In 2016, the athletic footwear industry was valued at $55 million. Now, it’s predicted that the industry will reach a shockingly large $95 billion in 2025. And as if that wasn’t enough, the resale market alone in 2025 is expected to reach $6 billion from its $2 billion valuation today.
So why is this the case? Those new to the concept of sneakers may wonder why such an industry could produce such a large consumer base.
It is an understandable inquiry, after all. Most people would walk into an outlet mall, browse the shelves for the shoes that balance pleasing aesthetics with an acceptable price, whip out the credit card, and walk out satisfied. But for self-proclaimed sneakerheads, it’s a tad more complicated.
Simply put, sneakers are released constantly. (Those of you who are well-versed with sneaker culture can skip this part.) Brands collaborate to “drop” shoes on a certain date. Depending on the quantity supplied and the quantity demanded (or as some people like to call it, hype), prices can vary on the resale market. Some pairs will even fetch up to five figures. The public will often wait outside stores in long lines for these releases for the chance to purchase shoes at retail value (which is more often than not considerably cheaper than resale value). I’ll explain why this is important later.
The initial momentum behind the sneaker movement can be attributed to many things–most notably of which are sports, celebrities, and street culture. The success of Nike’s Jordan line in the late 1980s, for example, came from the Air Jordan 1. The image of the Jordan 1 when worn by Michael Jordan himself coupled with ads like this heightened public interest in the shoe, cementing it as the supposed backbone of streetwear culture for many decades after. Skateboarding magazines also helped popularize the Jordan 1 and the Nike SB Dunk (which came much later), along with several other brands which would rise to the forefront of streetwear soon after. Similarly at the time, hip hop helped propel shoes like the Superstar, Air Force 1, and Cortez to fame in the eye of the public. Even today, athletes and celebrities normalize classic and contemporary sneakers in mainstream culture.
The reason why the industry continues to grow, however, is not solely due to this longstanding intertwinement between culture and history. Reselling has been made more popular with apps like GOAT or StockX, but has been made more accessible with the development of social media in the last decade. With reseller culture comes entrepreneurial spirit; this act of buying for retail and selling for resale (mentioned earlier) fosters competition for profit between all demographics, opening up alternative career paths for many.
The integration of sneakers into mainstream culture and the accessibility of reselling have each given rise to a new meaning for sneaker culture; but together, it means there is a high chance its movement won’t be slowing down anytime soon.