Heart and sole



A quick walk down Toronto’s Queen Street West shows that footwear–especially athletic footwear–has far outgrown its purpose as a necessity.

Running shoes have transcended the realm of sports and in the last few decades, slowly trickled into the streetwear scene. Now, there are sneakerheads everywhere.

Waves of young people swarm on sneaker stores like Livestock, Foot Locker and Adidas hoping to score Kanye West’s latest pair of Adidas Yeezys or a set of Air Jordans.

“[The Yeezy trend] is certainly very dramatic, the fact that he worked with Louis Vuitton first, then he worked with Nike, then he switches gears and jumps over to Adidas. I think in part Adidas’s [current] moment [of fame] has been brought forward by the incredible popularity of Kanye West’s shoe,” says Elizabeth Semmelhack, the senior curator at the Bata Shoe Museum and author of Out of The Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture.

Sneakers like this sell out fast. Like stupid fast. In February, Kanye West and Adidas’ much-coveted sneaker, the Yeezy Boost 350 V2 in its then-new zebra colourway sold out within seconds.

The Yeezys retail at around $220 USD, but within a day or so, these rare sneakers popped up on sites like eBay for around $1,500 – $2,000 USD. With 4300 pairs released in Europe and 4100 pairs released in North America, the high prices that these sneakers resell for aren’t surprising.

“The hype for [Yeezys] in general is ridiculous, due to how limited they are,” says Nico Magana, a sneaker collector and reseller of 5 years. “People, especially in this day and age, are willing to spend thousands to impress people they don’t even know. Millennials have this mindset that they have to look rich rather than be grateful for what they have.”

It wasn’t always like this, though. A resurgence in running culture headed by the English in the 1800s yielded the need for a light shoe with traction.

The first developments in athletic shoes were relatively minor, until Charles Goodyear accidentally founded the process of vulcanization, which allowed rubber and fabric to be mended together.

This led to the creation of Keds, made by Goodyear. At first, they were worn leisurely, until he realized he could make a lot more money marketing them as an athletic shoe. They were nicknamed “sneakers” on account of how quiet the shoes were when walking with them.

Big brands started using the vulcanization process and sneakers have not been the same since. Notable developments after this include Nike’s collaboration with NASA to put airbags full of pressurized gas into the soles of shoes to absorb shock from running.

By the 70s, athletic shoe design and technology was in full swing and with shoes being made specifically for certain types of feet. The future of athletic footwear was uncertain; excitement was high; possibilities were endless.

Types of feet were now being broken down into three categories: Supinating feet, which supported a weight mainly on the outside of runner’s foot, pronating feet, the arch of which would go flat on impact and neutral feet that neither pronate nor supinate excessively.

“Many people don’t have proper biomechanical or foot functioning and if they’re functioning isn’t good, then what’s going to happen is they’re going to have all sorts of muscular aches and pains,” says Paul Leszner, a practicing podiatrist of 36 years.

“You can get a motion control [shoe], which would be good for a pronator, particularly for a big, heavy guy who is running. You can get a neutral shoe, for those who have a neutral stance and cushioned shoes are for those people who have that so-called supinator foot, which [requires] a lot of shock absorption,” says Leszner. Although doctors like Leszner recommend picking out a specific shoe for a certain type of foot, a lot of athletes just don’t pay attention to that kind of stuff.

“For support, in terms of ankles and stuff like that, it doesn’t really matter to me,” he says. “It just matters if it’s comfortable. If it’s not too heavy, or if it’s too light, or something like that,” says Gayle.

In the 80’s, athletes like Tennis-star Ilie Nastase, as well as basketball players Kareem Abdul Jabaar and Michael Jordan started to get sponsored by big names like Nike and Adidas.

“I didn’t really like the first couple of pairs [of Jordans] that came out, but then I saw these [Jordan] fours I had to get them,” says John Sullivan, a sneaker collector of 26 years. “I’ve [sold jerseys] a couple of times. Get rid of them, get some cash and probably cop a pair of shoes.”

The 80s drew to a close. All of the neon burnt out and Doc Martens were swapped for New Balances. Hegemonic masculinity started to be challenged. The image of authority was shifting from white businessman to entities much more human.

“You have superstar athletes, you have a lot of musicians coming up at that time, but you also have Silicon Valley and all of the tech geniuses show up to board meetings with all of those suited, white men and they’re wearing playground clothing,” says Semmelhack.

Business execs took this trend and ran with it, yielding a generation of CEOs rocking sneakers with their three-piece suits. Aaron Levie, the CEO of cloud storage company Box, who favours Pumas and Onitsuka Tigers, is an example.
Fast forward to the modern age and people are lining up outside shops overnight with tents just to buy a pair of shoes. People now are buying gear just because their favourite athletes wear them.

“My favourite basketball player is LeBron [James] and he’s signed to Nike, so most of the time I’ll go for a Nike shoe, or if not, his shoe,” says Teshayn Gayle, a second year point guard with George Brown.

The life of shoes is kind of like that of a lobster, shedding its exoskeleton only to grow into something bigger, something better.

It started with forward thinkers and a single idea, Now there are sneaker clubs, sneaker shops, sneaker collectors and sneaker dealers all coming together to form an entire culture devoted to sneakers.

Today there are sneakers with their own suspension systems, some that lace themselves up. and some that even track heart rate data and calories burned.

The future is endless, as are the possibilities of shoe technology. And with an unlimited amount of sneaker designers and the rate of tech advancement, there’s no telling what people will be wearing in 20 years.