How sneakers became a $79 billion business

i 1 90637534 history of sneakers

Sneakers, as soon as the image of athleticism, have transcended their major operate to turn out to be business and trendy objects of need. From sportswear and road type to catwalk trend, sneakers have made their mark as cultural commodities.

The worldwide sneaker market was valued at roughly $79 billion in 2020 and is predicted to succeed in $120 billion by 2026. With such enormous progress, it’s unsurprising that sneakers are considered big business.

Such are the strides within the sneaker trade that a new exhibition at London’s Design Museum explores how the shoe became an undisputed cultural image of our occasions.

Table of Contents


Consolation is king

The final decade has seen a enormous shift in how sneakers are worn. Donning a pair is now not frowned upon within the office or on extra formal events. Even British etiquette consultants Debrett’s have given their seal of approval, deeming them socially acceptable for smart-casual occasions.

The continued dominance of the athleisure trend has had a important impression on the rising gross sales of sneakers—together with the pursuit of comfort. This solely grew extra throughout the pandemic as lockdowns made folks further prioritize comfort, which resulted in a rise in gross sales of loungewear, athleisure, and flat footwear, like sneakers.

As such, sneakers have moved from the area of interest to turn out to be coveted as modern objects. Footwear is now the biggest-selling category within the on-line luxurious market, and sneakers have made a important contribution to this progress.

Excessive-fashion manufacturers from Gucci to Balenciaga are setting the tempo within the luxurious sneaker market. In 2017, Balenciaga’s Triple S became the biggest seller in the luxury sneaker market and its reputation seems unstoppable.

To know how the sneaker has emerged to turn out to be a footwear phenomenon, it is very important hint its legacy from operate to cultural icon.

From tennis footwear to trace

The earliest sports activities footwear had been created by the Liverpool Rubber Company, founded by John Boyd Dunlop, within the 1830s. Dunlop was an innovator who found the right way to bond canvas uppers to rubber soles. These had been often known as sandshoes and worn by Victorians on their seashore excursions.

Historian Thomas Turner defines the latter a long time of the nineteenth century as a time when industrial progress and social change had been twinned with a rising enthusiasm for sporting pursuits, specifically garden tennis. This resulted within the want for a extra specialised kind of footwear, which Dunlop’s rubber sole may fulfill. Dunlop launched its now iconic Inexperienced Flash mannequin in 1929, which was worn by tennis legend Fred Perry at Wimbledon.


Different important sports activities footwear of the twentieth century included the Converse All Star, designed for basketball. Nonetheless, it’s Adidas and Nike which have each formed the sneaker’s evolution from sport to type.

Based by Adi Dassler in Germany in 1924 as Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik, the corporate later rebranded as Adidas in 1949. The model created the primary observe shoe with a full leather-based sole and hand-forged spikes, which was worn by Jessie Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Nike was created by Invoice Bowerman and Phil Knight in 1964 as Blue Ribbon Sports and became Nike Inc. in 1971. This coincided with the running craze that hit America. Nike’s first business design was the Cortez, cushioned for working. The Cortez was worn by Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, securing Nike’s cultural standing.

[Photo: Nike]

The commercialization of cool

Analysis by the sociologist Yuniya Kawamura on sneakers defines three waves of the phenomenon. The primary wave within the Nineteen Seventies was outlined by an underground sneaker tradition and the emergence of hip-hop. Adidas’s Samba design became a key part of Terrace Fashion inside soccer fan subculture. In 1986, Run-DMC launched the music “My Adidas,” resulting in a sponsorship cope with the model. This cast the sneaker’s deep-rooted place in widespread tradition.

The second wave of the phenomenon started in 1984 with the launch of Nike Air Jordans. This gave rise to the commodification of sneakers and their desirability as standing gadgets, fueled by celeb endorsements. For Kawamura, the third wave is marked by the digital age and the ensuing progress in sneaker advertising and marketing and resell tradition.

The worldwide sneaker resale market was valued at $6 billion in 2019 and is forecast to be value $30 billion by 2030.

The rising presence of “sneakerheads” who accumulate and commerce sneakers has ensured that they preserve cult standing. Nike and Adidas routinely launch limited-editions shoes related to a celeb, hip-hop star, or athlete.

It isn’t uncommon for folks to go to excessive lengths to get their palms on these uncommon fashions, queuing through the night. Examples embody Nike Air Yeezy 2 “Red October” and Air Jordan x 1 Off-White “Chicago.” These footwear have a retail worth of $190 to $240 and are reselling for between $1,695 and $6,118. The profitable sneaker resale market has created a new cult of sneaker enthusiasts who by entrepreneurial spirit are producing important hype together with private revenue.

From sport to trend, sneakers dominate the patron market. But regardless of their adoption by the mainstream, sneakers retain their coolness as cultural icons.