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Research and Innovation

More Than Just Shoes: What You Need to Know About Sneakerhead Subculture

Sneakers
Credit: Taylor Smith on Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/NxocxUaOYTg

For Sneakerheads, sneakers are about more than foot transportation and comfort. But what does it mean to be a Sneakerhead? Does any sneaker count? And how much do they cost?

We sat down with Delisia Matthews, assistant professor of textiles, apparel and technology at North Carolina State University’s Wilson College of Textiles, to learn the basics about the sub-culture, such as which shoes are popular, what they cost and how a true Sneakerhead might use them.

The Abstract: How do Sneakerheads use their sneakers?

Matthews: Some are solely collecting them, and not wearing them. There was one guy who had four closets of shoes, plus a storage bin of shoes. Whenever he buys, he buys one, and puts one away in storage. He doesn’t do that for every single shoe – just ones he likes. But most of the people I talked to are wearing them.

TA: Where do they wear them?

Matthews: They wear them wherever. They might pull out certain sneakers for more special occasions. There was a guy who worked in a corporate office in fashion, and he wore his sneakers to work every day, and just had a different rotation. He’d go a good three months without ever repeating a sneaker.

From our research with African-American men, they sometimes wear sneakers if they want to show their status or a little extra swag. So, it makes sense that Meena Harris’ partner, Nikolas Ajagu, wore those to the inauguration – those were Dior Jordan 1 sneakers. That was his way to show his identity, his style, his swag, even in that sort of environment.

TA: What if the sneakers get dirty?

Matthews: They’re not going to get dirty. They have actual cleaning systems for their sneakers. If they get a speck of dirt, they call it the “toothbrush method.” They’re using toothbrushes to clean it, but the market has capitalized on this. There is a guy out of California named Jason Markk who opened up this shop where you bring your sneakers to be cleaned, and now he sells that cleaning system worldwide. They’re not going to let their sneaker get dirty. For every use, they’re going to clean them.

TA: Are people willing to pay any price?

Sneakerheads: It depends on how exclusive they are. There is a Nike sneaker that one of the area stores carried – they made 33 of that sneaker in the world. He had one in his store. The shoes were customized by this famous artist. The shoe was around $2,000. But it’s because it’s very exclusive. That’s why that price point is very high. Overall, on average they range around $250. Unless it’s a very exclusive color way, which is the particular color scheme a shoe might come in, or drop, which is the release date.

TA: Can you get these sneakers at any shoe store?

Matthews: Certain stores will have stock. Raleigh has a thriving market. One in the area is Capital Buy-Sell-Trade. The other one in the area is called Social Status. They’ll get a small amount in a particular size. Because consumers are part of the culture, connected to their social media and store, they’ll be aware of when those drops are. There’s another one that opened up in Crabtree Mall called Courtside, that’s another big one. They do the buying and selling and trading. Another one is called Sircastletees. His store is interesting – he not only sells sneakers, but he does custom sneakers.

TA: What’s the importance of Sneakerhead culture in terms of group identity?

Matthews: It helps to build a community. Having that community around a particular brand or a particular product; it just helps them feel a lot more connected. But also, there’s this concept called brand community. Research has shown that when brands form a community around a particular product and brand, that brand can make mistakes, and the community is still going to be very loyal to them.

TA: Does Sneakerhead culture embrace different types of athletic shoes?

Matthews: I still would say basketball shoes are the foundation and the pivotal shoe that they go after. One running shoe they go after is the Adidas Ultraboost. I’ve heard quite a few participants in our research talk about that. The younger Sneakerheads are more interested in the celebrity collaborations, like Kanye’s sneakers that are done by Adidas. And Travis Scott did a certain type of Jordan. Pharrell Williams has sneakers he did with Adidas. These celebrity collaborations are becoming bigger. It’s evolving, the same brands, are key – Nike and Adidas– but the celebrity collaborations are becoming popular.

TA: What should a novice know about Sneakerhead culture?

Matthews: I would just pay attention to how this trend is now being adopted even in the luxury market. It lets you know that what we call in fashion, “trickling up,” is really happening. It started with the everyday street culture really adopting it. But now we’ve got all these different, very high-luxury brands tapping in on the sneaker market.

TA: What are some of your future lines of research?

Matthews: There is a huge market out there for female Sneakerheads. Brands need to be paying attention to them, and what is the best way to market to them and understand their needs. I think they might have different motivations. That’s going to be my next research focus. There is a huge amount of female consumers that they haven’t fully capitalized on.

To read the news release a recent study Matthews led about Sneakerhead sub-culture, click here.

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