Sneakers have become a lot more than just a kind of footwear, as they are now an essential part of an influential subculture. Sneaker culture finds its roots in African American culture of the 1980s and currently is experiencing a second rebirth. The rise of the Internet and the trend of blurring the line between formal and casual clothing making it socially acceptable to wear what people want in any circumstances. The subculture has become a driving force for manufacturers to design and produce more sneakers making a substantial profit. The present paper is an attempt to answer the question of whether sneaker culture is a long-lasting phenomenon or the popularity of the subculture will soon deteriorate.
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When referring to sneaker culture, one must realize the complexity of the subculture, as it includes many interconnected aspects. Traditionally, it is understood as collecting exclusive pieces of footwear to create and maintain an individual style. It is associated with three core principles to buy, sell, and trade unique pairs of sneakers, which are modified by the changes in technology (Bekoe 7). Until recently, a typical representative of the subculture was a violent Africa American ready to kill for a pair of shoes. However, due to the rise of athleisure, the subculture found many new followers from other parts of the population (Grover). In short, sneaker culture can be described as a hobby to collect, sell, and trade limited editions of sports shoes with passion and zealousness.
The central effect of the sneaker culture is a tremendous boost in the footwear industry making a substantial profit. In 2016, the global footwear industry was estimated as a $52 billion business (Laitasalo 3). Additionally, Laitasalo states that “sneakers have given rise to a gigantic secondary market estimated to be worth more than $1 billion” (3). This market is occupied by hypebeasts, or resellers of pop culture products, who try to buy as many pieces of sneakers high in demand and sell them with an additional 50%-100% charge. These people line up in stores for several days or create bots to buy exclusive footwear within seconds after they are available for sale.
Some of the products they keep for themselves, while others are resold. In brief, sneaker culture has unintendedly created a new market niche that allows hypebeasts to make money out of knowledge of fashion trends.
The phenomenon brings together people with the same interest from all over the world. The fans of the sneaker culture refer to themselves as sneakerheads and consider the whole subculture one big family that counts in tens of thousands (Ema). However, being a sneakerhead can be controversial, as, on the one hand, one feels comfort and support from all the other members of the community, but on the other hand, people become obsessed with footwear, which leads to increased amounts of stress and anxiety (Ema). This is partly because even though the culture is intended for enthusiasts, they are not the ones creating trends and cannot influence fashion.
Before discussing the future of the sneaker culture, it is beneficial to refer to the history of the phenomenon. It started as an urban counterculture in the 1980s that was widespread among African Americans (Laitasalo 4). In 1984, Michael Jordan, a basketball star, signed a 2.5-million-dollar endorsement deal with Nike, marking the official emergence of the subculture (Bekoe 6). Air Jordan releases were numbered creating an inherent desire to collect (Bekoe 6). However, sneaker culture was also closely associated with violence and deaths, as people would do anything for a pair of sneakers they wanted (Bekoe 3). In short, the subculture in its origin was associated with African American culture and violence.
Recently, the picture of a typical sneakerhead has changed due to the emergence of athleisure. In 2018, it became acceptable to wear sneakers for any occasion, including sports, formal meetings, and even weddings (Grover). Moreover, sneakerheads created an internet community where they can exchange news, buy and sell shoes, discuss trends, and cheer each other (Ema). If in the 1980s people had to stay in lines to buy the desired pair of exclusive shoes, now they can go online and buy what they want from an official store or hypebeasts. In brief, sneaker culture has experienced a paradigm shift in recent years due to various factors.
Predictions for the Future
Most of the experts on the matter believe that sneaker culture is only at the beginning of its emergence and will be gaining popularity from a short-term perspective. According to Bekoe, the sneaker market is projected to reach 371.8 billion by 2020 (8). This figure leads to understanding that the analyst projects that demand sneaker culture will grow considerably providing more opportunities for the industries and the hypebeasts to make money out of sneakerheads. Bekoe argues that the primary reason for the rise is the yearly online shopping growth of 8-12% (8). In short, sneaker culture is gaining popularity due to the emergence of online shopping.
Some experts, however, are not certain about the future of the phenomenon, as the internet can also be hurting the subculture. According to Nelson, while the sneaker market is expected to grow until 2023, there are hidden dangers to the footwear industry. While brands aim to create agitation around new releases, they make it impossible for an average shopper to buy sneakers at retail price. The problem is that experienced sneakerheads use advanced computer technology, such as bots, proxy servers, and captcha solvers to purchase several copies of sneakers from a limited edition. This results in items being sold out seconds after their online release (Nelson).
Additionally, online shopping ruins local businesses of small sneaker shops that simply offer rows of shoes and apparel as its lone shopping experience (Nelson). In summary, the internet may be a hidden danger for the development of sneaker culture, as it may prevent some people from involving.
Even though some factors may influence the development of sneaker culture in the future, the reality is that it will continue to thrive. The subculture is produced by corporations, as they engage in multi-million deals with sports stars and pop culture representatives. Many people try to look like celebrities by copying their clothing styles. Companies like Nike and Adidas dictate the people what they should buy and wear by offering superstars millions of dollars if they wear a certain brand.
In his, research Laitasalo concludes that “sneakerheads were influential in the early stages of sneaker subculture and even though sneakerheads continue to be a highly vocal group within this market category, their influence has waned over time” (47). Therefore, the central controversy of the subculture is that even though it is intended for sneakerheads, they cannot influence its future trends.
If consumers cannot influence the development of a subculture, there are fewer hazard possibilities for the market. As companies are the central driving force of the phenomenon, they can design a plan for the future that may not be ruined by a drop in demand. In the subculture, people are told what they should do, and no corporation will want people to stop consuming. Hence, the popularity of the subculture and the footwear market will grow in short- and long- perspectives.
The history of the phenomenon also tells in favor of the subculture’s bright future. Sneaker culture has been around for almost 50 years, and the interest in it is still growing. The phenomenon has lived through a lousy reputation and is now experiencing a golden age. Moreover, the reduction of hypermasculinity has given men “freedom of individuality to wear “feminine” colors such as pink and extra bright neon colors on their feet” (Bekoe 7). This has opened new possibilities for the future of subculture development.
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Sneaker culture is a unique subculture, as consumers have lost their influence on the matter. While the internet helps sneakerheads get exclusive pairs of shoes and makes hypebeasts get rich, it can be considered a hidden danger for future development. However, the analysis of the nature of the phenomenon along with the examination of historical evidence leads to an understanding that sneaker culture shows no sign of deterioration of popularity and will continue its growth and evolution in the future.
Bekoe, Shaquille-Omari. “Sneaker Culture Has Given Black Men Fashion Freedom While Creating Restriction.” CUNY Academic Works, 2017, pp. 1-9.
Ema. “Why Everyone Wants to Be Part of The Crazy and Hectic Sneaker Culture.” AIO Bot. Web.
Grover, Purva. “The Rise of the Sneaker Culture.” Khaleej Times. 2018. Web.
Laitasalo, Riku. Sneakerheads: Influencers of Industry or Insignificant Insiders? Master’s theses, Aalto University School of Business, 2016.
Nelson, Kieth. “Why the Internet Dooms the Sneaker Industry as Much as It Helps It.” Digital Trends. 2018. Web.