How have African Americans shaped the sneaker culture?

How the sneaker became the Germans' favorite treadmill

Fashion designer Dustin Le Marque casually wears the sneaker of his choice with jeans. Black high-tops by Rick Owens made of superfine leather with a long flap.

The brand is a heavyweight among sneaker fans, Rick Owens kicks can easily cost hundreds of euros. “When I go to the Paris Fashion Show, I put them on. It makes it easier for me to go there. The shoes are a bit like armor, ”says the 22-year-old master student of the Lette Association.

He feels positive vibes when he's wearing his favorite shoes. And yet, above all, sneaker wearers need their own self-confidence if they want to be really cool: “Of course, the shoe shouldn't wear me, but I should wear the shoe,” says the young man in the gray hoodie.

The lowest common denominator in society?

Dustin Le Marque has a weakness for shoes and especially sneakers and can well imagine designing his own later. He started playing with shoe designs back in 2012, took out a classic Budapest man at home and had a shoemaker put it on a thick, light-colored rubber sole. After all, the rubber sole is an essential feature of sneakers. “To sneak means nothing more than sneaking in English,” says the young designer, who grew up in Schöneberg but also has South African roots.

Are sneakers the lowest common denominator in society today? Whichever foot you look at, the “Schleicher” are the first choice in this cool spring, which is called winter. But no matter how democratic the sneaker in colored, white or black, flat or high, the choice of model reveals the wearer.

Tell me which shoe you wear and I will tell you who you are. The biggest difference between the types of wearers is probably the one between those who only surf on every trend wave and those who call themselves “sneakerheads” in English. These are the fanatics, the collectors, the junkies. Who are quite willing to spend several hundred euros on a model.

The unfulfilled childhood dreams of the sneakerheads

Simon Bus, 33, is the presenter of turnschuh.tv and owns 70 pairs of shoes. He wouldn't necessarily call himself a fanatic. But he has been interested in sneakers since the 1990s. Back when basketball star Michael Jordan was an icon whose shoes Simon Bus couldn't get. That gnawed at him, you could almost say he developed a complex - and he vowed to compensate for it someday. When he grows up. . .

Unfulfilled childhood dreams haunt many sneakerheads, as Hikmet Sugör knows. The 43-year-old Berliner has over 700 pairs at home and opened one of the first sneaker shops in Berlin in 2002. Together with Simon Bus, he shoots a program every week that runs on YouTube. There are already 400 videos that were created in two and a half years - they achieved well over three million clicks. Over 22,000 people have subscribed to the channel.

Bus’s show is about the new models of the week. The shoots take place in the Solebox store on Nürnberger Straße in Charlottenburg. Sugör started many years ago with importing limited goods: "Back then, the global accessibility that we have today did not exist yet."

Sugör remembers well how allies brought him sneakers from the PX, an American supermarket, before the fall of the Berlin Wall. “We weren't allowed in there, so we gave them money in the hope that they would come out with a pair of trainers.” He was already fascinated by these shoes back then. Probably precisely because they could not be reached easily. “Many can tell a very similar story,” he says.

Finally satisfy a longing

Finally satisfy a longing - that also applies to the sneaker collector Julia Schoierer. In the still male-dominated scene, the photographer has achieved great prominence under the name “Sneakerqueen”. She has been running an advertising-free blog for a long time - her graffiti artist friends have given her the name Sneakerqueen.

When the now 34-year-old left home at the age of 20, she already owned around 150 pairs of sneakers. In the meantime she has lost track of everything, she says and has to laugh a little. “The last time I counted, there were 600 pairs that I keep in different depots. There are now around 800 pairs, ”says the woman with the silver-blonde short hairstyle. When she talks about her collectibles, she speaks quickly and passionately: “I have a sentimental relationship with all of my shoes. I grew up wearing sneakers. My sister had a lot of friends who were DJs and rappers and, of course, wore sneakers. I thought that was cool. ”But Julia was initially not allowed to have her own white trainers because they could get dirty too quickly, as her mother thought. The ban naturally made the shoes even more desirable in the daughter's eyes

The differences in the sneaker scene

During the interview, she wears a pair of white Adidas Rivalry - a tall version with light gray stripes: Because the sneaker queen is considered an opinion maker in the scene, the Herzogenaurach-based company invited the Berliner to a collector’s project with four other collectors in 2013. While designing her favorite model, she gave her favorite model an individual look, designed the stripes in embossed imitation snakeskin and refined the laces with golden ends. A total of 50 pairs of Julia Schoierer's Rivalry version were sold, one cost 200 euros. They have long been worth a lot more on the collector's market; on eBay they were recently offered for twice the price.

Within the sneaker scene there are not only different types of wearers, but also great cultural differences. “In the USA everything is focused on the sporty look. Basketball, so the Jordans are popular. The European market, on the other hand, relies primarily on retro running models and low-cut shoe silhouettes - it's more about style, ”Bus stated. On both sides of the Atlantic, however, technical aspects of the sneaker are becoming more important: “The manufacturers use breathable materials, Gore-Tex, cotton. Adidas, for example, worked with BASF to develop the so-called Boost sole, which you walk on like on clouds. "

There are many current trends. In addition to classic tennis shoes such as the Stan Smith with flat, mostly plain-colored soles, shoes with shiny surfaces - metallic optics - or futuristic styles are popular. These stand out with technical innovations: “It is noticeable that manufacturers are increasingly bringing the DNA of models from sportswear to lifestyle,” says Bus.

Long-running Chucks: unisex, for cool and nerds

One of the best-selling sneaker models, if not the best-selling at all, is a classic and has been on the (American) market for almost 100 years - the Chucks. Even if nowadays hardly anyone can believe it: “In the past you even did sport in it,” says Sugör. "They are also socially acceptable: unisex, for cool and nerds, for children and adults."

In addition to the emotional side, the sneaker passion has many other aspects, fashionable, also scientific and economic. Josh Luber, 37, is someone who is well versed in the business background. The collector from the USA creates tables and diagrams. At a TED X conference, Luber spoke about the importance of basketball legend Michael Jordan for the sneaker market. The Jordan 3 Black Cement from Nike, for example, is for the sneaker market like the iPhone is for the mobile phone market. In 1988 the shoe came out only once, then again in 2011. After a few minutes it was sold out worldwide and that because people camped for days in front of shoe shops around the world. This is also often the case in front of the brine box. Most recently with a shoe from Adidas, the Yeezy Boost 350, designed by rapper Kanye West and which his wife, It-Girl Kim Kardashian, had already worn six months earlier at a public appearance.

Reselling as a huge business

But not everyone has time to skip school or take vacation just to buy sneakers. In the meantime, as Bus still says, there are so-called bots. Such computer programs trigger an automatic order as soon as the long-awaited shoe is available online. So while person X is just entering their payment details, the bots have long since sold out their shoes.

Reselling has grown into a huge business, preferably on the global network. The rising prices on the Internet show this. Often a model is available just a few minutes after the presentation for a price two to three times higher than the original. Marty McFly's shoes from the cult film "Back to the Future," the Nike Air Mags, which close at the touch of a button, were briefly seen on eBay for over $ 8,000.

Are sneakers a good investment? In any case, Simon Bus is sometimes annoyed when he discovers with his new sneaker on his feet how much profit he could have made if he had sold it on. Luber used data to find that if you had invested in the Jordan 3 Black Cement in 2011 you would have made 162 percent profit today. For comparison: Apple shares would have brought in "only" 134 percent in the same period of time. Rare things are more appealing than things that are scattered in abundance on the market. That gets boring at some point. Limitation is therefore the key to a market economy in the sneaker world as well.

A pair of sneakers contains a lot of social information

How exactly did the amazing hype about footwear come about that is no longer just made for wear? This year the exhibition "The Rise of Sneaker Culture" analyzed the rise of the sneaker culture in New York. The models on display in Brooklyn clearly showed how much social information a pair of sneakers can reveal about the wearer. They included the first Converse All Star in a simple linen look from 1917 as well as today's glamorous sneakers designed by international designers such as Jimmy Choo and Louboutin. They were displayed like valuable art objects in the glass cases of the Brooklyn Museum.

The beginnings of the rubber sole shoe in the middle of the 19th century were humble. New vulcanization processes made the development of practical footwear for athletes possible in the first place. One of the oldest running shoes in existence dates from around 1860. The sports shoe had to be functional, period.

Chuck Taylor, the celebrated basketball star, entered into a collaboration with Converse in the early 1920s to help develop and promote shoes. The profitable connection between sports stars and manufacturers has become a successful model that has since found countless imitators to this day. In the 20s, according to the exhibition organizers, a process of democratization began for sneakers. In the decades that followed, they became a sports shoe for everyone - regardless of social class, regardless of age.

A minister in athletic shoes

The sneaker became fashionable in the late 1960s and early 1970s, says the museologist Martin Herde, who is responsible for the shoe collection in the Adidas company archive: In fact, the Green politician Joschka Fischer wrote sneaker history in this country: When he was sworn in as Minister of the Environment in 1985, Fischer wore white sneakers, a deliberate provocation that had a political and pop-cultural dimension and changed the country.

The wearing of sneakers is still a demonstration today. Some adults put them on to show that they've stayed young - or at least want to stay that way. This also includes porters who live out “Casual Friday” in the office throughout the week. You see more and more suits combined with sneakers in places where you wouldn't expect it. Some sneaker wearers try to say something like: “Hey, I'm a rebel, I still know what's hot, but I can still be serious about my job.” Those who don't strictly adhere to the conventional clothing code can use the In general, expect sympathy points.

The New York exhibition also tells of another radical change in sneaker culture in the 1980s. At that time, high-end sneakers had become emblems of unrestrained consumption, says the curator Elizabeth Semmelhack's show. Simultaneously with the fitness wave as a mirror of an ego cult, the sneaker developed into a coveted fashion object. The shoe became just as important for appearing on the street as it was for the sports hall. The launch of the iconic Air Jordans by Nike in the mid-eighties and the cooperation between the hip-hop group Run-DMC and Adidas are characteristic of this era.

Precious collector's items

What began back then has continued to this day: the merging of hip-hop, basketball and sneaker culture has often turned shoes into valuable (collector) objects. Also an expression of urban masculinity. Noble design brands like Lanvin or Stella McCartney have long since discovered sneakers for themselves. It is no longer surprising that Louis Vuitton cooperates with rappers like Kanye West. The "Louis Vuitton x Kanye West Don" from 2009 is a status symbol even beyond the rap scene.

The sneaker on the foot of hip-hoppers, who often show a tendency to violence and like to stage it, can rub off on the image of the shoe. This is shown by the sneaker stories that the Brooklyn Museum wanted to hear from its visitors. They delivered in large numbers. A visitor with the Twitter name "@vigilante_vegan" combined a loving shoe drawing with the unmistakable call for non-violence in sneaker culture: "Keep it cruelty free!"

The Berlin sneaker expert Dustin Le Marque was influenced by the 90s, used to wear classic Converse, but also oriented himself towards the rap scene. The sneaker culture was male-dominated for many years, but now Le Marque sees a new trend towards femininity. Even at parties, the sneaker is now part of the outfit for many young women. For Le Marque, sneakers are not only an expression of personality, they also represent a feeling of freedom in his eyes. Are the reason on which we move: "Shoes carry us through life", says the young designer.

Looking for new styles

Sneaker queen Julia Schoierer not only knows about shoe trends, she also helps to determine them. In the conversation, however, she openly admits that she herself prefers to wear shoes that are not pushed by the companies: “For me, the ideal shoe is one that is not hyped. I have to have an emotional connection to it. ”And so she is constantly rummaging in stores looking for new styles.

When she finds a model that she likes, she leaves a pair in the closet for two or three years until the shoes have disappeared from the stores again. And only then takes it out of the shelf. Because one thing is very clear for the sneaker queen: "The true collector stirs up his own hype, which rarely has anything to do with that of the masses."