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Unknown Artist

For many, a pair of sneakers is simply just a pair of shoes with flexible soles that serve as athletic aids. But for some, sneakers are much more than the materials they are composed of.  They are represented as cultural symbols, an idea or identity, and even as pieces of art.  This representation attracts the few, and has them lined up days before a shoe releases just to get their hands on the latest pair of limited edition sneaker.  This phenomenon has stretched from coast to coast in the U.S. and is apparent in the international realm.  It has evolved into a sub culture, not necessarily organized, but clearly articulated by those individuals.  Sneakers are not a social movement; conversely, they run parallels to social change and are significant to the discourse.  This can be explained further…

If not prestigious, sneaker culture membership is based on a select manifest, a sovereign tale, a creed, and a cause célèbre. The currency of sneakers is the cross-cultural exchange of ideas of like-minded people. These ideological allies represent a distinct bunch of people purchasing a lifestyle that generates individualism. Speculating about the dictums of its participants in this axis indicates to others that what particular brand is on their feet is not as important as each one’s passion and obsession in deciding these things. The emphasis is on a discursive interaction that is in principle unbounded and open-ended. Sneaker culture encompasses an extremely democratic frame with the tremendous possibilities implying the invention and reinventing of self. Those who participate in the sneaker ministry are stylish not in a cool hipster way, but in the way they represent themselves.

– Lee Gabay

The origins that popularized the sneaker culture and iconicized them developed in New York City during the late 1970s and early 80s.  At the time, the city was facing tough social and economic hardships and many urban youths found an outlet with music, dance, fashion, and sneakers.  They were able to gain a sense of self identity and found a haven of expression with sneakers.

There was a worldwide mass culture of sneaker consumption, but only in New York, the global Mecca of playground basketball and hip hop, was there the subculture of sneaker fiends and connoisseurs. This group would wind up influencing the sneaker industry, the music industry, the fashion world, the vintage market, and the global consumer market for years after right through to the present day.

– Bobbito Garcia

From that point forward sneakers, inevitably, transcended the athletic footwear industry into a multibillion dollar business.  I find it very intriguing that the prominent youths at the time catapulted such an industry and manifested top athletic footwear companies into what they are today.  I intend to explore how this phenomenon evolved over the course of the past few decades and created a huge market in the footwear industry.  I want to elaborate on varies facets of the sneaker culture that have contributed to its success, particularly in the U.S.  Also, I will provide information across all levels of the sneaker culture from customized sneakers to limited editions and from small shoe companies to common sneakers found at local retail stores.

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