How it started
The term “sneaker” was popularized by Henry Neilson, an advertising man way back in 1917. Since Converse was founded. Kicks transitioned from the court all the way to the runway. From Charles Goodyear filing a U.S. patent for vulcanization. Processes that turns natural rubber into a durable product. To Nike founder Bill Bowerman creating a waffle-soled running shoe using his wife’s waffle iron. To now, 3D printed shoes like the Adidas Future Craft. Sneakers have come a really long way. What started as a sub-culture is now omnipresent.
Before you start it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some sneaker terminology.
Here’s a few:
- Sneaker head: a sneaker enthusiast
- Resale: Hyped sneaker sell out and due to limited stock the buyer sell their purchase to others who missed out by taking more then the retail price
- Pop-culture: popular culture (music, trends etc)
- Footlocker & Packers: Sneaker retailers
- Legit check: to make sure your sneakers are real and not fake
- Colourway: color variation between the same model shoes
- Deadstock: A new pair of shoe that has never been worn/tried on or factory unlaced
- OG: short for original, these are original variants of sneakers from their original releases.
- Retro: is an updated version of an OG, it is re-released due to popular demand
Sneaker collecting is as old as the burgeoning b-boy and hip-hop movement of New York City. For young African American rappers.
Sneakers where like confidence and a part of who you are and always having the best kicks in school were a must. The OG (original) sneaker for a lot of people was the first Air Jordan one. When Michael Jordan collaborated with Nike to release the Jordan 1s in the ’85. It sold out everywhere. The shoes got so popular, it was estimated 1 in 10 Americans had a pair.
The growth of sneakers can be definitely tracked back to the growth of hip-hop. Where white kids wanted a little more flavor so started to dress like rappers. After the first non-athlete endorsement deal went to Run DMC, they introduced their “My Adidas song”.
The beginning stages of popularity for sneakers like the Adidas Stan smiths. These were tennis shoes or the Air Force ones which were basketball shoes. Shoes/sneakers, along the way stopped being athletic. It started to become pop culture.
Sneaker culture started with kids just trying to emulate their heroes by wearing what they wear. Their idols and icons wear them so for them it was a part of their hero they can bring home.
The art of the hunt
Before the Internet, you had to know someone or a place to get your hand on some releases. The art of the hunt was the discovery.
So when you want to find out if a sneaker was coming out you had to physically leave your house. Go down to a Packers shoes or a Footlocker and look at the walls. And then ask what’s in the basement. There was no hype so the people that wear the sneakers made it hot based on if they liked it or not. It was not predicated to celebrities or culture like it is now. Sneaker heads back then would have to track down shoes by talking to people in shops have contacts and wait in lines. There was no information about what shoes were coming out and when.
There was a special i95 corridor between Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia for the Air force one. I95 is an interstate highway of sorts. These cities would get city specific releases of Air Force one colorways. Thus the only way to get them is to physically go there.
The Internet changed the game
Ebay.com saw rise of the online selling of sneakers and this is where people like Andre “DRE” Ljustina made fortunes.
The internet has made the sneaker game much less about finding. It’s now lot more about getting the sneaker first and showing it off on Instagram.
Find and buying a shoe meant hours of travel and meeting tons of people. At the end the shoe had a lot of memories and sentimental value than nowadays. Now sneakers are a by-product of the corporate takeover. Now every shoe is limited. Every shoe is am exclusive color ways. Every shoe is a collaboration. Every shoe is a retro. Basically every era of “sneakerdom” now exist simultaneously.
“The athletic sneaker market hit $17.5 Billion in 2016 based on reports by Forbes”
Services like SlangThis, GOAT, StockX are websites/apps that offer their users a marketplace for selling, buying and bidding on sneakers. It provides a validation process to make sure the sneaker you paid $600 is actually real. And not made in a sweatshop in China. These services provide a platform which is all intent and purpose is a classifieds so users can sell among each other. These services make buying and selling sneakers very accessible for all.
The rise of sneaker consignment stores and boutiques were also a reality by then. These are brick and mortar versions of the apps. They were consignment store that would let people to sell their shoes through them. And charge them a 10% or more consignment fee. A lot of these places use Instagram to advertise their stocks. Flight Club and Stadium Goods are two of the biggest.
Ebay was the original marketplace for sneakers. But it saw a 5% drop in resale sales in 2015. This was due to the rise of Internet 2.0 and all the new social media platforms. Twitter has become a marketplace with accounts like @SneakerShouts, so has Instagram but due to this a lot of scamming has taken place.
Popular culture and celebrity collaborations
Initially sneakers were not as omnipresent as they are today. Sneakers were something relegated for athletes and worn in the realm of sports and people who needed it. The concept of athleisure was not invented till. The first iconic collaboration happened when Converse hired athlete Chuck Taylor in 1934. Converse was incredible ahead of their time as the next collaborations didn’t happen till the 70s. It was with the likes of Abdul Jabbar and Stan Smith. But the one that gave all the other a run for their money was Michael Jordan with the first Air Jordan.
RUN DMC was the first non-athletes to get a 1 million dollar endorsement deal for a sneaker from Adidas. They collaborated on the Adidas superstars using their song “My Adidas”. It was soon musicians were becoming influential names in the fashion industry/pop culture.
It started with Jay Z, Lil’ Wayne and now with Kanye West’s Yeezy line sneakers with Nike and now Adidas is massive. His sneakers sell out instantly and a $220 resells for $800-2000. Pharell Williams Hu lines of sneakers are also just as popular and sell out within minutes. Prices have soared higher than ever because of it being mainstream and pop culture.
The Grey market
The insanely high resell prices due to hype, musicians and athletes having their names on the sneakers. And most consignment stores ask for a 10-15% fee when selling/buying shoes from them. Most people lose a lot of their profits over this. So selling independently on social media platforms makes a lot of sense for most.
Simultaneously due to high resell prices, the rise of Chinese fakes started to emerge. This was followed but unauthorized sneakers. These are sneakers that claim to use factory materials. These have very concise details which makes it harder for the experts to “legit check” them. A lot of kids who can’t shell out $200-$400 on sneakers find it much easier/cheaper to rock these unauthorized pairs. On feet or at a glance they are almost indistinguishable from the real eye.
Website like perfectkicks.me has built an empire on selling unauthorized sneakers. These websites are based in china thus NIKE and Adidas cannot sue them for theft of patented products. These websites use services like Western Union or Moneygram instead of payment getaways like PayPal. Due to the strict law that it has regarding counterfeit goods. Most sites offer a discount for using alternatives to PayPal to drive consumers to select those payment methods.
To combat this phenomenon of counterfeit sneakers, a few sneaker purists have started exposing people who wear fakes and dare to flex them on the gram. @yeezybusta is one of the greats who expose people wearing fakes and posting them online on Instagram. He was featured by COMPLEX magazine and did a tutorial.
P.S. This blog is based on my own personal experiences, it has no relation with any person or company directly and indirectly. While sharing give credits.