Over the years, collectors have found different things to stock up on. Trading cards, action figures, coins and stamps, just to name a few. A popular item that has become a more mainstream horde are sneakers. From Yeezys to Air Jordans, shoes can be used as an accent for every outfit. They have become a staple in just about everyone’s closet. From trading sites to collectors, sneakerheads have created their own network.
Oz Espino remembers when the only way to cop the latest sneaker kicks was to wake up early, go to the mall and wait in the lines that dragged on forever.
And even then, the stores might not have his shoe size.
Regardless of the inconvenience, the experience would be worth it, especially if you got your dream pair of shoes, said Espino, a junior at UM and a longtime sneakerhead.
“I think it’s one of the coolest communities,” said Espino, whose interest in the world of sneakers dates to the 2009 premier of Sneaker Con. — an annual signature sneaker show where collectors go to buy and sell their precious kicks.
The community — primarily male millennials and zoomers — collects and trades in the sneaker resale market. According to Huddle Up, a daily online letter that analyzes the business and money behind sports, sneakerheads own anywhere from 25 to 75 pairs of sneakers and buy one to four pairs a month.
Once the symbol of athleticism, sneakers have become one of the biggest fashion and commercial items in the world. Some industry analysts put the U.S. sneaker market value at approximately $2 billion and estimate the global market could reach around $120 billion by 2026.
Worn by celebrities, athletes, artists, models and, of course, students, sneakers are on just about everyone’s shopping list— and feet. And with the rise of online sites such as StockX, GOAT and Nike’s SNKRS, sneakerheads are stocking up on their favorite footwear faster and more efficiently.
“It’s bigger than ever,” said Espino, whose collection includes the Vans Old Skool and the iconic Air Jordan 1.
Despite many online alternatives, the sneaker store experience remains an important part of the community. Flight Club and Stadium Goods boast some of the biggest storefronts in the nation, with multiple locations in Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago and Miami.
Locally, recent UM alumnus Marcus Sharf opened HŸP, a sneaker and streetwear store in late August in Coconut Grove.
Both walls of the store are lined with prominent sneakers in floating displays. In addition, several high-end apparel pieces fill the remaining racks.
Some items include the incredibly notable Nike Off-White Dunks, iconic Yeezy Boosts and the more elusive Jordan 1 Fragment x Travis Scott Dunks.
An elegant zen garden with undisturbed designs traced into the sand and some of the hottest shoes on display in the middle of the store completes the relaxed vibe that Sharf intended to create.
“We try to provide an experience rather than just having all the cool sneakers,” Sharf said. “Everyone should have the right to enjoy the sneaker culture.”
However, the trend goes beyond just having the latest, greatest or even rarest sneakers available. For sneakerheads, it’s more about telling a unique story through the distinct styles they choose to wear.
“My favorite brand is Converse,” said junior Bella Clark, a new sneakerhead who is growing her collection. “I like that they have a classic feel but also have new cool styles.”
Hank Shalom, a senior sports management major, said he owns a whopping 15 pairs of sneakers.
“A lot of them are Jordan Brand sneakers, but I also have sneakers from Adidas and Nike,” said Shalom.
“I own sneakers purely based on style and comfort, and it just so happens to be that those three brands dominate the market when looking for those two characteristics. My collection is worth somewhere between $5,000 to $7,000 ,” Shalom said. “The most I’ve paid for a shoe is $550 and the least I’ve paid is $80.”
Because of the ever-growing streetwear fashion style, affordable brands such as Nike, Adidas and Champions are beginning to collaborate with luxury brands such as Gucci, Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton. Sneakers and their rise in fashion have led to brand collaberation in order to create luxury items that still fit into the aesthetic.
Sophomore Isabella Martinez said she has about 10 pairs of sneakers.
“I have a few Nikes, Adidas, specifically some Jordans and some Burberry and Valentino,” Martinez said. “I like to get Nike and Adidas because they’re my go-to athletic shoes.”
But with sneakers being so accessible, it has, for some, ruined the sanctity of the sneaker community.
Rampant reselling, limited stock and oversaturated styles are commonplace has fragmented some of the sneaker community,” said Espino. “It’s part of the reason why I don’t like that it’s gone mainstream. People care more about owning rare pieces than wearing rare pieces.”
Sneaker culture and the community that safeguards it have evolved considerably over the past few years.
Sneakers have been gaining in popularity and prestige since they were first introduced to the sports world in the 1830s by John Boyd Dunlop. Boyd, founder of the Liver Rubber Co., created an invention called “plimsolls,” which were rubber-soled shoes.
Nearly 60 years later, the US Rubber Company developed an updated version of the “plimsolls” called “Keds.” The shoes gained the slang name of “sneakers” because people would say that they were so quiet that the person wearing them could sneak up on you.
German shoemaker Adolph “Adi” Dassler made further advancements beginning in the 1920s by creating the first track shoe with a full leather sole and hand-forged spike. He later created his sportswear company Adidas, which has become one of the most popular brands in the world. It became the first brand of sports shoe to gain popularity when four-time Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens competed in them in the 1936 Olympics.
But the sport that really started the general popularity of sneakers was basketball.
In 1921, Chuck Taylor, semi-pro basketball player and a salesman, started promoting the Converse sneakers, the first-ever celebrity-endorsed athletic shoe. The first NBA player to have a signature sneaker was Walt “Clyde” Frazier with the PUMA Clyde in 1970.
The biggest and most popular collaboration between a sneaker and an athlete was with basketball legend Michael Jordan. Air Jordan, launched in 1984, is considered the “grandfather” of all modern sneakers. The Jordan x Nike collaboration proved sneakers were more than just a shoe for athletic wear, leading to several creations of various types of fashion-focused sneakers.
Meanwhile, the music industry also has contributed to sneaker popularity. Rap, reggaeton and hip-hop were the biggest music genres from the 1970s through the 1990s. Artists recorded and performed in various types of sneakers, marking them as modern-fashion staple. Nike Air Force 1s became popular among a large amount rappers and musicians, and Converse sneakers were popular with rock and punk artists.
Collaborations between artists and sneaker brands first started with hip-hop duo Run-DMC and Adidas. A version of Adidas Superstar was created in 1985, after the artists released a song called “My Adidas.” Jay-Z had a collaboration with Reebok and created a sneaker inspired by one released by Gucci in 1984. Ye has had many collaborations with Adidas, Nike, Louis Vuitton and others, with his most famous release, “Yeezys.” Similarly,
Rihanna had a collaboration with PUMA in 2016, which was a defining moment in the fashion industry because of the popularity, influence and public sway she had as a female celebrity.
Movies have also had a huge role in the advertising and marketing of sneakers. Sneakers are a big part of pop culture history because of their appearances in famous movies. Many sneakers were first presented to the public in movies without the intent of marketing them. But on many occasions, there was high demand for the sneakers. Some movies with famous sneakers are “Forrest Gump,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Dirty Dancing,” “Aquatic Life of Steve Zissou,” “Space Jam” and “Back to the Future.”
words_lewis walker, daniela lombardi garcia & tassilo von furstenberg. design_ isa márquez. photo_nina d’agostini.
This article was published in Distraction’s Winter 2022 print issue.