Shoes as a Culture
If I asked a random person if they knew what a “Sneakerhead” was, most might give a confused look and deduce that it is someone that has to do with shoes. In modern culture, a “Sneakerhead” could be defined as a person who collects rare, vintage, and highly sought after shoes. To many people familiar with Portland, they commonly associate Portland as having close ties to sneaker empires such as Nike and Adidas. Portland is home to Nike and Adidas’ United States headquarters. Nike’s influence on fashion and pop culture is astounding and has forever changed the shoe industry. This sort of subculture of shoe collectors has changed the purpose of a sneaker from an athletic use into a fashion statement. With the “sneakerhead” culture, it raises bigger questions about the power and influence that fashion moguls have on the individual’s spending, desires, and choices.
To give more insight to this vast industry, it is necessary to better elaborate on its meaning. Most commonly a “Sneakerhead” is referred to as a person who collects rare and expensive shoes. Most of the collected shoes are or at one point were intended to use for basketball or some other sport. One can see the rise of the shoe industry paralleled with the career of basketball legend Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan’s signature shoes produced by Nike since the mid-eighties have revolutionized the way people are fascinated with shoes. Jordan’s brand is far more lucrative than ever anticipated and in 2014 the Jordan brand did 2.6 billion dollars in sales according to Forbes.com. In this “Sneakerhead” culture it is revered that Nike and more specifically Jordan’s signature shoes are at the epicenter of people’s fascinations. With that being said, Nike and Jordan re-release shoes from the eighties and nineties with small changes and variations and different color schemes as well. They call this the process of making a shoe “retro.” For example, models of shoes that Jordan wore in the nineties might get continually released in new colors every handful of years and this is interesting because these styles from that time period are continually reproduced and carried on. One might say that it is normal for people to have multiple pairs of shoes that they wear on a daily basis and this is true. For “Sneakerheads” however, a typical “Sneakerhead’s” shoe collection might range from twenty pairs of shoes to hundreds of pairs of shoes. Again, a “Sneakerhead” might rarely even wear these shoes and just keep them in a box, unworn for years. The rarer the shoe, without being worn, the better for people that collect shoes. Nike often produces these shoes in small numbers compared to their other products and this only increases the rarity of the shoe. In addition, this shoe culture has given rise to a massive re-sell market, in which consumers buy these sneakers for double or triple the cost of what the shoe was sold for from Jordan or Nike.
According to Forbes, Michael Jordan makes 100 million dollars a year from shoe sales and only made 94 million in his whole basketball career as a whole. As stated, the shoe business is a highly lucrative industry and his given rise to many different markets associated with the shoes. Again, many of these shoes are bought at cost by customers and then resold for double or triple the price depending on the shoe. There are many reselling avenues in which one could buy used or new shoes on, such as eBay or Flightclub.com, just to name a few. People can and have made livings off of re-selling shoes and this does not go unnoticed by the big shoe companies. Much of Jordan’s retro shoes are now retailing from around $160-$220 and is still fetching profit from people re-selling them. Customers are willing to pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars for shoes and the question that it raises for me is when does the shoe start to become less inelastic and people start to steer away from purchasing these shoes. In this multibillion dollar industry, it can be viewed in both the producer-centric and consumer-centric models of analyzing culture. In the producer-centric model, Nike is producing shoes end on end and is receiving huge amounts of profits from designs of shoes that were made in the eighties and nineties and continue to reproduce the same popular shoes. In the shoe industry, Nike can just make a new color of the same shoe they have been producing for years and “Sneakerheads” will go crazy for it and in that sense the producer has the power and influence to create its own shoe culture. In this producer-centric market, shoe companies can just continue to raise the prices of shoes and people will still buy them. On the contrary, one could vaguely argue that it is consumer-centric aspect of culture in that Nike and Adidas are only producing these shoes because the consumer likes them so much and that it’s what the consumers are willing to pay for their shoes.
With the shoe industry being so prominent, I find its commentary on people’s choices and desires interesting as well. In many respects, the rise of shoes and their meaning is more than just basketball and athletic gear. Shoes have turned into fashion statements and transformed into cultural and fashion symbols. For me personally, growing up it was always a good feeling coming to school with the latest or newest shoes and I think that speaks to the greater idea that what we choose to wear promotes something. Whatever we wear, it elucidates a certain lifestyle or culture. When people choose to put two hundred dollar shoes on and wear them in this day and age, which represents what they value and what they choose to represent with their clothes.
Again, in the last thirty to forty years, the creation of a sneaker culture has grown right in front of our eyes with its roots being heavily influenced by consumerism and culture’s tendency to idolize our possessions and symbols. This not only speaks to the shoe industry, but to the overall consumerism prevalent in America. The idea that more is better and better represents more respect amongst others is really the underlying idea here that contributes to American pop culture. This facet of popular culture is another way in which the possessions that individual’s own represent something more to the individual. I would like to emphasize that I am not saying people only buy possessions to earn respect. In fact, many people buy these sneakers to just wear, to pay homage to previous fashions, and to just collect for their leisure. I do not condemn consumerism, but I am simply recognizing the relationship between possessions and individual’s choices and the culture they promote.