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Are Sneakerheads Really “Influential”?

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This was a series of tweets yesterday that sparked the question below:

Tweet A: The shoes that are resold are very limited edition shoes. That’s what drives the resale. so resale can have no impact on primary market

Tweet B: Sneaker heads will never understand just how niche their world is…

Tweet A: Resale has virtually no impact on the performance basketball shoe business. Resale is a tiny fraction of the US sneaker market.

Tweet C: The ignorance of the community around this topic is pretty painful.

This simple back and forth was stating that the sneakerhead community is not influential when you look at footwear as a whole. I agreed with this statement. When Tweet C dropped in that the community was ignorant I went into a defense of sneakerheads, but my response and defense of sneakerheads was completely undercut by a “sneakerhead” who came in and claimed that the information they get from a source that only sells one style of shoe was more important than an analysis of all of footwear, basically proved that the sneakerhead community tends to overlook facts and rely only on their own platforms to inform their ideas. I asked this question:

Question: Do sneakerheads have any considerable influence on the footwear market or are they a niche segment with little sway on the market?

Comments
  •  They have zero pull on it. They are like rats next to a bear . They don’t matter
  • What! Sneaker heads keep it Going! I don’t think Jordan’s would still be around if it wasn’t for them. I would say at least 60% of them have never seen him play and I’m being generous they are caught up on the hype of Jordan they don’t know Jordan.
  •  I think when it comes to future releases, yes. Because some shoes will not be released a 3rd time…
  •  Not at all. All they may be able to do is drive the price of certain types of shoes up. Certain Retro Jordans are gonna sell out because of iconography. All that does is make it inconvenient for others. But there are thousands of shoes out there that sell outside of what caters to “sneakerheads.” Kids clown those in Walmart specials. But they sell. New Balances sell. Spalding shoes sell. For the most part, people are going to buy what they can afford. And most folks are not stacking their closets with kicks. And then shoes that aren’t sneakers? Man….They WISH they had some pull.

These few comments helped me to realize that the sneaker community is not ignorant. The people who answered can be considered sneakerheads. The problem is there aren’t any parameters on what a sneakerhead is, which then leaves comments stating that their influence is not very big without an alternative opinion. So I’m going to lay the groundwork and then share insight on stats by sharing a video with you based on my own experience as a microcosm of the macro footwear market.

Who coined the phrase sneakerhead? I can’t find a definitive answer, but Bobbito Garcia was the first to really address the culture in his book Where’d You Get Those. In that book he had this quote: (“We were the first generation, and only one, to enjoy sneaker consumption on our own terms,” Bobbito Garcia declares in his book about sneaker-hunting in the 1970’s and 80’s.”) The term really came into play in the 90s and took off in the 2000’s. What most people have come to think about in regard to sneakerheads is that these people are collectors and pursue limited release models and obscure styles. What I consider a sneakerhead is any person who grew up with a desire to have the coolest pair of kicks. This creates a broad spectrum and places everyone in the realm of a sneakerhead. My description makes it complicated to apply analysis. What it does do however, is expand the reach of sneakerheads which is necessary because I think sneakerheads are more influential than people realize.

How are they influential? General release footwear, shoes bought for function and not style, shoes that parents buy because they can’t afford others for their kids, shoes that are worn in high fashion and shoes that are worn in work situations are all influenced by sneakerheads. The billion dollar sneaker business wouldn’t exist if Hip-Hop hadn’t shifted the style of dress. The trend of sneakers as daily wear started with Chuck Taylor and Nike made it daily wear, but Hip-Hop, where sneakerheads have their foundation, created the current trend of billion dollar footwear companies.

Let’s take the comments above 1 at a time:

“rats next to a bear” I don’t agree. This past year at NYFW the biggest shows all were influenced by streetwear and sneaker culture. That’s not a small accomplishment.

“What? Sneakerheads Keep it Going” Let’s be honest, would the signature basketball market have grown to what it is without sneakerheads? I agree.

“When it comes to future releases, yes” I agree here as well. While a lot of shoes are not influenced by sneakerheads, almost every company has a lifestyle division and they are directly influenced by streetwear and sneakerheads. As a matter of fact, the recent lack of interest by the sneaker community caused Nike to shift the release date of a Black and White Air Jordan 3 Retro. The shoe flopped and was replaced by a shoe that will undoubtedly send sneakerheads to malls at Black Friday, the Dr. Doom Foamposite. While the amount of shoes sold will definitely be small in comparison to the larger market, this is influence.

“Kids clown Wal-Mart, they sell. Spalding sells.” Now this is an interesting quote and it speaks to what the original tweets are addressing. There is an entire market out there that has very little to do with sneakerheads. I agree with this and I actually launched ARCH based on this type of information. However, when you walk into a Wal-Mart or anywhere they have a variety of other brands, those brands are all influenced by the more popular styles created by Nike and adidas. Even the models that are bought by non-sneakerheads are designed based on the more popular sneakerhead styles. Most of those versions are basically knock-offs of the brands “sneakerhead” based styles. Consider that Asics, New Balance, Puma, Fila, have aligned themselves with elements of sneaker culture through collabs. It doesn’t matter how small or limited those collabs are they bring attention to the brand. Now, this can’t be proven, but marketing is what allows a brand to reach its intended market and collabs are marketing.

Outside of those quotes, exists other signs of influence. Here are 5 signs of the influence of sneakerheads:

  1. Every brand has aligned themselves with the “sneakerhead” world through their lifestyle releases.
  2. Brands actually knock off their higher price, limited release shoes for the market that doesn’t even know sneakerheads exist. Consider Nike literally utilizes colorways that were created on shoes that are important in the sneaker culture.
  3. The fashion industry has shifted based on sneaker culture.
  4. Sneakerhead culture is so influential it allowed a blog to IPO. It has also generated investments by venture capitalists. More important, sneaker and footwear culture has allowed bloggers to launch their own brands. See these articles:

Insider Ties: What Is Hypebeast and How Did It Get to an IPO? – Racked

Insider Ties: Verizon And Hearst Team Up to Buy Complex Media | Media – AdAge

Josh Luber: The secret sneaker market — and why it matters | TED Talk | TED.com

Insider Ties: Sneaker Resale App GOAT Announces $5 Million In Funding | Footwear News

 Below is a video analyzing how my sales have been impacted by basketball sales and a discussion on this post.