Fun fact- the rubber sole made the shoes so silent, that the person wearing them could sneak up on you, thus the name sneakers were coined. In the early 18th century people wore Plimsolls, inspired by the horizontal plimsoll line of a ship’s hull. Athletes sported these due to comfort while others wore them on vacations. However, they might have not been comfortable, as there was no distinction between the left and the right foot.
In 1892, the US rubber company came up with rubber sneakers with canvas tops known as Keds. The impeccable comfort of a sneaker compelled companies to mass-produce it. Therefore in 1917, Converse all-stars, named after the founder Marquis Converse, opened its door. These were exclusively made for basketball. In 1923, they gained their colloquial name- Chuck Taylors when a basketball player from Indiana, Chuck Taylor endorsed these shoes.
Gotta Have ‘Em All!
With time, companies started pouring into this business and this scene exploded. Young boys and girls started lining up outside stores to get their hands on the latest pair endorsed by athletes. This gave birth to the cult-like sneaker culture.
A Jordan 1 retro fragment retailed for $185 in 2014 but today its resale value is up to a stark $2000. The New Balance 999 concepts Hyannis blue retails around $500 today but there is no limit to how high the rate might catapult. This is sneaker culture.
Sneaker Culture and Fandom
There are three ways to this phenomenon according to sociologist Yuniya Kawamura. The first was in the 1970s with the underground sneaker collection and the beginning of hip-hop. Nostalgia plays are vital role among sneakerheads as Adidas with its Samba collection, the suede puma, the Chuck Taylors brewed a storm within the sports culture. The second wave brought with it Nike Air Jordans after the basketball legend Michael Jordan. Thus, bringing football and basketball into the mainstream. According to Kawamura, the third wave is now, the digital age– the market which leads to a constant hunt for trading, swapping, buying, and reselling.
What feeds the fanaticism is seeking out rare collections, celebrity collaborations, and creating a sense of scarcity. This inherently soars up price astronomically. Business in the black market and fake shoes that might be doing the rounds aren’t even comprehensible.
An Innocent Attempt at Fitting in
For some, it is nostalgia, paying homage to their heroes and for others is a social identity. Social identity means an individual’s self-identity based on their membership in a particular group.
In 2020 the global sneaker market was said to be $70 billion in the US said to increase up to $102 billion by 2025. Brands that dominate the sneaker industry feed the fetish by releasing limited-edition collectables.
Sneakers for show and not to be worn is a reality. Sneaker-con exists and there is a show on Netflix about Sneakerheads. Like avocado and yoga pants, there is no going back.