In the world of sneakers, it’s hard to tell where fashion ends and politics begin. Sneakerheads will likely be familiar with the concept of politically-themed sneakers for sale on the market, but for those not in the know, it’s a big part of the sneaker culture. Themes range from anti-war to drug prohibition and political candidates, and while some sneakerheads may own these sneakers, most simply collect them as an investment or as a way to push their political agenda.
Since the inception of sneakers in the early 20th century, sneakers have been viewed as more than just casual footwear by those involved in the underground communities that have always loved them. Sneakers were the shoes worn by the early Beat writers, the shoes that helped break down barriers of segregation across the U.S., and they’ve been the shoes that generations of skaters and rappers have been able to express themselves through.
Although we’ve watched sneakers get politicized in the past, the launch of the Nike MAG and Air Jordan 1 collaboration, dubbed “Betsy Ross” has really brought the conversation about sneakers and politics to the forefront. For those of you who might not know, the Betsy Ross flag is a symbol of the American Revolution, with 13 white stars representing the first 13 colonies, and the red and white stripes symbolizing the unity between the states.
There’s something about sneakers that has always made them political shoes. Whether it’s the classic American-made, red, white and blue pair of Converse Chuck Taylors that became the unofficial shoe of anti-authoritarian punks like Sid Vicious, or the Nike Air Jordan 1 that was banned by the NBA for violating their dress code, footwear has always mattered. More recently, the decision of Adidas to make an extremely limited run of Kanye West’s Yeezy sneakers in a sweatshop-free factory in the Dominican Republic has been hailed as a victory for fair labor practices. The role of sneakers in politics isn’t going to disappear.
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