History of Sneakers

In the 1970s, the market for fashionable athletic footwear most clearly arose when the popular aerobic wear of Farrah Fawcett encouraged the masses to purchase athletic tights, headbands, and sneakers. 

“Athletic wear became more accessible and trendier as Americans began jogging and working out for fun, says Nick Smith, the author of the book “Kicks: The Great American Story of Sneakers.” “You saw magazines such as People with controversial titles such as, ‘Everyone’s Doing It.’  Time magazine and Newsweek featured people doing aerobics and jogging, holding up photographs of their former, less fit self…. When average people were doing these things, it was the first time in history,” Smith said in an interview with Smithsonian Magazine. 

While the market for athletic shoes began in the 1970s with aerobic culture, sneakerhead culture really exploded in the 1980s when Nike signed an unprecedented contract with a rising star: Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls’ third overall draft pick. 

A sneakerhead is someone who, as a hobby, gathers, trades, and or admires sneakers. Sneakerheads are typically well-versed in the history of footwear and carefully research the market. If you present a pair of sneakers to them, they will tell you their importance, their make-up and their past. In North America, sneakerheads first appeared, but they’re now a global phenomenon.

The famous black and red Air Jordan 1 sneaker from Nike was launched for $65 in 1985.  Ironically, the unusual shoes did not follow the dress code of the NBA, and Jordan was not permitted to wear them on the courts: he chose to wear them anyway, however. 

When Jordan was fined $5000 for wearing them, Nike agreed to pay the fine brilliantly, a smart opportunity for marketing that paid off.  Jordan went on to win Rookie of the Year later that year, Air Jordan shoes went on to sell out, and the rest is history. 

The Air Jordan line is now associated with hip hop and basketball culture.  Jordans have become more than just shoes; they are a global status symbol and sneaker culture icon.  Sportswear and hip-hop culture clashed in the 1980s when their seminal single, “My Adidas,” was released by the hip-hop group Run DMC. The song was a success, not just because the rappers were singing about shoes.  It was a paradigm change in hip hop culture, the clothes of rappers reflecting the theme of the streets and basketball courts for the first time. 

The emergence of hip-hop stars wearing brand name sneakers coincided with the arrival of the Nike Air Jordan 1 signature basketball legend Michael Jordan, and together these factors may refer to a street style that could catalyze young people around the world.  For lack of a better term, Sneaker “culture,” was an insider’s club that stressed people being there to recognize and enjoy the right shoes.  In his Air Forces, you had to watch Michael Jordan play.  Before Nelly put them in a song, you had to wear Air Force 1s.  Before the company built a “SB” box, you had to own Nike SB Dunks.

The key forces shaping and promoting the culture of sneakers are based on research conducted through the social measurement tool Shareablee, entertainment celebrities (especially rappers), basketball athletes and media companies.

The world of sneakers is far from a transient movement.  Collecting footwear has become a global phenomenon over the years that buyers are willing to gamble big on, paying out on limited-edition shoes for up to $20,000.  As the market is poised to expand rapidly in the next decade, smart brands would be wise to capitalize on the culture of sneakers.

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