The Spellbinding Sneaker Hype Has Finally Cooled


How do products elicit a certain spellbinding magnetism amongst youthful audiences? And how do distinct products or SKUs flux into and out of trend so nonchalantly, with little rhyme nor reason? The existence of trend cycles in the modern world, accelerated and fuelled by the instantaneity of digital marketing, has been something studied by retail analysts recently. And, whilst culturally loaded moments, current affairs, and celebrity pull, are all factors that influence the fashion charts, there is also something seeming undefinable, mythical or magical, about the way things become “trending” or “viral” in our social media saturated society.

The Periodic Growth of Sneakers

Sneakers are a commodity that has been in the hot seat for the last decade, growing in tandem with the rise of streetwear and sports luxe. Over time, views on the rights and wrongs of dressing have become more relaxed, and in general, the world, and the way it presents itself, has become more casual. Seemingly so, the sneaker has been adapted for every occasion. What’s more, the sneaker dominion has expanded, intersecting with music, culture, public personality, and the mood of the time much more substantially than any other veil of trend. In this way the sneaker subculture seems to have its very own historiography, and story to tell. Yuniya Kawamura, who has researched the sociology and subcultural explosion surrounding the sneaker emergence, accredits its blossoming to three temporal stages. She highlights some historical pinpoints that have been definitive in shaping the way we see sneakers. The first is the 1970s Hip Hop culture boom, which affiliated streetwear with a musical genre, a community, and a way of being.  The second she says began with Nike and their Air Jordans which debuted in 1985, and was the first phase of sneakers becoming token, high-status items affiliated with celebrities. Thirdly, she goes on to comment about the rising role of resale and trading bubbling away in our modern day, which only crescendoed within the pandemic environment. 

The Pandemic-Fuelled Sneaker Boom

The ascendency of the casual aesthetic, allied with streetwear, was only maddened by our experience of pandemic lockdowns, whereby laid-back clothing became the norm as activities outside the house were put on pause. As events reopened their doors, and people returned to the formalities of a previous life, this dressing for practicality, ease, and comfort hardly seemed to rewrite itself, and instead held its mark; it seemed as though the pandemic altered people’s perception of dressing, and comfort was now the key. Impractical style or dress codes seemed even more impractical than before, and the flat-footed sneaker, capable of being paired with any such look, was experiencing its heyday. 

Yet, the sneaker market’s success can’t be solely accredited to subdued style seizing a certain moment. The sneaker-head heat has stayed hot and glowing in the present day partly due to the valuable commodity Gen Z communities have moulded from these leather accessories. Sneakers in many respects have grown to become assets that are traded, resold and marketed by young collectors and fashion enthusiasts. In the hushed Covid world, hobbies became something to be soul-searched for, and collecting, upcycling and wardrobe clearing, all rallied keen participants, making such a market stronger and wider than ever. The idleness of the COVID world enticed more players into the game. In this way, like tickets, sneaker buzz was energized by FOMO, coveted releases, and limited editions. The scarcity of certain styles of items, paraded by celebrities through Instagram photo feeds, meant that certain sneakers quite quickly became prized markers of belonging and status. 

Although the second-hand market in many ways can be seen to be stealing the profit that brands such as Nike or Adidas are failing to capitalize on in the first place, the reality is that extreme resale activity perpetuates the hype around these brands’ releases, and keeps their market buoyant and booming in the long run. The shortage of product feeds the cycle in which limited edition pieces are resold on the likes of StockX, Farfetch or Ebay for exorbitant prices. And, whilst the resellers make a wealthy piece, it is the brand name on the tip of everyone’s tongue as they wait expectantly refreshing the page for releases.

The Bursting of The Sneaker Hype Bubble

Sneakers are going nowhere, and their solidity as a staple footwear choice is cemented. However, the crazed sneaker market is unquestionably letting off steam in 2023. In a shifted consumer environment, the allure of big brand names has lessened, whilst the mid-level players, who have a certain niche-ness and the clout of being under the radar are cramping their grip on the saturated market with certain trending styles. The number of brands and styles of sneakers people are willing to wear is diversifying; the public is falling out of love with the original models that once strangled their shopping habits. It could be determined that this effect has come about in sync with an elevated consumer consciousness, whereby shoppers are more educated about the misbehaviours and manipulative marketing of retail giants, and are more inclined to place their money in less obvious pots and brand names. Similarly, in a modern culture that has somehow begun to idolize individuality, uniqueness, and being “out-of-the-box”, shoppers are constantly on the lookout for newness and brewing trends. Thus, in many ways, as the logo mania was snuffed out of the 2010s, the traditional sneaker hype spearheaded by Nike and Adidas appears to be drowning. It would seem that the commonness of Nike Jordans means this style is no longer steeped in the same celebrity spirit of basketball hero Michael Jordan as they once were, and as for Adidas their recent collaboration with the polemic voice of Kanye West has sent them back rethinking their campaign marketing. Instead, in 2022, according to data from StockX, Salomon was the fastest-growing sneaker brand. 

What’s more, as it seems with everything we discuss here at GLITCH, the big old T word is distorting the way we shop. Launches and limited edition drops are now barraged by bots that can reap large amounts of sought-after sneakers, and eventually knock out any humans behind laptop screens from standing. The competitive hobby is now awash with robotic software with which authentic buyers can never compete. In October 2022, Nike tried to limit the dominion of this software, reserving the right to cancel orders placed with automated software deemed purely for the likes of resale. Yet, this is a difficult ground to monitor and regulate, and the brand supposedly tries to limit billions of bots from participating in its app launches. What’s more, Nike recently went to heads with StockX criticizing the authenticity of the resale products they list and alluding to the platform being awash with counterfeits. The contention of verification amongst sellers, buyers, brands, and platforms has only muddied the water further. In a modern world where robotic technology dominates buying and selling, and fraudulent items are nearly undetectable, it seems the sneaker game has become seedy, and the fun sucked dry.

So what next?

According to Euromonitor, and as reported by the Business of Fashion, global sneaker sales spiked in 2021 with a 19.5% growth in sales, before dipping to only a 2.7% increase in sales in 2021. Having said this, the market still amounts to $152.4 billion in sales. But perhaps this relaxing of the sneaker hype isn’t so negative and is just part of the ever so cyclical nature of fashion and trends. The sneaker still has prowess. The smaller brands are now racing to the foreground, whilst the historic players need to address their latest lethargic and unsuccessful campaigns, confront their oversupply of tiresome styles, and get back to the drawing board with some more contemporary designs. What is alsocertain is that whilst the physical sneaker market may be rebalancing itself, the NFT sneaker market is encroaching on a boom. The enthusiasm for digitalized fashion and collectibles offered by the evolving NFT market is arguably a newer and shinier replacement hobby for resellers and collectors who previously did their business in the physical world. Conjointly with the cultural hype, brand community and status signifiers the sneaker world has developed for itself, it all points in the direction of a booming NFT sneaker market. Whilst 2023 may have taken a pin to the bubble for the physical sneaker market, it is blowing smoke into that of the digitized market.


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