Sneaker Culture Now vs. Then

I began collecting sneakers my freshman year of high school, during the fall of 2013. I had some odd jobs, but no disposable income. I didn’t rely on my parents to supply me with money to move around in the streets. I will tell you, from an aesthetic and technological point of view, about supination, pronation, gait, and everything else that you wanted to know about sneakers. I loved shoes, and I still love them, and the kicks I had in my closet reflected that.

You must understand, things haven’t been the way they are now. There were no popular sneaker sites, and a few pages in SLAM or a fashion article in your favorite hip-hop mag were the only time magazines expressed a passion for sneakers. You may have a glimpse of them in a music video or in a commercial, but that’s it. Sneakers were not pop culture, they were a sub-culture.

That is how I stumbled across Niketalk, and many others like me. It was the changer of the game. You learned, from Niketalk, that there were more freaks out there just like you. It was like X-Men, and you’d discover that there were more people among the mutants than you first thought. That’s what the spawn was.

Fast forward, a few years later, the web was blowing up, social media was in its infancy, and from the depths of the digital world came a boom in sneaker culture. Sites such as Crooked Tongues, Sole Collector, Superfuture, The Hundreds, and the behemoth that was Niketalk, of course, was still going strong.

Collectors were still there, going back as far as sneakers were around, but now these companies had a vehicle to directly hit the masses. Now, what had once been a complex, underground street culture had become a mass-consumer emerging company with levels to it. Rappers got in on the act, becoming brand ambassadors and starting their own lines of apparel and partnerships with sneakers. Shops had exclusives, and there would soon be the evolution of the camp-out and release-day madness. A decade later, it will set the tone for the way things are done, for better or for worse.

Of course, in2006, Pharrell had an Ice Cream/BBC line of shoes. With A-Towns, even Lil ‘Jon had his game. Yet artists are partnering with labels left and right in 2016. Adidas and Kanye, Drake and Jordan Brand, Rihanna and Puma-all examples of how the people are following patterns in the sneaker world set by artists, not athletes.

Twitter and Facebook were in their infancy a decade ago. Myspace was king, and for people who wanted to be in the know, message boards were the go-to. AOL Instant Messenger, of course, was a way of communicating easily with another sneakerhead. Today, the entire landscape is run by Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, community emails, and YouTube. The shoe game saw an explosion of social media influencers, with social media growing in popularity and high budget ads on the decline. The seed list is now as elusive a position as being the first in line. Send a box to a guy and tell him to put in an Instagram product. It’s the way the game is now being played, and because it’s cost-effective, it’s unlikely to go anywhere.

Sneaker adverts are gone. The aforementioned social media boom has contributed to businesses finding new ways to communicate with their customers. When we can put a pic or two on Instagram, why waste thousands of dollars on a commercial budget? It could also be said that in the last 10 years, the amount of TV watching among young people has fallen drastically. The aforementioned creation of influencers has taken the imagination out of the way brands have to appeal to customers. Now, it is clear and to the point.

The secondary market is upwards of $1 billion, research shows. In the mid-00s, there were small-time resellers, but the lengths that customers go to buy their kicks have altered drastically. Relationships used to be key with store workers and managers. As you were practically doing backdoor deals to cop multiples, the interpersonal hookup was loved. Bots buying out stock and hidden ties to kicks in 2016 all mean that finding the sneaker you want is becoming increasingly difficult because they’re sold out online before you’ve even had a chance. All the money has changed, and now everyone wants a slice of the pie.

These days, fakes are an enormous part of the equation, as they look more and more like the real thing. Sure, the websites and resellers get shut down, but they still seem to spring up again in an endless game of whack-a-mole. ‘Unauthorized’ and ‘replica’ shoes are a massive business, and since the colorways are similar and the form of the shoe is less noticeable, they are entirely different from their predecessors. The distinction between real and fake is only becoming more difficult to say, and while purists are totally against the notion, more and more sneakerheads are turning to the gray market to meet their needs. The old fakes were so ridiculous, oddly enough, that they had a comical element: imagine seeing someone in 2016 with Spongebob Yeezy Boosts or “Invisible” Jordan Is.

We’ve seen something transform before our eyes that we love. There was a dress shoe, a work shoe, and a sneaker for yard work for the generations who raised us. The scene was as it was a decade ago: evolving. First of all, you were doing something and no precedent was set before you. Today, the heads of a generation have seen their older brothers, sisters, cousins, and parents turn to collecting. It has struck the mainstream, and everyone is on it.

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