Sneaker enthusiasts, aka Sneakerheads, know the importance of looking good in a fresh pair of kicks. Settled between sports culture and hip-hop culture, Sneakerheads have carved out their own community on YouTube.
Sneakerheads have a near encyclopedic memory of shoe style and history, all the way down to the subtle differentiations in color and other changes from one generation of shoes to another. They love everything about sneakers, from the look, to the feel, to the history of the shoe. Specific shoes in specific “colorways” have names like “Grape 5s” or “Military Blues.”
When Sneakerheads are asked about their personal histories with shoes, many can recall the shoe that made them fall in love with sneakers, the first shoe they collected, the most expensive, rarest, most comfortable… the list goes on and on.
Crowds form over sneaker releases. Like Apple releases, it is not uncommon for people to buy an extra pair or two with the intention of reselling them. Queues and crowds form outside shops. People even camp out.
Sneakerheads have their own words like “heat” (a rare shoe), or “deadstock” (shoes that have never been worn). Blogs and other users get shout outs for hooking them up. There is even a word for someone concerned only with the hottest new shoes rather than those more appreciative of the culture and history of sneaker collecting – “hypebeast.”
The language gets more complicated and harder to understand for the uninitiated, depending on the kind of video. For example, a “pickup video” or a “top 5 favorites video” might take more time to go over each shoe, which therefore gives more time to the viewer to catch up through context. Whereas a sneaker “closet tour video” or a video about a large collection would be harder to keep up for a viewer not in the know.
Sneakerheads on YouTube shout out to each other and to members of the community, including tastemakers and sellers. Not only do Sneakerheads make videos on YouTube, but they make videos about each other as well. Sneaker culture loves investigating the sneaker collections of the rich and famous. There are more official shows that do this for the community, in addition to individual vloggers.
Because of the ties between sneakers and celebrity culture, especially within the hip-hop and sports communities, there are all sorts of videos celebrating that connection. Basketball players open up their shoe closets for exploration by niche influencers online.
The inter-community commerce of Sneakerheads is impressive because there is an understood code for the value of a pair of shoes. Unlike most people’s relationships with shoes as something to simply buy and wear until the end of the life of a shoe, Sneakerheads’ shoes, if worn, are kept as close to “deadstock” condition as possible. There is an emphasis on Nikes, especially Dunks, Airs, Lebrons as well as Air Jordans, along with shout outs to Reebok and Adidas.
Sneakers are fashionable collectables just as much as they are collectible fashion. Sneakerheads buy, wear, sell, collect, trade or admire sneakers.
The commerce of collectibles is in full swing when looking to buy kicks. Sneakerheads post videos showcasing shoes they are putting up for sale or trade. Unlike other platforms, YouTube is ideal for components to social selling as well. Sneakerheads can build rapports with their viewers so that if one decides to sell some shoes, the customer base has already been established and their familiarity with a collection has been solidified.
Urban apparel/street wear is also featured heavily. Shoutouts to brands and individuals that help dudes get gear are the norm. Some larger personalities in the community get sent products from brands in addition to making their own purchases.
Typical video style
Many videos are against the backdrop of a shoe collection. Sneakerheads differentiate shoes based on brand, line, make, model, color, sport, celebrity affiliation, comfort, cost and availability. These videos are frequently shot handheld or on a tripod and without lighting setup. When there isn’t a dedicated closet to display shoes as a backdrop, most of the time, shoes are stored in their original packaging, emulating the back room at a shoe store.
Videos fall into a few major categories: Pickups, Favorites, Collections, Closet Tours, Cleaning, and Personal Vlogs. There are some shows on YouTube dedicated to the more high profile elements of sneaker culture, but on the individual level, these categories tend to mirror those of other consumer-cultural verticals.
Because many of the most popular shoes, like Air Jordans and Nikes. have seemingly endless styles in countless colorways, there are seemingly infinite ways to categorize and show off parts of a shoe collection.
TimothyDeLaGhetto, a big time YouTuber outside of the sneaker scene, has a channel devoted to Urban Apparel. His channel is sponsored by Foot Locker, which is way outside the norm. He once said the inspiration for starting his channel was by watching the Beauty Gurus and noticing that there wasn’t an equivalent for men. His style is unusual and an outlier in the scene. But, his outlier status might stem from the fact that he is far more versed in the YouTube game overall, and it’s a positive sign that fan communities don’t exist in isolated bubbles.
“Let me tell you what this is about. Everyday … there are people asking me ‘dude, where do you get your shoes? Where do you buy your clothes? Where do you get your beanie? How do I dress? … So I thought, there is all these chicks doing makeup tips and ‘this is my outfit of the day’, and hauls and all this stuff, and I was like ‘you know what, a lot of my dudes out there need some guidance as well.'”
Sneakerhead practices as earned media makers on YouTube are indicative of how certain communities establish relationships with brands and identities. Some of these video practices parallel other consumptive communities like Beauty Gurus and Fashion/Lifestyle vloggers. As a subgroup of shoes in general, Sneakerheads stand out because of how closely products and language are to both a sense of self and determining community boundaries.
To learn more about fan culture in general, check out our eBook or other posts about fan behavior. If you think your brand or vertical might have a vibrant subculture on YouTube, check out some steps for finding your fans online. Or, if you really want to get into the weeds of the Sneakerhead world and go to SneakerCon, then don’t leave home without reading some expert tips and tricks for navigating a fan convention.
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