Picture yourself 20 years from now, seated at your office desk, scanning emails to start your day. After some cursory skimming, you come across a message from HR: An invitation to the 2039 company Christmas party, and towards the end, it reads: “THEME: 2010s.”
Naturally — before you even consider whether or not you even want to attend — you ask yourself the most immediate question: What do I wear? Every decade has its own tell: The 70s had fringe jackets and bell-bottoms. The 80s had big hair and neon tights. The 90s had baggy jeans and punk rock flannel shirts. The 2000s had emo everything and shutter shades. What did the 2010s have?
A hoodie, maybe. Jogger pants, yes. Maybe a funky open-collar shirt, maybe some skinny jeans, maybe a bomber jacket. Given the entire span of the decade, there’s a lot of room for interpretation.
But one thing is certain: if you did eventually decide to attend that Christmas party, you’d have worn sneakers.
As we close the 2010s, it’s obvious that sneakers have defined the way we dress for the past 10 years. When the future looks back at the era we’re about to leave behind, it will see the growth of sneakers as a culture and as an industry, from a niche interest in the 90s to a cult in the 2000s to a fully-realized revolution in the 2010s.
Today, sneakers are a mainstream obsession — a whole field of interest that occupies its own wing of global pop culture. There are sneaker celebrities, sneaker talk shows, sneaker conventions, sneaker memes, sneaker Facebook groups for every shoe size and locality. Sneaker releases that become monthly events unto themselves.
The money lines up with the mania. In 2019, StockX, the US’s premier online platform for sneaker resale, has been valued at $1 billion, and the global market for sneakers is expected to grow at an unprecedented rate for the next five years, to over $95 billion by 2025.
How did this happen to rubber-soled footwear?
The SB beginning
To tell the whole story could mean going back to 1985, when Nike released the Air Jordan 1, or perhaps even to 1917, when Converse created the Chuck Taylor All-Star.
But you could argue that sneakerhead culture as we know it in the 2010s can trace its roots to 2002 — the year Nike decided to start a skateboarding division led by a man named Sandy Bodecker. It was called Nike SB.
“The role that Nike SB played was really around elevating sneakers – in this case the Dunk – as a canvas for creative storytelling,” Sandy Bodecker told Sneaker Freaker in 2017, a year before he passed from cancer.
Nike SB surrounded itself with skate culture and its peripheral underground scenes: art, music, and of course, fashion. Season after season, SB would release the Dunk in different colors — colorways that represented cool things and told cool stories. Among them were the first significant sneaker collaborations, with then-underground streetwear and skate brands: Supreme, Diamond Supply, and Staple, to name a few.
This concept of brand collaboration and color-based storytelling took hold, and soon, every other brand was doing the same.
The cult of SB took off in NikeTalk, an independent forum that started in 1999 and grew through the 2000s. Then there was Complex, which also started in 2002, as a print magazine for street culture. Then came Hypebeast and Highsnobiety, which both started in 2005 as personal sneaker blogs inspired by Japanese fashion magazines, but would grow to become full-fledged media outlets.
But that was nothing compared to what was to come.
The sneaker culture drop
When the 2010s finally pulled up, Facebook had just hit its stride globally, and Instagram was born in October of 2010. Social media blew everything up. Everything. That includes sneaker culture, which by then was perfectly primed for detonation.
All the factors were right: Sneakers were entwined with hip hop, which was also just about to take off on a scale that it hadn’t seen before. (In 2013, Kanye West famously proclaimed, “Rap is the new rock and roll.”) Sneakers were generally affordable, accessible, and mostly essential.
But most importantly, thanks to the groundwork laid out in the 2000s, sneakers were cool. They represented a group of artists and musicians — a cult for creatives and collectors who share a particular obsession. Naturally, everyone wanted to enlist… and thanks to social media, they finally could.
Here in Metro Manila, we were quick to follow suit. We were the perfect target, what with our holdover colonial love affair with America, our ballooning middle class prosperity, our love for sports (especially basketball), our notorious addiction to the internet and social media. How could we not fall in love with sneakers in the 2010s? All we needed were retail options, and it wasn’t long before we got them.
WeLegendary, a skate shop in Kamuning, got its start in the late 2000s and acquired its own Nike SB account, allowing the once-fledgling Nike division to hit the same fever pitch here in the Philippines that it already had around the world.
In 2010, the basketball lifestyle boutique Titan opened up shop, and quickly became a rallying point for Filipinos’ love of Air Jordans, which was just a natural appendage of our love for basketball.
“We wanted to develop a place where it’s just all basketball,” Titan co-founder (and PBA legend) Jeff Cariaso told Eric Menk in his podcast back in 2016. “So do you have a market? Yes. Does everyone like what you have to promote? Yes.”
Because of Titan, “lining up for shoes” became a thing — a real thing — here in the Philippines. To this day, Titan represents a gateway into sneaker culture and sneaker collecting for many Filipinos.
Simultaneously, in around 2011, a shop called Sole Academy rose to meet the growing demand. It was a dedicated sneaker boutique, so its selections were often better than the Toby’s of the time. But it was also more accessible and approachable than Titan, which was specific to basketball, or the other underground boutiques like Bunker, which was holed up in a corner of Bonifacio Global City, and Crate, which was also tucked away in a nondescript area of Makati.
Sole Academy was, in its own way, a people’s sneaker boutique, and it was among the first to allow access to a new generation of Filipino sneakerheads.
The ever-rolling hype
As we approached mid-decade, sneaker culture was rippling in size and scale all around the world, and big brands cashed in by introducing ever-better, ever-more-covetable shoes.
In retrospect, one could identify a handful of landmark releases through the 2010s here in the Philippines.
The Air Jordan 3 ‘Black Cement’ Retros in 2011 kicked off the modern-day Air Jordan craze like it was a messenger sent to Sparta to deliver a message from Xerxes.
In 2012, the Nike Roshe Run quietly became a gateway sneaker — affordable to a broad segment of Filipinos but also stylish enough to be an aspirational shoe — and was suddenly just everywhere.
Flyknit was introduced to the world at around the same time.
Then the Adidas Stan Smith revival of 2013 made such a splash that white sneaker sale announcements are a regular fixture at Spot.ph.
The Adidas Ultraboost arrived in 2014, followed by the Adidas Yeezys in 2015, and then an unquenchable demand for ever more Yeezys thereafter.
By this time, the collectibility that sneakers gained in the Nike SB era had come a long way, and they became mainstream objects of desire.
Collectibility fueled a voracious gray market that thrived on Filipino social media: sneaker resale became both popular and profitable. Facebook may have only introduced its Marketplace in 2016, but even much earlier on in the decade, there had already been local buy-and-sell groups, which also served as communities that fostered sneaker culture.
Today, to observe the Filipino sneaker scene is to lurk in these groups.
In 2016, John Paul Santos, who co-founded the Pinoy Sneakerheads Community in 2010, told Spin.ph: “Mas hard-core na ang mga collectors ngayon. Before kahit anong lumabas na Jordans, as long as it’s retro, sige bili. But now tinitingnan din kung sino yung nagsusuot. Kung gaano ka-hype yung pair and siyempre kung gaano ka-valuable yung pair and kung gaano ka-limited.”
Through the latter half of the decade, the Filipino sneaker scene grew exponentially, and so more retail options arrived. In 2015, the American boutique Commonwealth set up shop at SM Aura. Then came the likes of Sneak Peek and Capital, alongside resurgents like Urban Athletics and The Athlete’s Foot.
All the while, brands, blogs, and consumers alike would post about shoes on social media, fueling the freight train as it chugged along. Wanting shoes, buying shoes, and owning lots of shoes became a popular lifestyle that racked up likes and follows — no longer a special interest shared by a community, no longer a peculiarity.
It now stewed with the other social media-borne trends that marked the 2010s: the growing appreciation for streetwear and hip-hop, the burgeoning “athleisure” movement, and the acceptance of these into the halls of high fashion.
So where does this leave us today, at the verge of a new decade?
Sneaker culture is more popular than ever, and despite the historically mercurial nature of fashion, sneakers are still going strong. Your younger sister clearly wants the Fila Disruptors she saw on Instagram. Your father’s midlife crisis announces itself every time he walks into a shoe store. Your friends all take turns fawning over the latest Yeezy colorway. Your wife just copped a pair of the Adidas Supercourts that Jennie of BLACKPINK wears.
And you? You’re probably busy adding a size 9.5 to cart. Sneakers are everywhere, coveted by everyone, and the bubble — if it is a bubble at all — has yet to pop. If 2020 turns out to be anything like the dawn of the 2010s, we can only expect greater things for the future of rubber-soled footwear.