10 Facts on the Growing Sneaker Trend that You Should Know (2021)

With so many new sneaker releases dropping left and right it’s hard to keep track. Here are a few tips, trends, and terminology to help keep your head straight in the growing sneaker trend.

Apr 26, 2021By Adrienne Howell, BA Integrated Studio Arts & BS Apparel Design
sneakers
Collage of recent popular sneaker releases including The Nike SB Dunk Low Pro Ben & Jerry’s, The New Balance 57/40, and The Air Jordan I x J Balvin

 

The way sneakers are sold, produced, and marketed has changed drastically. There are many things to consider when exploring sneakers, from what materials make a quality sneaker to knowing how to navigate the sneaker brands and resell market. In this article, we will be looking at different aspects of sneaker culture including marketplace trends and facts about hyped-up releases. Here are ten facts to get you started on the growing sneaker trend.  

 

Sneaker Entrepreneurs and Sneaker Trends: Resellers and Reselling  

air jordan
Image of the Air Jordan 1 High ’85 Neutral Grey set against rising/lowering price points, via Nike website

 

The growing demand for sneakers has revealed a larger amount of resellers in the second-hand market. Today’s resellers are professional individuals that resell new or second-hand items. Sneakers in particular can sell upwards of double, triple, or even more than quadruple the original retail price. What used to be a one-to-one in-person exchange has transformed into a billion-dollar industry. Resellers can operate in-person, but online reselling sites are increasing. Popular reselling sites for sneakers include Stockx, GOAT, Stadium Goods, Flight Club, or SneakerCon. Hyped sneakers can sell out incredibly fast and are already worth more than the retail price before they even drop on-site. Above is a recent release of the Air Jordan 1 High ’85 Neutral Grey. It is already more than double the retail price on Stockx. 

 

Sneakers are an optimal investment because it is a tangible product that any person can invest in. Unlike stocks and bonds, sneakers are an accessible product that individuals can feel and touch. Not everyone is taught how to invest in the stock market or learns traditional trading methods. A sneakerhead’s collection can be worth upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Investing in collecting sneakers can be an option for those looking for less traditional jobs. 

 

Fakes and Authenticity: What You Should Look Out For

gucci womens ace
Image of an authentic Gucci Women’s Ace sneaker with bee, via Gucci website

 

There is a flipside to the reseller market which is the counterfeit market. A major issue for both resellers and buyers is making sure that they are purchasing authentic sneakers. It can be daunting for buyers to question whether the picture they are viewing online will match the actual product they are sent. Here are a few things you can check for yourself for authenticity. 

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The inside of the shoe can be a big help. There should be a size number, country of manufacture, and the SKU. These can be located on either the tongue, tag, or insole of the sneaker. The SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) number should be identical on both the original box and label. If there is a serial number, the last four digits should be different, not the same on the left and right shoe. 

 

The quality of materials is another give-away from a fake versus a real edition. For higher-end sneaker brands especially there should be less stitching per inch. This means that the length of the stitching should look smaller, and not super long. If the stitching is puckered, loose, or broken then that means there are quality issues. Below we’ll look at the Gucci Women’s Ace sneaker with a bee as an example of what to look out for in authentic sneakers.  

 

gucci bee fake
Detailed images of the Gucci bee, “Gucci Made in Italy”, and Gucci Knight symbol, via Gucci website

 

On the sole of the shoe, there should be a distinct pattern (Gucci’s is a wave). The “Gucci Made in Italy” along with the Gucci Knight symbol is also present. A fake would either have blank spaces or would not be embossed like it is pictured above. The gold stitching on the bee should be filled with no gaps or snags. The quality of leather, suede, and rubber is also a tell-all if a sneaker was made using inferior materials compared to its original. The leather and snakeskin featured here are genuine and there should not be excess glue stains or a glue smell. You can always look online at the official retail site’s photographs to compare as well. The littlest details matter to determine if it is real versus fake.    

 

The Hype and Limited Edition Releases

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Images of hyped-up releases of the Nike Air Jordan 1 High OG Dior sneaker, via Nike website; with Reebok JJJJound Classic Nylon Shoe, via Reebok website

 

Depending on how hyped-up an upcoming release is, the demand for a sneaker can be highly competitive. Items sell out in minutes online and there can be lines outside the door in physical retail stores. If you can snag a hyped-up release, then it can be profitable to sell it for more than what was originally paid. The Dior x Air Jordan collaboration sold only 8,500 high-tops for $2,000. On Stockx it is currently being bid for over $10,000 depending on shoe size. Purchasing the sneaker traditionally through retail can be near impossible at times. Not only are customers purchasing, but bots can purchase multiple pairs within seconds online. Most releases in-store include raffle systems and specific times/places you need to be at. The demand seen online through social media is usually far greater than the actual physical supply available.

 

Previously hype came from streetwear enthusiasts who knew what was cool before anyone else. Currently, social media is a driving force in what is seen as hype-worthy. There’s debate on if this is hurting or helping, but it has changed the way sneaker trends work – how sneakers are marketed, sold, and made accessible in the marketplace. With social media, consumers and resellers can tell which sneakers are gaining the most traction and hype. The more anticipated launch tells resellers which sneakers are worth snagging in order to sell for a higher price. However, sometimes sneakers that were previously released can suddenly gain hype due to what influencers or sneakerheads are wearing gaining traction online. You never truly know what will be the next big hit in the sneaker trend game until it sells out.      

 

Going Retro

sneaker retro style
Images of retro-inspired sneakers including the Adidas Originals SL 72 model, via Adidas website; with the New Balance 574 women’s sneaker in Varsity Gold with Light Burgundy, via New Balance website

 

 

Certain sneakers will always resell at high price points including Air Jordan 1’s or a pair of Yeezys. But one thing that will always be true in fashion is that trends always come back in style. A good example of this is FILA’s Disruptor sneakers. They were everywhere in 2019/20 and became popular for millennial women because the 80/90’s nostalgia was in fashion. “Retro” in sneaker terms means sneakers that were previously released are now being re-released. Recreating or re-releasing sneaker trends from previous decades can add a lot of hype for a brand. You may not have been around when the OG Nike Air Jordan 1’s dropped. However, they are re-releasing similar or exact styles of this shoe to new consumers today.   

 

Going into 2021 a lot of upcoming sneaker releases have retro-inspired styles and colors seen from previous decades. Nike Dunk Lows are making a comeback in bold primary colors with an anticipated Supreme collaboration coming out this year. Sneaker brands like Adidas and New Balance have new styles inspired by 1970’s runner shoes (seen above). Bright colors and color blocking are also trending which was seen in previous decades like the late ‘80s and early ’90s. Nostalgia has been a big marketing strategy in other industries. The idea of a new generation of shoppers participating in buying items that are reminiscent of previous decades is a big draw. It can be worth it to hold onto a pair of sneakers. They have a good chance of becoming popular once again in ten years. 

 

Essential Materials: What Makes a Good Sneaker?

chanel nike sneaker
Images of sneakers with textures including a Chanel sneaker in Suede Calfskin, via Chanel website; with Nylon in Sky Blue and the Nike x COMME des GARÇONS Air Force 1 Mid., via Nike website

 

Sneakers have come a long way from vulcanized rubber and canvas fabrics. There is a wide variety of different materials designers can choose from. The main materials used when making sneakers include leathers, textiles, synthetics, and foam. Textiles range from cotton to polyester while synthetics include plastics like Polyurethane. These factor into how comfortable and long-lasting a sneaker can potentially be. Using materials like foams, gels, or pressurized air can help design sneakers that are extremely comfortable to wear. Depending on what type of sneaker is being created depends on what type of material is used. Luxury brands typically use high-grade leathers and expert craftsmanship. The Chanel sneaker (seen above) uses calf hair and nylon creating a sneaker soft to the touch. 

 

Sneaker trends and designs are growing bolder and more experimental with the types of materials being used. The purpose is to create not only a functional sneaker but a decorative one. A lot of sneakers like the Nike x COMME des GARÇONS seen above are experimenting with a textured/distressed look. The deconstructed sneaker trend is a popular, growing trend going from 2020 into 2021. Bolder sneaker designs made with mesh, Swarovski crystals, denim, or fur have entered the market. Going forward sneakers are only going to continue expanding into new territories of materials.    

 

Sustainability Movement

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Images of sneakers promoting sustainability including the Converse Renew Initiative, via Nike website; with Wotherspoon X Adidas Originals’ SUPEREARTH, via Adidas website

 

The sustainable fashion market is growing and sneakers are contributing to this as well. Consumers want to buy products that reflect their personal beliefs. They want to know that brands care about the impact they have on the environment. Push from the public for more sustainable production methods and ethical working conditions is leading to changes in the fashion industry. Large brands like Adidas, New Balance, or Nike have implemented sustainability programs focusing on reducing waste in production and working with local environmental groups. Brands like Good News, SAYE, and MELAWEAR are changing the way companies can be both sustainable, yet still sell quality footwear. They focus on creating products made from ethically sourced or recycled materials as part of their brand. 

 

The advancement in environmental technology has also made it possible to expand the materials used in shoe design. Sneakers can be made out of recycled knits, plastics, plastic bottles, and other materials. Traditional textiles also play a part such as cotton, canvas, hemp, or corduroy. Vegan leather or recycled rubber are also used to create sustainable sneakers. Certain certificates such as the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) can assure consumers that they are purchasing verified products made from organic or sustainable materials. These practices are important because these technologies can be used/applied to other textile industries as well.  

 

Sneaker Lingo

sneaker lingo speak
Photograph of the Fila Women’s Disruptor 2 x Ray Tracer along with popular sneaker terminology, via Fila website

 

If you have a friend or family member that is obsessed with sneakers it can be easy to feel out of the loop. Here are a few basic terms that you should know in order to keep up with the sneakerheads in your life.

 

When it comes to describing sneakers you’ll see the words highs, lows, or mids. These describe at what points above or below you lace the sneaker (mids mean in-between). Colorways is used to describe the different colors used in a sneaker design. When describing sneakers you will use either the words Beaters or Kicks. Kicks is another term for shoes, but Beaters are shoes that are always worn no matter how beat up they may look. When people are describing upcoming releases you will hear terms such as Hyperstrick, OGs, Grails, G.O.A.T., GR, and Deadstock. Hyperstrikes are exclusive pairs typically given only to friends/family of the designers or collaborators. OG’s are an original release and the first time a sneaker was released in a style/colorway (this includes retro and re-releases). 

 

Grails are holy grail sneakers and are highly collectible while G.O.A.T. is the greatest of all time. GR is a general release that is easy/accessible to find. Deadstock is referenced as a shoe that is never worn and stays in its box. Finally, a Hypebeast is a person who knows what is popular or new when it comes to streetwear. Hypebae is the female equivalent of Hypebeast and they know all the newest trends in fashion/beauty.   

 

Hopefully, these terms can help bridge the gap between casual shoe shoppers and sneaker lovers.

 

New and Original Sneaker Brands to Check Out 

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Images of underrated sneaker brands including Saucony Triumph 18, via Saucony website; with Veja Campo White Guimauve Marsala, via Veja website

 

Throughout this article, you have seen a repeated mention of specific brands like Nike, Adidas, Gucci, and others. These brands have been around for decades and are still highly popular amongst sneaker lovers. Now, let’s look at some other sneaker trends and brands that you either have forgotten or not heard about.

 

Both Saucony and Onitsuka Tiger are sneaker brands that have been around as long as other notable brands. Saucony has been around since 1898 and primarily focuses on running/outdoor sneakers. They are a brand that blends an active lifestyle while working with communities focusing on diversity and sustainability. Onitsuka Tiger has been around since 1949 and was originally created in Japan. They began making running shoes, but have transformed into modern shoes that can be worn with athleisure and everyday wear. You may recognize their yellow, black striped Mexico 66 shoe seen in Kill Bill worn by Uma Thruman.     

 

Newer sneaker brands are catering to today’s consumers who want to shop ethically for high-quality products that are sustainable/environmentally friendly. Good News is a London-based company that uses recycled and organic materials to craft their sneakers. Their branding takes vintage-inspired colorways with contemporary designs. ARKK Copenhagen is a sneaker company that prides itself on comfortable shoes with modern Nordic designs. They create sneakers not just for sport, but for everyday life. Both AllBirds and Veja are sustainable brands that use recyclable materials and ethical production practices. They use materials like wool or recycled plastic bottles, and this focus on sustainability helps separate them from the rest of the market. 

 

What Does “Collaborations” Actually Mean?

ben and jerrys golf le fleur
Images of sneakers that were a part of a collaboration including the Nike SB Dunk Low Pro Ben & Jerry’s and the Converse x GOLF le FLEUR* Gianno Suede, via Nike website

 

You will hear the word “collaboration” thrown around a lot when it comes to sneaker releases. Traditionally, sneaker collaborations started with athletes adding their names to a sneaker brand (Jordan x Nike or Clyde x Puma). Later it transitioned to musicians or celebrities recreating a unique spin on an existing shoe. On the left is Converse x Tyler the Creator with the GOLF le FLEUR* collection. This shoe does not look like a typical Converse shoe. This collaboration allowed the brand to not only bring new designs to the market but a wider consumer base. These collaborations have a great effect on the sneaker retail and reselling markets. Seen above was Nike’s collaboration with Ben & Jerry’s. This was one of the most hyped-up releases from 2020. It was seen as a highly collectible item, but also seen as being created just for the hype. 

 

Brand collaborations can have mixed results. Similar to the way people groan over the latest TV reboot/remakes, the same can be said for certain sneaker collaborations. Consumers want to see new designs or colorways they have not seen before. The challenges of collaborations lie in bringing something new to the table and not reiterating the same things over and over again.   

 

The Future of Sneaker Trends: The New Modern Art

sneaker museum
Image of a sneaker that was a part of the Adidas Campus 80s MakerLab, via Adidas website

 

The sneaker trend is showing no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Sneakers are becoming as coveted as artwork these days. So, when will sneakers be displayed in galleries and museums? Well, there is already the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Ontario. They recently had a traveling exhibition titled The Rise of Sneaker Culture in partnership with the American Federation of Arts. It was the first exhibition to explore how sneakers can impact our society. Another recent exhibition was the Phillips Auction House’s  tongue + chic collection. It featured rare and unique sneakers that blended aspects of art and streetwear. A lot of the largest and most expensive sneaker collections are held by individuals. On social media, sneakerheads, entrepreneurs, and influencers can showcase their most coveted sneakers to the public. 

 

Sneakers and art go hand-in-hand. Artists are currently using sneakers to express social issues. Artist Clarissa Tossi used her piece titled Ladrão de Tênis (Sneaker Thief) as a way to showcase the troubling effects of sneaker culture on youth. Brazil made headlines over people killing each other because of sneakers. Her works showcase the effects sneakers have on capitalism and class.

 

In this article, we’ve discussed the commercial aspect of sneakers, and this has a large effect on status in our culture. It is important to remember that behind all of the hype there are effects of buying into sneaker culture. People’s lives have been transformed because of sneakers and most likely will continue to be impacted by the raging sneaker markets and new sneaker trends. 

 



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By Adrienne HowellBA Integrated Studio Arts & BS Apparel DesignAdrienne currently works as a photographer and visual artist in the Midwest. She earned degrees from Iowa State University with a BA in Integrated studio arts, focusing on drawing & painting, and a BS in Apparel Design with an emphasis on fashion and textiles.