The likes of Adidas, Nike, Converse and Reebok have always influenced our sneaker collections, but do they influence more than just fashion? From Air Jordan to Converse All-Stars, our trainers have always had a grip on our feet, but what if they influence more…say for example global economic growth?
We know it sounds ridiculous, but Birmingham's Bullring was researching the history of trainers ahead of the new Nike, Adidas, Puma, Vans and NB releases dropping at Footasylum, Office and schuh this week and found a weird pattern…a pattern almost as odd as the camouflage Nike Huaraches.
Firstly, have you ever heard of the Hemline Index? It was an economic theory presented by George Taylor in 1926 that suggests the hemlines on women's dresses rise along with stock prices. In good economies, a lady's leg is going to get more sunlight. In the booming 1920s (before the Wall Street Crash) and the swinging 1960s, miniskirts ruled supreme. In poor economic times, as seen after the Wall Street Crash, hemlines can drop almost overnight. More recently, long flowing skirts and maxi-dresses got big as the economy got small! It's a weird bit of 'Freakenomics' that carries weight…and it looks like 'Snearkernomics' might be the next chapter.
Here at Bullring, we had a look at the best-selling trainers, sneakers and pumps throughout the ages, with a view of showing how sneaker styles have evolved throughout the years. Instead of a straight-line pattern, we found that trainer trends are cyclical. Hi-tops get super popular, then low-tops come in and steal the thunder and then it repeats. We then decided to try and map the most-popular sneakers against world events…and this is where it gets interesting. (Check out the graph!)
We're not quite ready to submit our Bullring findings to Harvard or LSE just yet, but there appears to be a very strong correlation between the popularity of hi-tops when the economy is suffering and low-tops running the show when the economy is booming. Take the late 1970s, early 1980s recession for example…
1979 was looking like a rosy year of global economic growth until January's political discontent in Iran provided a seismic oil-related shock. Stock prices fell almost overnight and the knock-on effects were felt across the world as the banks, who were just getting to grips with new deregulated conditions, struggled to cope with the sudden shift in prices and inflation. In the U.K. battles to control inflation resulted in mass-unemployment as old industrial factories were closed down. All in all, the world was in a pretty hairy place and between 1979 and 1980, global GDP had fallen by 4%.
Now while sneakers cannot be blamed for the overthrowing of Shah of Iran, this is where the pattern starts. The global slump of the 1980s saw a rise in the popularity of the hi-top. The best-selling and most popular sneakers of the era were the Adidas Top 10 and the Converse hero sneaker - the Chuck Taylor All-Star. They both launched in 1979 and they are both some of the most iconic hi-top sneakers of all time.
Following a bust, there tends to come a boom and sure enough, the rest of the 1980s proved, largely, to be an era of prolonged economic growth. Industries modernised, services grew and credit ratings got higher… the only thing that shrunk was the size of your sneaker heel. 1984 was a great year for GDP growth and iconic low-tops. Diadora released their 'finest moment' with the Diadora Maverick, Reebok dropped their tennis-inspired classic the Club Champion and Nike joined the party with its hugely influential low-top 'runner', the Nike Pegasus. All of these low-tops boomed with the economy and in 1987, New Balance's 996 continued the trend of low-tops selling high. As the UK's GDP peaked at 5% growth in 1987, the 996 became the first $100 running shoe.
But then it happened again, hi-tops came back and crashed the economy. Reebok released The Pump – a favourite with Shaq O'Neil and hundreds of other pro-athletes – should have been renamed The Slump, launching in 1989 when the global economy suffered thanks to the US's savings and loan crisis. But The Pump wasn't alone in launching at the point of economic downturn; other signature drops included Nike's Air Jordan 4 and the Nike Air Tech Challenge – a top-seller thanks to the influence of Andre Agassi.
By now you're starting to get the picture and it continued into our most recent economic up and down. Low-top favourites the New Balance M998 and Etnies Sal 23 launched in 1993 and 1994 to signal the end of recession, before the Supra Skytop TUF (2008), Air Yeezy (2009) and Adidas TS Cut Creator (2009) were epic-selling hi-tops launched in a recession.
With low-top specials such as the Nike All Court Low (2010), the Vans Versa (2010) and Adidas Busenitz (2011) returning after 2008's mega credit crunch, it seems we should all be calling on Footasylum, Office and schuh at Bullring to stock low-tops high and hi-tops low to stave off another recession, but how much of this is a coincidence?
There is evidence to suggest that people get bolder with fashion during a recession, which might suggest why the more 'out there' hi-tops seem to flourish in a downturn. In May 2009 H&M's top-selling dress was a snazzy jazz-print number, while retailers reported an increase in luxury, heritage fragrances such as Baghari and Creed, as customers prioritised quality over quantity.
Speaking in an article with Reuters in 2009, Colleen Sherion, fashion market director for Saks, added further weight to this theory claiming that;
"Women are not necessarily looking for basics, they're looking for wow pieces, something that inspires more of an emotional reaction – quality at a price. Even classic, basic pieces such as a white shirt are being reinterpreted to appeal to customers, with perhaps a dramatic new collar or interesting cuff details."
The likes of the Reebok Pump and Air Jordan 4 and the overwhelming hi-top family seem to support this assessment – more quality, more distinction, less money in the global economy. But what about the other side, are low-tops intrinsically more disposable? Though they tend to have lower price points, it seems scandalous to suggest that the likes of the Reebok Classic are not a quality buy, so maybe there's more at play.
Cultural influences are perhaps more significant than global spending power. The huge increase in the popularity of hi-tops also coincided with the rise of televised sport – particularly boxing and basketball – where hi-tops were the defacto footwear. Likewise, the advent of running and tennis as leisure activity in the 1980s saw the rise of stylised low-tops.
In conclusion, we probably won't be filing the Bullring's 'Heel-Line Index' in the categorically proven theory category, but it is a pretty cool coincidence in line with other fashion trends. Our advice is to keep an eye out for the next sneaker drops at Bullring soon and if it looks like some hi-top sneakers are on the horizon, start saving!
NEW SNEAKER DROPS AT BULLRING
· Black Adidas Climacool, low-top
· Nike Preso in teal and white, low-top
· Nike Air Huarache, low-top
· Puma Trimm Quick Aurora Red, low-top
· Adidas Hamburg Shadow Blue, low-top
· Adidas Gazelle Teal, low-top
· Adidas Tubular Invader, high-top
· Adidas Climacool, low-top
· Nike Roshe LD, low-top
· Vans Nintendo Collab, low-top
· NB 574 Fresh Foam, low-top