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Reflections: Are you a sneakerhead?

Are you a sneakerhead?
By William L. Bulla
Weekly Contributing Writer

Are you a "sneakerhead"? I recently heard that term, and it was a new word to me. I asked several people what it meant, and they were not familiar with it either. So off I go to my computer to Google an answer.
I learned it is not in reference to some person that sneaks around, but is a person who owns multiple pairs of sneakers as a form of collection and fashion.
It is that type of sport shoe that many of us older persons had thought of as tennis shoes. They are shoes made for sports, such as skateboarding or basketball, that are worn by prominent basketball players, such as Michael Jordan with the Air Jordan line of shoes released in 1985. Various sneaker shoe manufacturers began to use basketball stars names on their shoes, thus attracting the collectors. They became popular with the Hip Hop crowd and soon became popular for street wear.
But sneaker history did not start with Air Jordan! In the1830's, the very first shoe with a rubber sole was produced in England by the Liverpool Rubber Company. This new type of shoe was first called a "sand shoe" since people wore them to the beach, later they acquired the name "plimsoll." The plimsoll was a very simple rubber soled shoe with a canvas upper portion.
The U.S. Rubber Company created an even better version of the plimsoll in 1892, and called their shoes Keds. In the early 1900's, these shoes were in high demand for their absolute comfort. Because these new rubber soled shoes were so quiet a person wearing sneakers could sneak up on someone, hence the nickname "sneakers."
Many popular sneaker manufacturers would come to exist in the 20th century. Shortly after the Converse shoe was a success, Adidas and the Puma brand emerged. At this point the sneaker craze was in full force. Many styles and brands of sneakers would come to exist including Reebok and Nike.
Sneaker culture has thrived for decades, but shoe companies have increasingly capitalized on the demand for one-of-a-kind kicks. "Sneakerheads" have lined up to pay hundreds, even thousands, of dollars for sneakers which carry the name of past and present professional basketball stars, if they have been unworn and still remain in their original box or packaging.
Online "sneakerhead" trade has grown to such an extent that a large counterfeit supply chain has developed.
"It's supply and demand at its simplest", said Elliott Curtis, a former Carnegie Mellon University basketball player who for two semesters taught Sneakerology 101, billed as the first accredited class on sneaker culture. Shoe companies create a limited number (say, a few hundred pairs) of shoes -- even if it's just an old model with new colors or materials -- and demand automatically spikes. "It's like a status symbol. If Nike is selling a shoe for $2,000, they're not expecting to sell that many," the recent graduate said, adding that "sneakerheads" are drawn to scarcity of the supply.

William L. Bulla is a freelance writer residing in Washington County.

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