The three most influential men in sneaker culture

Off-White x Nike shoes at the MCA Museum in Chicago, Illinois.

Adam Zerman, Herald Contributor

Sneakers have always had a strong following from some people, but in the last 35 years the culture around sneakers has changed dramatically. Throughout history, many cultures have influenced sneaker fashion, including basketball, skateboarding and hip hop/rap. However, in 1985, the sneaker culture changed forever.

In 1984, Michael Jordan was drafted into the NBA and little did the world know he would not only change the sneaker culture forever, but the world of sports as well. After one year in the NBA, the first Jordan shoe, the Jordan 1 Chicago, was released. 

This product went on to be considered one of the greatest and most famous shoes ever made. It also shifted the entire sneaker culture — Jordans became the shoe everyone wanted and they made basketball shoes a part of sneaker fashion. Michael Jordan and his Jordan brand went on to create countless types of shoes with hundreds of different colorways. New shoes are released every month, including retros of old shoes.

On April 4, 2009, well-known rapper Kanye West came out with a shoe called the Nike Air Yeezy, which had three colorways. This was the first time a big name in pop culture did something of this scale in the sneaker culture.

Those specific Yeezy shoes have since gone on to become some of the most limited and sought-after shoes in the world. After two editions, the Yeezy line switched to Adidas. The first Adidas model was the Yeezy Boost 750 released in 2015. Later that year, the Yeezy Boost 350 came out and became the most popular shoe from the Adidas Yeezy boost line. 

In 2017, high-end fashion designer Virgil Abloh and his company Off-White collaborated with Nike to create The Ten project. According to the website Highsnobiety, Abloh said “these ten shoes have broken barriers in performance and style. To me, they are on the same level as the sculpture of David or the Mona [Lisa]. You can debate it all you want, but they mean something.” 

The Ten started as a series of ten Nike shoes which Abloh designed, but it has now surpassed. This collaboration line has become the most popular line and is regarded as one of the greatest collaboration lines in the history of sneaker culture. Recently, Abloh was named the artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s men’s wear collection and he opened a temporary exhibit at the MCA Museum in Chicago called “Figures of Speech.”

Jordan, West and Abloh have completely changed the way pop culture and sneakers collaborate. Their contributions have paved the way for many more sneaker collaborations such as Pharrell Williams and Travis Scott. It also led to sneaker culture spilling over into other communities, such as golf, when golfer Brooks Koepka wore golf shoes from the Off-White and Nike collaboration line. Shoe fashion is only becoming more popular and it will be interesting to see where sneakers end up in another 35 years.