Sneakerhead and the Popular Culture
How many pairs of sneakers should a person own? Perhaps just one, two, or more? For me, there is no such thing as having enough sneakers. Because I am a sneakerhead.
As I’ve grown up through different phases in life, my identities change over time; depending on where I am at, my focused identity changes accordingly. As a 21-year old male, I have multiple identities that I can associate with. One of my newer identities is influenced strongly by the popular culture I am surrounded with. This identity is “Sneakerhead.” Sneakerhead is commonly used to describe someone who is passionate about sneakers, and often collects them. I am so into this hobby that I often find myself scheduling my work and college assignments around sneaker release debuts. Even though I had never analyzed this aspect of my life, I realized how important my sneakerhead identity was while standing in a shoe line at five in the morning. There is definitely a great reason for my joy when getting a fresh pair of kicks, especially when I am committed to get them. Being a sneakerhead, there are values that I put into building trust, relationships with others, and commitment, besides building my own collection of rare and unique sneakers.
Since I was a kid, I have always liked sneakers. I remember looking at other kids’ new shoes or pictures in the magazines and wishing one day I would be able to afford them. I love playing basketball as well, and had always thought to myself as a kid that it was the shoes that made the players jump to high into the hoops. In high school, I started working and had some money for myself. I remember buying the first pair of sneakers with my first paycheck; they were only a pair of Jordan’s in the store, but I was very happy and felt like I accomplished something bigger than anything. Then I started to join online forums and communities, look through different websites, follow well-known sneakerheads, and look out for release dates. Hoping for beginner’s luck, I enter some raffles for limited sneakers, and actually won them. Other sneakerheads started to look at me differently, especially when I walked out the store with my pairs while they had to camp out for hours to get a chance to get them. Compliments become conversations, and eventually I had other sneakerhead-friends. We would keep each other up-to-date on sneaker release and other information through trust and the relationships we have built, while completing our own collections with our own taste.
Lammle (2012) gave a great summary of the history of sneaker collecting in his article. The sneaker collecting trend started around late 1970s as a part of the b-boy and hip-hop movement. Sneakers used to be like accessories to unique clothing, but slowly had their own stance.
When running across an article about sneakers, there are some exclusive slang terms that are used in the sneakerhead community. The site OSneaker.com has a great list. Deadstock (DS) is one of the most common terms used, implying that the kicks are brand new and never worn or tried on. Limited Edition (LE) implies shoes that are produced in limited quantities and is only available in selected retailers. Player Exclusive (PE) is shoes that was produced according to a specific athlete’s willing, and customized with specific colors or patterns that march the athletes’ team or country affiliation. Collaboration (X) is common between footwear companies and streetwear brands. Hype is used to imply shoes that receive a lot of attention before the actual release date. Hypebeast is used to describe a person who takes the game to another level by wearing some of the most expensive and limited items (Sneaker Slang Glossary, n.d).
According to Lamle (2012), the sneaker movement hit mainstream America when Nike collaborated with Michael Jordan, the legendary basketball player, to produce the Air Jordans in 1985. Here is a picture of it:
This pairs of shoes were sold out quickly even at the retail price of $125 back then. They quickly became “a sought-after status symbol” (Lammle, 2012). Following this release, Nike continued to introduce new styles of Jordan’s every year. The shoes became so popular that back in 1990s, some estimated that approximately 1 in every 12 Americans had a pair of Air Jordan’s (Lammle, 2012). The popularity of Jordan’s created a trend among sneaker fans that always tried to have their kicks stand out. They hunted down limited, rare and vintage kicks. Today, it is usual for a sneakerhead to own more than 20 pairs of shoes.
Michael Jordan was seen wearing new shoes every game, which urged many people to buy the Air Jordans in the 90s.
But basketball is not the only aspect of sneakers. The sneakerhead culture has its roots in other media of entertainment such as art, hip-hop, and skateboard. Skateboarders were often seen wearing shoes such as Nike SB Dunks during their performance in many competitions. Many artists realized the potential of the shoe as a canvas, and often customize shoes to express their individuality and creativity with their own styles. Rappers such as Run-DMC were one of the pioneers to combine music and sneaker fashion into one medium (The American Sneakerhead, 2010).
Run-DMC rappers promoted the sneakerhead culture through their passion of shoes. They even created a song called “My Adidas”in 1986 that became a hit.
In the sneakerhead culture, there is always the urge to collect a shoe that no one has. To explain the price and limited editions, we have to take the supply and demand economic rule into consideration. If sneakers are considered as “heat”, it means that they are high in price and limited in number. Limited editions of shoes always create the “race” between sneakerheads to see who can get them first. Hype about certain kicks is created within the communities online, as information is posted to inform date, time, and location of the sneaker debuts. Nike and Adidas, most well-known sneaker companies in the U.S, create limited editions of shoes to create brand awareness and media attention. Once the shoes are gone, they are gone. After that, they can be seen on other sites such as Ebay or Craiglist with high price tags, implying how “limited” and worthy they are (The American Skeanerhead, 2010).
Personally, I remember waiting up on release information on Tweeter and Facebook all the time. The purchase can either be online, or lining up at the stores. But it is important to keep in mind that this is a race between sneakerheads. I would not be the only one who is waiting on a post, and ready to make a purchase at any second. There have been many times when as soon as the information is out, if I am a few seconds behind others, the shoes would be sold out.
This is an example of Twitter post informing releases. Notice how the posts are only seconds apart
Further complicating the process, an online purchase does not guarantee the shoes. Often stores would do first-come-first-serve sneaker debut. For example, if there are only 50 pairs available at a store, people would want to line up early in order to have the better chance to get them in their desired size. So any line up can start hours before the store is opened. Here are some common scenes that would be at a sneaker debut event:
My favorite way to get the new releases is through raffles. I can come into the store, sign up for raffles, and if I win the pairs they would call me. This method has been more popular among the stores in order to lessen the hectic of waiting in line and the potential complications that can follow. Raffles can also be sold at exclusive sneakers events, where people have to buy tickets to get into in order to have the chance to win one of the very limited pairs. I once won a pair of Yeezy, which is designed by Kanye West, and are one of the most sought-after pairs in the sneakerhead community. Here is a picture:
Yes, those pair of sneakers worth at least $2000 in the market right now. My rent for a few months sum up in a sneaker form.
Besides line hassles, more complications which can possibly happen at shoes release events include negative media attention. I will throw a popular quote out: “When you do something good, no one remembers. When you do something bad, no one forgets.” This is how the sneakerhead community has been negatively portrayed in the media more recently. A few weeks ago, a 14-year-old boy was arrested for shooting a 15-year-old teen at a sneaker-release event. Here is the link to the article: http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Boy-Shot-Brooklyn-Nike-Yeezy-Sneakers-255984291.html. The reason behind the shooting was that the teen was cutting in line at the event. The article was brief, but I notice the language used, which is similar across many other comparable articles. The age of the boys was mentioned repeatedly. The focus of the article can be summarized into how young the boys were, how a gun was fired, over a cutting-line at a sneaker release. Other details were not mentioned in the article, such as whether or not any conversations occurred, any supervisors, the witnesses, or anything else. At the end of the article, it mentioned another past “nearly a riot” helped contributing a negative image about sneakerheads (NBC New York, 2014).
Through the help of media, many people can have the false assumption of sneakerheads as a whole. In the article above, for example, a reader can make certain assumptions about shoes collectors: that they are young, impulsive, violence, impatient, and lack of negotiation skills. This is nowhere close to my experience of lining up outside the sneaker release events. This might be a very rare case, but all of the debuts I have been to, everything is normal – people behaved politely, they are civil, and conversations are exchanged normally and regularly. Nevertheless, tensions at times are inevitable. In early 2005, police were called over the Nike store in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. A group of people was trying to barge ahead of campers who had been waiting at the store for 48 hours (The American Skeakerhead, 2010).
Incidents like these can create a misperception of the sneaker culture. Some people think it is a waste of money, effort, and time; others think that sneakerheads are taking the sneaker-game too seriously, perhaps because it is something which is difficult to explain to someone that is outside of this culture. I will try my best to elaborate on this from a personal level. There is a wide extent to which a person can go for a hobby.
Collecting sneakers is just another hobby, similar to that of collecting exotic insects or Pokemon cards. But once a person is able to get what he or she wants, it is a sense of accomplishment and pride. This, in fact, would be how I summarize my experience as a sneakerhead. I only collect pairs of shoes that I personally like, those that fit with my personality and my fashion taste. If I happen to collect a pair that is popular, but perhaps I don’t really like, I would sell or trade them to another sneakerhead who is interested in them.
A sneakerhead cannot do well unless he or she is in the community, because that’s where the support is. Members in the sneakerhead community help each other complete their personal collections. In some way, this brings a sense of individuality and exclusivity because every sneakerhead owns a collection that reflects his or her style, personality, and sneaker-game (McGee, 2012). No sneaker collections are similar, because each is built depending on the collector’s individuality. However, it also gives a sense of community. By doing the same thing, having the same belief, and having faith and trust in each other, sneakerheads help each other to grow.
By being a sneakerhead, I have learned how to work with others, as well as compete with them in a fair way – by compete I mean to scoret the shoes I want before others do. There is not a true sense of competition between has a better, or more expensive, collection. Collecting the rarest and unique sneakers is an individual competition within a group setting. Being a true sneakerhead means being able to create a unique collection which truly represents the sneakerhead him/herself.
Lammle, R. (2012). Sneakerheads: A brief history of sneaker collecting. Retrieved from
McGee, M. (2012). Why I’m a Sneakerhead. Retrieved from
NBC New York (2014). Teen shot in foot for cutting line for Nike “Yeezy” sneakers, 14 year-old charged: NYPD. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Boy-Shot-Brooklyn-Nike-Yeezy-Sneakers-255984291.html
The American Sneakerhead (2010). The Mid-Atlantic Lounge. Retrieved from
Sneaker Slang Glossary (n.d). Retrieved from http://osneaker.com/glossary.html