Sneaker Culture: More Than Just Shoes

Anusha Vadlamani | Staff Writer

Until the 1980s, the prospect of sneaker culture and collecting sneakers was an idea that had never really taken off. It wasn’t until the momentous release of Michael Jordan’s line of basketball shoes in 1985 and the thriving of the hip-hop industry, that the obsession with sneakers truly started to bloom.

The sneaker enthusiasts that emerged, commonly referred to as ‘sneakerheads,’ are able to see beyond just the rubber and leather of shoes. To them, sneakers are a culture worth following. For Junior Logan Aquilia, buying his first pair of shoes took a lot of time and dedication that he had to be willing to put forth.

“The summer of my freshman year, when I was first started working at Kroger, I put in over 40 weeks to buy my first pair of Ultra Boosts,” Aquilia said. “Ever since then, the feeling of new shoes has stuck with me and that’s why I keep collecting; it’s great.”

While sneakerheads like Aquilia are relatively new to collecting sneakers, for senior Sidney Bohanon, collecting sneakers has always been a family tradition.

“I believe that I have about 80 to 90 pairs of shoes right now,” Bohanon said. “When I was younger, my uncle used to collect sneakers for my sister and I. We’ve sat in line for 12 hours in Chicago outside of the Jordan store. We’ve camped out in lines before; my sister lives in Chicago so I’m always traveling back and forth here and there.”

In today’s world, it’s not uncommon for celebrities to have a signature style of sneaker that they wear, including Wiz Khalifa who shows off Chuck Taylors by Converse; Kendrick Lamar who always wears the Ventilator line of Puma shoes when performing; and Kanye West, who sports his own collaboration with Adidas, the Adidas Yeezy Boosts.

Junior Adarsh Ponaka, who has been collecting shoes since his sophomore year, said that these collaborations, among other things, are what make some shoes more valuable than others.

“To make a shoe truly limited, it’s all about the color, collaborations, the number of stock that will be released and whether or not they have endorsements behind them,” Ponaka said. “For example, there’s this basketball player, Paul George and he collaborated with PlayStation and made a shoe, and it’s like ‘PlayStation? That’s not a shoe company.’ That kind of shoe’s super limited now.”

While newer collaborations are paving the way for future sneaker trends, Aquilia believes that his greatest find, a pair of retro Michael Jordan basketball shoes, are true classics.

“One time I went to a thrift store and I found these pretty-good condition Jordans for an insanely low price,” Aquilia said. “It was crazy because some Jordans have better leather quality than others and these were great. I also look for durability; I don’t want my shoes to just fall apart on me and these won’t.”

While collecting shoes has always been a part of the game for sneakerheads, selling shoes have become a recent development. Ponaka first started selling his shoes during his sophomore year, on apps such as Grailed and StockX.

“I bought my first pair of shoes and could have sold them as ‘used’ and still made 50 or 60 dollars off of them,” Ponaka said. “I was like ‘this is kind of cool.’ I think I first used my parent’s credit card and then I made a quite a bit of money, and then I started on my own. On these apps, I’m a verified shoe seller, and you kind of have to build something like that up.”

Even though selling shoes has been an added bonus, Ponaka still goes to great lengths to buy a pair of shoes that he wants for his collection.

“A good shoe isn’t necessarily just about the price,” Ponaka said. “It’s about collaborations and shoes that are in style. There are release calendars for when the shoes come out; on Twitter, companies tweet when their stuff will be released. One time last year, I stayed up till three o’clock in the morning because of California timings. Most shoes drop at 10 a.m., so I’ll be in school buying shoes.”

While owning a certain pair of sneakers may enhance outfits, ultimately Bohanon, like many other sneakerheads, believes that sneakers are meant to be an outlet that allows people to truly express themselves, regardless of their personalities.

“Collecting sneakers is something I love; I love fashion so I’m definitely going to keep up with this in years to come,” Bohanon said. “I think a lot of people see collecting sneakers as ‘why would you do that?’ There’s a different way for everyone to express themselves. I don’t always wear all the sneakers that I collect but having them with you just gives you a different way to express yourself. Sneakers change the way that people present themselves and the way they behave.”

Photos by Tanner Pearson.