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Sneakers aren’t just practical or stylish footwear, but culturally reflective, and for some, like Sid Loyal, a to-die-for means of self expression.
NB 574s, The Reebok Pump, Air Jordans, Puma Suede, Onitsuka Tiger Tokyo – how could sneakers like these (amongst many other iconic lines) possibly influence generations and yet remain timeless?
Nobody is quite sure as to its actual origins but legend has it that “Keds” is the company we should all bow down to. Apparently, they coined the term “sneakers” as the canvas shoes had rubber soles and you could, literally, sneak up on people.
So, sneakers have actually been around for more than 80 years, but were never given any street cred and instead were just purely functional sport shoes.
Remember Dunlop and Slazenger? Gradually, through the 1950s and ’60s they started slowly infiltrating pop-culture.
My personal assessment leads me to believe that sneakers started actually to peak during the “free love” movement of the ’60s – a time when being at Woodstock was as cool as being at Burning Man today. It was during this time that coloured sneakers started becoming available. These were comfortable, rugged, not very expensive and looked pretty cool, and basically became an alternative to boring casual footwear.
See, sneakers have always been symbolic of the changing times, from a socio-cultural perspective.
There was the classic whites and greys of the ’70s, reflective of a hard-working culture; the fluorescent filled ’80s, highlighting the debauchery of capitalism; the multi-colored checks of the ’90s showcasing confusion; the dual-tone colours of the early 2000’s depicting a culture of multi-tasking; and now the experimentation of solid metallic colours on classic retro styles, mirroring individuality and authenticity with substance.
The only common thread across the decades? The expression of freedom and individuality in a cluttered and complex world. Yet, what makes sneakers really cool is their uncanny ability to avoid the commercial limelight – something conventional society is somewhat to blame as, in more ways than one, it associated them with people who were perceived to be anti-establishment or rather, rebels without a cause.
The creative community has consistently ensured that they always remain on the cusp of contemporary culture. From the likes of The Doors to The Beatles; Bruce Springsteen to Bruce Lee; to today’s pop, hip-hop, movie and sports stars – sneakers play an ever-important role in evaluating and sizing up their individual cool quotients, in turn inspiring and influencing their fans, eventually coming into the mainstream.
The iconic Converse Chucks, Reebok Pumps and Nike’s Air Jordan range are just the tip of the iceberg, and a testimony to their highly influential (and sick) nature.
And they literally got teens to die for them. Through the late ’80s all the way up to more recent times, hearing about teenage sneaker crimes was a common phenomena – kids literally killing or mugging other kids to get their hands on the latest pair doing the rounds.
There was small testimony of what I mean, within the past year in the Huff Post.
It was also during the early ’80s (unsurprisingly at the height of capitalism) when footwear manufacturers started realising this paradigm shift in consumer behaviour, where teens started buying sneakers for reasons purely beyond style and more as a “cool quotient” social pass, which automatically bought them peer acceptance.
Jumping onto this bandwagon was an easy and logical step, and sneaker manufacturers literally set up separate business divisions to tap into this growing sub-culture.
Today, brands like Nike have an entire line called NikeID where you can customise your sneaks with your name, and it is done for the same reasons that Adidas further invested into their “Originals” line that became an instant global hit.
But, one can buy the coolest and the most expensive of sneakers and it still won’t make you a rebel or cool, or creative.
But if you are a true sneaker head, it won’t ever be about any of these things – to me it will always be a symbolic expression of having a point-of-view on the things I believe in.