Killer Kicks

From late-night drops to ironing out creases on the toe vamp of rare Jordans, “sneakerheads,” people who actively participate in sneaker culture, have become prominent consumers and collectors of these retro-style shoes. 

Sneakerheads are in all different places including the TPHS campus.  Ayana Johnson (12) has been into shoes since she was in eighth grade. For her, sneaker culture has deep ties to her own heritage as an African American.

“I think my shoes are definitely a huge part of my identity. Being part of the African American community, I think that we have always had an edgy style and it’s part of being a unique community,” Johnson said.

For others, like Jack Tiernan (12), sneakers are more of a hobby.

“My cousin [first got me into sneaker culture] and I know a lot of people that buy into certain shoes and collect them, so I got into it from that,” Tiernan said. “I don’t take it too seriously or anything.”

If there’s one thing that sneakerheads can agree on, it is that the origins of this popular subculture has attracted fans from all different generations, ages and cultures. With roots in downtown New York,  sneaker culture arose in line with hip-hop through the city’s black youth population.

“I find a lot of my inspiration from black artists, actors, and from influencers.” Johnson said. 

Sneaker culture picked up steam and grew quickly as it was highlighted by many rising artists of the time. Most famously, hip-hop group Run D.M.C. was known for the popularization of Adidas Superstars through their popular hit “My Adidas.” The song opens with the line: “My Adidas walk through concert doors and roam all over coliseum floors.” This song led the group to sign a $1.6 million deal with Adidas, as they endorsed the brand through numerous songs. This deal made history as the first hip-hop group to ever sign with a sportswear brand, which was major for the growing hip-hop culture community. For Adidas, this brand deal had led them into a lifelong affiliation with hip-hop culture. 

“I think for the Black community, [sneaker culture] came from the roots of hip-hop and rap,”  Johnson said.

Not only were sneakers popularized through music, but also through sports. Basketball legend Michael Jordan released the popular shoe, the Jordan 1, with Nike in 1985, during his rookie season in the NBA. The release of this shoe led to a brand deal with Jordan and Nike worth $2.5 million. However, this deal led to a large controversy between Jordan and the NBA. Many believed that Jordan was undeserving of such a big contract with a sportswear brand so early in his career, causing the NBA to ban Jordan from wearing his popular shoe on the courts and charging him $5,000 every time he played in them. This led to the nickname of the popular Jordan 1 in the red and black colorway as “Banned.” Despite the NBA’s efforts to stop Jordan from advertising his shoe, the  Jordan 1 became very popular. Today you can buy them in hundreds of different colorways and they are still wildly popular among the public.

The sneakerhead culture is not just for the younger generations, many adults, like Sociology and World History teacher Jeana Crossland enjoys collecting shoes as well. 

“I have a pair of [Adidas] high tops that are white and turquoise that are my favorite,” Crossland said.

“My most expensive sneakers — I’ve probably only worn them twice — are my Travis [Scott] Fragments. Those go for about $1200 right now, but I got them for retail,” Tiernan said.

While sneaker culture is often boiled down to shoes looking “cool,” it is the connection to nostalgia that keeps sneakerheads coming back for more.

Crossland is known for her unique shoes — a trait that stems back to her childhood.

“I started playing basketball when I was in second or third grade. Even then I always wanted to have different shoes than everyone else, even when I was little,” Crossland said. “I remember the first time I got to customize [my own] Nike ID shoes on the website. It was the coolest thing ever.”

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