Sneakerheads are some of the original brand influencers. Long before there was such a thing as social media, there were avid Sneakerheads around the world collecting shoes, wearing limited edition sneakers on local basketball courts and an underground sneaker culture most people knew nothing about. With deep respect for the sneaker industry and a rare knowledge of shoes, Sneakerheads are in a class all their own. Here’s a glimpse into the origins of the Sneakerhead, their influence, and the financial impact they have on the billion dollar sneaker industry.

What is a Sneakerhead?

Today, when someone talks about a Sneakerhead, they often picture a young man sitting in a line wrapped around the corner in a portable chair outside of a shoe retailer. This wasn’t always the picture. A Sneakerhead is someone who has made it their hobby to collect and deeply admire sneakers. This group of people highly regard sneakers, their history, and progression. They are highly knowledgable about the shoes, the companies who make them and the people who wear them. This deep knowledge is something that sets them apart from just your average sneaker consumer.

For a Sneakerhead, it isn’t about just wearing the shoes and having the latest and greatest, it’s about a deep respect for their collection and the history associated with different shoes and brands.

When shoe companies started endorsing certain athletes and giving them specific shoes to wear, the Sneakerhead subculture was born. Brands began to give rare shoes to well-known streetball players in the 1970s. With the release of the first Jordan shoe, some of the first Sneakerhead collections came into existence. Collectors began to trade with each other to complete collections and more and more professional athletes were offered shoe deals and endorsements. With each new custom shoe, collections began to increase in value and an underground culture was formed.

You may be picturing teenagers sitting outside of a mall when you think of a Sneakerhead but many of the biggest collectors are actually over the age of 30. They may have started younger but it’s not uncommon to find a Sneakerhead in their 40s and 50s. Their collections run deep with retro shoes that weren’t even thought of yet when teenagers today were born. Some collectors are even passing on their collection and passion for rare shoes onto their children. According to arch-usa.com brands, today are marketing to the wrong demographic when appealing to serious collectors. The bigger collectors aren’t scraping their allowance together to buy the newest pair of Nike Air Jordans. Instead, they are middle-aged, well-established adults looking to add to their pristine collections.

The influencers

In recent years shoe brands expanded beyond professional athletes and started collaborating with celebrities, artists and actors. The limited edition shoes were gaining in popularity and hype with Sneakerhead collectors. Through social media and the internet, collectors can speak with each other about upcoming releases, trades, and shoe value.

With the community now able to communicate with each other freely all across the globe, influential Sneakerheads could make or break a shoe. The more hype, reviews, and buzz they gave, the higher the demand for the shoe became. Collectors could help hype a shoe and brands began to recognize their reach and influence.

When eBay came onto the scene, Sneakerheads were now not only able to add to their collections, they were also able to sell shoes at almost twice their value. A new branch of the Sneakerhead community was born here.

The internet and popularity of limited edition collaboration shoes, has only further strengthened the Sneakerhead community. It’s said for example that a limited edition Nike Air Jordan designed by rapper Eminem is valued at an estimated $20,000. This proves that the scarcer the shoe is, the bigger the hype and demand. In general collaborations such as these are rare. Shoe brands are only running a select number of partnerships at a time between musicians, artists, celebrities and professional athletes. It’s a simple supply and demand problem. The fewer people that have access to the shoe, the more people want them.

Resale and financial implications

Online resale changed the game in the Sneakerhead world. With online chat rooms and sites such as eBay, shoes began to gain popularity on the second-hand market. Shoe prices increased rapidly and resellers who were just looking to make a quick buck entered onto the scene. These shoe flippers weren’t traditional collectors, many just enter the shoe game to grab a limited edition shoe and resell it as quickly as they can.

According to statista.com, in 2018, footwear sales for Nike totaled $22.3 billion in the United States, making them number one in the market. Adidas took the number two spot with $14.6 billion. Reebok is also included in Adidas sales. Asics took the third spot with $2.9 billion in U.S. sales for 2018. Puma and Under Armour rounded out the top five selling brands for the year with $2.5 billion and $1.1 billion respectively.

It’s hard to estimate how many of these shoes were sold to Sneakerhead collectors or resold secondhand but experts estimate they only make up around 5% of sales. While this number is low, it would be interesting to see how many sales were influenced by Sneakerheads through their buzz, social media presence, and a brand’s grassroots marketing efforts. This culture runs deep and their influence can be felt throughout the industry and pop culture.