I wear shoes until they fall apart.
I don’t give up on each pair until there are visible rips all around, making them unwearable. When I mention this behavior, many people aren’t afraid to voice their opinions on how they find it odd. But I believe that shoes are meant to be worn rather than left on shelves in pristine condition to collect dust. I’ve begun to despise the new norm of sneaker culture for two reasons: It makes me feel like an outcast online and in real life for not having numerous pairs of barely worn shoes, and it promotes overconsumption. Both these issues are prevalent in the content that people make showing off their mountains of sneakers, including the cardboard boxes they came in, as if it is an achievement to own a ridiculous amount of shoes.
Watching the different ways each person styles their shoes has always intrigued me — so much can be found out about one’s personality through the way they style themselves, especially when it comes to shoes. People can tell that I wear my white Air Force 1s every single day because of their ragged state. However, it is completely up to them to infer whether the shoes got that way because of the comfort they provide me or the fact that the neutral white color matches most things. With sneaker culture in mind, I enjoy speculating on a person’s shoe habits — regardless of our various choices, we all bring out a piece of ourselves in the shoes we wear.
Sneaker culture is said to have originated in New York, around the 1970s. It emerged around the same time streetwear became popular, expanding the influence of Black culture on fashion. Sports popularized sneakers at first: Basketball players were seen modeling streetwear, including sneakers, opening the door for the sneaker industry that now amasses approximately $72.7 billion. The first commercial crossover between sneakers and sports occurred when basketball player Chuck Taylor promoted Converse sneakers in the 1920s, later collaborating with the company for the creation of the Chuck Taylor All-Star. In 1984, NBA basketball player Michael Jordan partnered with Nike to create the Air Jordan 1, one of the most successful and beloved basketball sneakers. Many sneakerheads entered the community by buying a pair of Nike shoes — specifically the cult favorite Nike SB Dunks. Eventually, most end up anticipating exclusive Air Jordan 1 online drops from Nike to add to their collection.
The early days of the sneaker community revolved around sharing each other’s love and passion for different styles of shoes. While the Air Jordan 1s are usually meant for basketball, many have taken them in a different direction by wearing the shoes for fashion purposes, or wearing them daily for the comfort they provide. Many sneakerheads post outfit inspirations based on shoes they love, rate different shoes on YouTube and research anticipated shoe drops of the year. The creativity in the community blows my mind; I find the different ways people involve and appreciate shoes in their online and offline lives extremely fascinating. The self-expression appreciated in the culture opened doors for many people, who previously had no involvement in the fashion industry, to experiment with and share their style.
However, today’s sneaker culture is nothing like how it used to be.
Enter resellers. Resellers transformed the thoughtful community of sneakerheads, where people could express their most creative selves through the shoes they acquired, into a toxic one focused only on the quantity of shoes one owns. Resellers in the sneaker industry have made it difficult for sneakerheads — or anyone looking to get a cool pair of shoes — to purchase sneakers in at the original market price. When new shoes are scheduled to drop in the market, consumers place the date on the calendar and try their best to get the pair they want in their cart before the resellers use their bots to empty all the newly-dropped stock.
Many resellers use automated computer scripts, or bots, to purchase hundreds of limited shoes before the average human is able to complete their own personal purchase. The goal resellers share is to profit as much as possible from reselling shoes that are in demand — while people may complain or attempt to put a stop to these resellers’ tactics, most efforts fail due to the control resellers have on the market. Possessing multiple exclusive shoes allows them to control the price, leading to an exponential increase in the prices of shoes that were once affordable.
Nike has attempted to put a stop to many of the bots resellers use through various efforts. By updating its Terms of Sale — which gives them the right to “cancel orders, charge restocking fees, limit purchase quantities and deny access of Nike products to any customer … with the intent to resell” — Nike has held its ground, hoping to bring in a sense of fairness in the community. With the creation of the SNKRS app, Nike hoped to combat automated bots by creating a safe space for sneakerheads to resell their shoes and buy shoes from others. Though the app initially was made with sneakerheads’ feelings put first, it wound up as another disappointment to the community. Many shoe-lovers complained that the bots ran the app, and it was more probable that they would “win the lottery” than be able to buy the exclusive shoes during drops.”
This brings me back to my main frustration: People are discouraged from wearing their shoes as much as they used to due to fear of wasting their money by ruining their perfect pair of shoes. People also lose their previous spark and interest in sneaker culture because they don’t have enough money to participate in what the community is buying and showing off. While I am fascinated with all the new shoes and collaborative designs many artists and designers drop on the market, I find myself appreciating them from far away rather than dipping my toes into the competitive exclusive market of shoes. Like many others, I have missed out on many opportunities to purchase a dazzling new pair of shoes due to the state of the market.
Similar to resellers, hypebeasts produced an uncomfortable environment in the sneaker community due to their excessive nature. Defined as people who are “devoted to acquiring fashionable items, especially clothing and shoes,” they keep up with (and drive) many of the fashion and shoe trends we see every day. However, most trends are short-lived, meaning that hypebeasts have to over-consume by purchasing every new item that is trending on the market. Their over-consumption creates a huge problem in the authenticity of sneaker culture and negatively impacts the environment. Sneaker culture has always been about authentic self-expression for people interested in fashion, not the materialism that hypebeasts carry into the community. Their addiction to always owning the “cool” thing promotes nothing more than instant gratification and insecurity to younger sneaker lovers who are unable to attain the rich lifestyle most hypebeasts live.
I know that I am not “cool” for wearing shoes until they are run-down, but I am happy to know that I can use a product for its intended use. It is not cool to harm the environment, it is not cool to steal opportunities from people to purchase the shoes they want, it is not cool to overprice shoes and it is not cool to not wear your shoes. Shoes are made for us to wear — it is a shame that so many people are influenced by the toxic and materialistic fashion culture on many social media platforms. Like many others, I am lucky to have found pairs of shoes that have stuck with me for years.
While one can argue that items only hold materialistic values, I believe that an item you love and make use of is worth everything. Being mindful of what we choose to put on our bodies and show off digitally helps define who we are deep down. So please, wear your shoes, appreciate them, love them and allow yourself to feel them become a part of you.
I will love my dirty white Air Force 1s until they are disintegrated and I will never let anyone convince me otherwise.
Daily Arts Writer Lynn Sabieddine can be reached at [email protected].