“SNEAKERS ON MY MIND. SNEAKERS ON MY FEET.” IT’S NOT ANOTHER CATCHY LINE OF A YOUNG HIP HOP SONG, BUT IT’S A STATEMENT OF A CULTURAL AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT OF OUR GENERATION WHO ENABLES PEOPLE TO DEFINE THEMSELVES THROUGH A PAIR OF SHOE, ACTUALLY, A PAIR OF SNEAKERS.
It’s no a secret that hip-hop has an immense marketing and commercial power — indeed, it’s basically the only music genre that can name-drop a brand and allow it to be prolific and lucrative.
Big companies have finally recognized how easily rappers can affect people behavior and attitude; and for the hip hop stars now it’s no longer uncommon to endorse a brand or to become a spokesperson for a product. Since its initiation, hip-hop and sneakers have gone hand-in-hand, or better said, toe-to-toe.
But why? What statements do these shoes make? What they say about you? Looking back in the past, sneakers have always been a popular type of footwear since the industrial revolution, when rubber was readily available and sneaker production was cheap and efficiently produced by the masses. The first brand to reach a widespread popularity was Converse. Converse revolutionized the definition of sneaker popularity and they are still perceived nowadays as a symbol of American nostalgia. It was the first sneaker with a celebrity endorsement thanks to the basketball player Chuck Taylor in 1935, and later on, Hollywood actors, like James Dean, popularized the brand even more. A new cultural icon was born.
This cultural icon in the late 80’s was linked with the underground hip hop culture. In a time when New York City was bankrupt and all civil amenities and social services were cut out, a new form of music exploded and DJ Kool Herc was the Master of it. All of the most respected MC’s of the time were seen wearing Adidas and the younger audience, emulating them, was doing the same. In these sparkling times a famous Hip-Hop group called RUN DMC, proved their loyalty to Adidas through a song called, obviously, My Adidas.
The response of the public was unanimous: Adidas was not only a brand anymore but it was an expression of the society, an invisible link between generations and different cultural backgrounds, a new multi racial “underground” line that was banding together different part of the City.
After the RUN DMC’s glorious concert at the Madison Garden in 1986 witnessing thousands of fans holding up their Adidas footwear whilst chanting the words, Adidas decided to sponsor the group, boosting so Adidas’s revenues by some $35 million.
The game was on. After RUN DMC, the list of artists who sponsored or created their own sneakers collection has grown on a daily basis. Just to name few of them: British Knights & MC Hammer in the 1990, Reebok & Jay Z in 2003, G-Unit & 50 Cent in the same year, the Pharrell’s line Ice Cream in 2005, Fila & Wu-Tang Clan in 2007, Adidas & Missy Elliott later in the same year, or moreover Fila & Nas in 2008. Today, we recall the Kanye West collection in 2009 with Louis Vuitton and the Yeezy launch in the same year, or the Nicky Minaj & Jeremy Scott Adidas campaign in 2012.
Men’s sneakers have evolved from being purely functional to having a cult-like following where sneakers reign superior. The sub-culture that sneaker fanatics have unknowingly created is a noteworthy explosion in the menswear fashion industry. Each element in a sneaker design can serve a purpose. The lines can stress a word or a phrase, the use of a color can generate emotions, feelings or throwbacks. Shapes must be used to attract attention as the textures to develop visual interest. Nowadays, this relationship between Hip-Hop and shoe brands has sparked a sub-culture, known as the “Sneakerheads.” These collectors, with a real obsession on sneakers, grow up at a time when all sneakers were the same and now that they are so unique they have become an expression of who they are – almost an identity statement.
Text by Nola Granulo