Under the Cloth
The Evolution of Sneakers
How sneakers became more than just a running shoe!
Today, sneakers are at the forefront of the fashion world. Initially created for sport performance, they have evolved into something much more over time and have formulated a whole new movement in its entirety. Sneakers in the current era are not only a statement piece to an outfit but arguably have the craziest following of all types of clothing.
What was mainly perceived as a fashion accessory, has now transcended into for what a lot people would call the most important part of your outfit, with some kicks out there that cost more than your daddies Rolex, and you know what, it’s totally justified. My fellow ‘Sneakerheads’ will back me on that one; it’s all about the shoes, everything else is just added flair!
Nick Jonas in Adidas Superstar and Bella Hadid in Christian Dior "Dad" B22
The concept of sneakers began in the mean and gritty streets of the East End of London. Yes that’s right, London Town repping out here! Although, it is argued that it was born in the US, However, I’m gonna stick to the story that it can from my city, because, well…it makes me feel better.
Way back in the 1830s, a company called Liverpool Rubber Company (owned by John Boyd Dunlop of you guessed it Dunlop Tires), created the original sport sneaker by introducing pre vulcanised rubber on to a canvas body – what we know today as Plimsolls, named after the plimsoll line around a ship’s hull. This method was then engineered and improved upon by Charles Goodyear (Goodyear Tires and Rubber, you’ve probably seen their Blimps flying around a sky near you). He was an American manufacturing engineer and self taught chemist who patented vulcanised rubber in 1844. Vulcanisation meant the rubber was mouldable, pliable and waterproof, that's a serious Gamechanger! Industrial workers were the first to rock them, not out of choice however, it was standard protocol and by the 1890s, they had branched to most factory and warehouse workers.
Modernised Keds still hold their distinct look
Fun Fact: The term ‘sneakers’ actually derived from the general opinion that before rubber soles were introduced to footwear, the base of the shoe was quite sturdy and firm and therefore made a shit load of noise when you walked in them - think of how clogs sound! Migraine alert! But when our founding sneaker fathers found a way to combine rubber onto canvas, this problem was eliminated and you could walk around without making people want to pop cotton wool in their ears, making it more likely to ‘sneak’ around…weird flex but fuck it, we call them trainers in the UK anyway.
The Roaring 20s:
By the 1920s, Keds were trending all over the US; the standout white plimsolls are considered to be the first widely produced sneaker and was the ideal shoe for sports and gym. Shortly after Keds, the world was exposed to an all time classic. The Converse All Star! To all my ballers out there, this is the shoe that started off the whole game, so big shout out to Converse. Not only were they the first shoe to be created for the game of basketball but they were also the first company to introduce brand ambassadors with players. Chuck Taylor was the first, a semi pro basketball player and salesman, who’s influence defined how sneaker marketing collaborations would take place in the future. He wore them across the US, in school gyms and at large arenas, which lead to the shoe soon finding its way amongst the high-end athletes and in the inner city street courts amongst ball fans. With the premise that anyone could become an athlete, all they needed was the shoes.
Converse Allstar Chuck Taylor 1930s Edition
The Converse Chuck Taylor collab has sold over 600 million pairs, and the best part is that the design has remained almost unchanged throughout the years.
Nike and Adidas Rivalry Begins
The 60s and 70s brought forward 2 very big brands that we know today. Adidas were very much in existence by this time but they really hit the nail on its head when they created the Adidas Stan Smith. Crafted ultimately for tennis but are "probably seen on everyone for anything but tennis" in the modern day – as Stan Smith himself has been famously quoted on.
Stan Smith at Wimbledon in Stan Smith Adidas
Bella & Gigi Hadid in Adidas Stan Smith ready to hit the city
Adidas Brand Ambassador Kanye West in Adidas Stan Smith
This decade also brought forward the worlds most iconic sport brand Nike (formerly Blue Ribbon Sports until 1971). Nike designer Bill Bowerman also made a breakthrough in 1964 for the first Nike trainers finding inspiration off the grooves from his wife’s waffle iron. Imagine thinking of this stuff while eating breakfast.....that is just legendary behaviour, my old man did always say it's the mornings when you get your best ideas, I guess you were right Pops!
Nike Co-Founder and designer Bill Bowerman, The original Waffle Iron used to design the first Nike Shoe that can be found in Nike HQ in Beaverton, Oregon, The Nike Moon Shoe 1972 which sold for $437,500 on July 23rd 2019 at Sotheby's New York Auction
Kevin Hart in Nike Cortez Kenny 2 on his "Irresponsible Comedy Tour"
This era birthed the beginning of a rivalry in sportswear and has gone from strength to strength over the last 6 decades. Both Nike and Adidas are both household names worldwide, with the likes of Jordan, CR7 and Federer on Team Nike whilst Adidas have secured Beckham, Messi and Pharell Williams on Team Adidas just to name a few.
Hollywood and Hip Hop
As time progressed sneakers became more popular and more relationships were formed, they eventually broke into Hollywood and amongst celebrities especially in the 80s. We saw appearances of the Nike Cortez in Forest Gump and the self-lacing Nike Mags in Back to the Future Part 2 which have been recreated in 2016.
Now appearing in movies, music videos and other forms of broadcasting although still mainly used as a tool for sportswear, we could see that the perception was slowly changing. Hip-hop icons helped pushed this idea forward. The legendary Run DMC managed to pattern an Adidas sponsorship after they released the song “My Adidas”. Hip hop may not have been in the mainstream at that point in time due to its roots of gang violence and street behaviour, and in addition, it did not help that the rap group wore the kicks without laces. It may have looked cool but the media propagated that it promoted prison culture as inmates had lace-less shoes so that they could use the laces as weapons…Yikes!
But forget about all that noise......these boys had that drip! The original trendsetters of rap fashion that created a movement that would soon define preference and style for the average consumer in years to come.
Run DMC "My Adidas" Fan Music Video
NBA, Jordan and Sneakerhead Craze
The biggest contributor to the kick game has to be undoubtedly MJ and the Jordan takeoff. Jordan came out with the Air Jordan 1 “Banned Breds” in 1985, which got its name as the NBA fined Jordan $5,000 every time he wore the shoe on the court, as it broke regulation of having coloured sneakers in the league. Although, Nike paid this in full, and rightly so as the AJ1 is now the cornerstone in what sneakers are today. Arguably the most popular and adored out of all sneakers ever made. With his game elevating every year, winning championships and looking cool as fuck doing it, having his face in all media outlets, the shoes caught the eye of all types fans and before you knew it, the materialization of signature shoes had grown rapidly. Combining this with hip hop music, sneakers found their way to become collectors items and the ultimate sign of street cred and urban style, and thus the sneakerhead culture was born.
Jordan now has an estimated worth $2 billion, the crazy thing is the majority of his money came after he retired from the game from you guessed it, his shoe brand. Not bad MJ, not bad at all!
Michael Jordan in Air Jordan 1 "Banned" 1984
Before you knew it, you had designer brands all jumping on the band wagon, although Gucci released their first sneaker in 1984, and we all can probabaly guess which design it was, it only really took off in the high end fashion ecosphere when Prada launched their luxury sport collection in 1997. Shifting the notion that sports apparel can be fashionable and worn to events that you probably would have got brushed for in every Vogue magazine. Soon all designers launched their own sneakers, and if you think about it; these days’ High-end designers produce more sneakers than formal shoes.
Louis Vutton Punchy Sneaker Boot Red/Gold
Chanel CC Logo Running Trainers
Changes in Perception
Our world has changed drastically from the way we once viewed issues to the way we now live our lives. Topics such as health, fitness and nutrition are becoming ever more important than they were 30 years ago. Political views are evolving and the fight for equality for all races, genders, non-genders, sexual preferences etc. are promoted more in modern society and hold more weight. We now live in a world of plant based diets, an improved and stronger fight for feminism and postive encouragement of diverse beliefs and principles. With the world changing so much, there's has been an amazing impact on the sneaker market as it has allowed people to be more expressive and creative.
Sneakers have given consumers a new way to expand on their individuality; most sneakers are unisex, bearing no 'labels' and therefore have been embraced widely amongst many diverse communities. Their popularity has just blossomed and now you can wear sneakers pretty much anywhere. On the commute to work, women swap their heels from Vans, in the office – men rather rock Nikes than loafers, in clubs – "No shoes, no entry" has become a thing of the past! Weddings, forget about it! Get your McQueens on or some Louboutin's Sneaks and you’ll be the hit of the night.
@queyoun in Nike Blazer Mid Vintage Multi Suede Noble Red/ Kinetic Green/ Jade Aura
@craigbjacobs in New Balance 997
@ladylondon in Jordan 3 'Retro Sport Blue'
Nowadays, sneakers are worn for just about everything. We prefer to be comfortable and unique than conform to the ‘rules’. They have evolved from and sporting instrument to now a fashion statement and I for one approve!
Words by Ali Walji
Instagram - aliwalji17