The Sneaker Culture: The Rise and Reign

From simple rubber-soled shoes to a status symbol, sneakers are a sub-culture.

Let us rewind history and find out about these iconic shoes and how they became a status symbol.


If clothing is a symbol of the lifestyle adopted by people, then sneakers are a sign of the times. Today, comfort is above everything else. Gone are the days of gender, custom, and obligation, what has remained is the drill of daily living. What is the essence of life in 2022? Fast, undoubtedly. Busy, but let us not get started on that. Deconstructed, one should think yes.

Mankind has seen many shifts across the decades. War, famine, and pandemics. At each age, human beings try to capture the meaning of their fleeting lives through a variety of symbols. These may state status, wealth, position, or privilege. But what is important is that they convey meaning from one cultural passage to the next.

One such icon that resonates through many cultures and across countries is sneakers. A functional piece of footwear has come to denote emancipation, individuality, and pride. What is this sneaker culture and what makes people line up at the wee hours of the morning to get a pair of shoes? Surely, there is more than meets the eye.

The Sneaker Culture Introduction:

As a vehicle of expression, sneakers have found their way into the hearts and the homes of several erstwhile segregated communities, who not only craved the magical stardom of the sports stars but also used it as means of developing and celebrating a unique sense of community.

For many kids who grew up in tough neighborhoods, a pair of sneakers meant more than just shoes. It was their way of taking control

Buoyed by the insanely successful hip-hop culture, an item of sports footwear became part of the cultural lexicon. Today, sneakers still symbolize breaking the norm. As all sneakerheads will agree, it is not just about shoes, it is about who you are.

Michael Jordan is synonymous with basketball. He helped the Chicago Bulls win 6 championships in NBA. The team could hardly make it to the playoffs and had no title in their franchise history. But Jordan became the biggest name in the history of basketball.

Jordan was not a household name or a star player. He became the star player when he turned himself into the epitome of a "don't-care" attitude during his basketball matches. His eponymous Jordan sneakers found a cult following and were transformed as a key element for this school of expression.

His collaboration with Nike resulted in the most comfortable, stylish, and sought-after sneakers. The cheap and accessible shoes became the starting point of the sneaker culture we know of today. But the introduction is empty without the mention of Michael Jordan.

The History of Sneaker Culture:

Before Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike, Adidas was being sought-after by many athletes. Adidas was already in the shoe business manufacturing spiked running shoes. In 1924, the brand manufactured shoes under the name of Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory. After a settlement between the two brothers, the brands became Adidas and Puma.

After studying at Stanford, Knight returned to Oregon. He and his former track coach Bill Bowerman co-founded Blue Ribbons Sports. Before that, they imported the shoes from Japan. But during the 60s and 70s, they spotted an opportunity within the jogging community.

But Phil had other dreams. He wanted to manufacture performance-based shoes. He studied what made athletes flock toward Adidas.

Adidas was at the top of its game for major sports and boasted of sponsorships with soccer players around the world. Converse was a major rival in basketball and there was no market for track shoes.

Nike was not a phase. They were battling for supremacy, and Blue Ribbons became Nike with their swoosh logo. By the 1970s, they had started endorsing tennis star, Ilie Nastase. They launched themselves to convey inspiration and innovation, "There is no finish line."

As opposed to Adidas' vision, Nike projected itself as an athletic brand. Their "Just Do It," is a top-ranking tagline of all times and portrays Nike as a brand challenging the status quo. Their athletic attitude was to keep becoming better and the consumer asked for more.

Rise of the Sneaker Culture:

The collaboration of Michael Jordan with Nike Inc. in 1984 changed the landscape of sneakers forever. The launch of Air Jordan 1 left the competitors scratching their heads. They did not know what hit them.

Even today, Air Jordan is the best-selling sneaker line available. They have the perfect union of performance, support, and comfort.

The popularity of Jordan 1 came with the success of Michael Jordan on the basketball courts. Jordan's performance on the courts earned 6 championships for Chicago Bulls. The masses were looking up to him as a representation of their community and their struggle.

Nike was encashing on Jordan's victory in each game with their ad campaigns. They ran ads like "The NBA can't keep you from wearing them," while Nike was paying Jordan's on-court fines.

Adidas had declined Jordan and watched Nike take over the market for sneakers. But they were not going to let their rivals win. Adidas endorsed Run DMC and the band endorsed their lace-less Adidas Superstars. The band defended against the thuggish image and sang, “I wore my sneakers, but I am not a sneak.”

Over the years, canvas sneakers came to embody youthful rebellion and athleticism. Other brands like Converse, Vans, and Keds got their fame from non-athletic celebrities like Kurt Cobain, Ramones, and Sid Vicious.

Elite fashion designers like Prada and Gucci were not going to stay behind. They customized the designs and released limited editions, in collaboration with athletic brands. This led to a rise in the cost of sneakers and made sneakers a rare commodity.

The Sneaker Culture is Political:

Nike's sneakers became an expression of resistance by the Blacks in the USA. The culture got built on the message the artists project while wearing them. The fans identified and represented by the artists and felt closer to the sneakers they wore. This was a way for people to come together and express themselves.

The most notable and visible expression of winning was at the 1968 Olympic Games held in Mexico. Tommie Smith, an American gold medalist sprinter, and John Carlos, a bronze medalist, mounted the podium in socks to symbolize African American poverty. They raised their fists in salute to and solidarity with Black communities.


The sneaker sub-culture found its fan base from the hoods' children playing basketball. But the rise in their fame came from the brands who were trying to dominate the market.

So, what is your take on this? Here is a suggestion from the team at Talking Sox, who are equally sneaker obsessed by the way. Try a pair of our bamboo socks with them. What is so great about bamboo? Here is the difference. Bamboo absorbs sweat a lot better than other fabrics. That means your feet stay dry for a longer period, therefore protecting your shoes from sweat and resulting odors. Once you come home, your shoes will remain odor free and can be stored easily.

Talking Sox offers bamboo loafer liners that also provide an extra layer of cushioning for your heels and midsole, so that you have a snug fit, and your feet can breathe inside the shoe.

Bamboo fibre is a planet-friendly alternative, which means you can rest easy. We are not polluting the environment.

For all the collectors out there, you are the champions of a brave and uninhibited world. If you want to know which pair of socks will work best with your collection of sneakers, read our style guide.