the 1920s. At first sneakers weren’t as popular as they are today with the name being mostly linked to criminals and delinquents. What was associated with strictly athletic use and the shoe of choice for those in the lower ranks in society, started to become a tool of cultural expression in big major cities. In the 70s cities such as New York started to see the rise of basketball communities and hip hop which took sneakers and turned them into more than just on court footwear.
The real birth of the “modern era sneaker culture” was in 1984, according to The Atlantic. Michael Jordan, who is considered by many to be the greatest basketball player of all time, signed an endorsement deal with Nike that year. The start of Air Jordan craze would go into full effect as MJ solidified himself as the best player in the league. The late 80s presented new designs and styles that showed more practical appeal. The beginning of hip hop music’s rise to the mainstream saw rappers start to grab a hold of the sneaker culture, often adding the shoe brands they were wearing all throughout their lyrics. This no more evident with than the famous rap group Run DMC’s song “My Adidas” which was released in 1986. Sneaker culture had a thumb print on everyday life.
Sneaker Culture Today
Today the business of sneakers has become more than a billion dollar industry. The two most popular sneaker brands Nike and Adidas generated a combined $31.4 billion in footwear revenue in the past year according Statista. But even though Nike and Adidas dominate the sneaker business they don’t fully dominate the culture, brands like puma, Vans, Converse, and Jordan are also very popular today. High end designer brands with brands like Gucci and Balenciaga also beginning to influence the game with their sneakers.
A new phenomenon in the culture has been the ideas of collecting sneakers, buying and reselling sneakers and going to sneaker conventions. The idea of buying and reselling sneakers has given people outside of sneaker companies to make money too. Apps such as the G.O.A.T app, StockX have given people the opportunity to sell their sneakers on a bigger market. Then there are those who collect sneakers and take part in Sneaker Con (which is similar to Comic Con but for sneakers). The present state of sneaker culture has produced a group of sneaker fanatics labelled as, “sneaker heads.”
The biggest change in the culture has to be the change in the major influencers and people with sneaker deals. What used to be only exclusive to athletes has now been afforded to musicians and other prominent figures in pop culture. People such as Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Pusha T, Drake, Travis Scott, Pharrell Williams, Dj Khaled all have custom signature shoes. The influencers outside of sports are now the main ones driving the culture, with shoes like Yeezy by Kanye West, and Adidas NMD by Pharrell Williams becoming more and more popular.
Sneaker Culture from my Eyes
Growing up in New York City, sneakers have always been a big part of my childhood and continues to be a big part of my life today. I went to public school all throughout my life and up until my freshman year in high school I had to wear a uniform, and the only clothing item I had to differentiate myself was my sneakers. That’s where my love and appreciation for sneakers started. Going to Foot Locker a week before school started and picking out a pair of sneakers was always the best feeling.
The business of sneakers has been both beneficial and annoying from my view. All the sneakers I want and am not able to get for retail often resell for hundreds of dollars, but on the other hand the reselling aspect has also put money in my pockets too. In my eyes the sneaker culture has been tainted by the whole business part, sneakers prices keep going up and being able to get certain shoes have become more difficult.
My love for the culture all started in the seventh grade when my mother bought me my first pair Nike Kobe’s. They were a pair of Kobe 6s that were black, white and varsity red that at the time sold for $130, those were my grails that started my love of the kobe shoeline.
When I was younger my shoe collection was strictly Kobe’s and other shoes made for basketball performance, but over time like the sneaker culture my shoe closet evolved. Now my closet is is filled with all different types of sneakers to match my different moods and vibes. Today you can find a pairs of Vans high and low, Converses, Kobe’s, Yeezy’s and other sneakers that come in and out of my rotation.
The one thing that really fascinates me about sneakers are the details often incorporated into the design and how they tell a story. Another thing that is beautiful about the current state of sneaker culture is how everyone has their own style and preference when it comes to sneakers. I went around and asked friends what they liked about shoes and what their favorite sneakers are of all time.
Walker Wolfson said, “Honestly I have way too much sneakers, I have at least 20 plus pairs just sitting at home, but my favorite pair has to be the Jordan 11s just a classic.”
While my roommate Jeremy Fernandez shared a totally different opinion. He went on to say, “I’m retired but my sneaker collection not bad but i appreciate the more exclusive Nike ball kicks like KDs and LeBrons.” He shared his favorite sneakers of all time being, “either the KD 4s or the 5s.”
The difference between Walker’s and Jeremy’s preference in sneakers only goes to show how sneakers can help people express and set themselves apart. Sneaker culture helps unite people with different styles and backgrounds, and whether you are a “sneaker head” or not we all have sneakers and we all contribute to the culture somehow.
Check out the video about my current rotation of sneakers below.