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Reportedly originating in the 1920s, the notion of ‘hype’ has been around for just 100 years. Despite its later ascendance into the English vocabulary, the term is one of the most overused today, and remains largely vague by definition. You hear the millennial generation speak in tongues: “That’s a hype” or “He’s only here for the hype”, but what do they actually mean? It’s a concept that has built the world’s biggest celebrities and streetwear labels and one that has now been attested with the modern ‘sneaker bubble’.

At least three decades in the making, and thanks to the rise of streetwear from underground subcultures, sneakers have become big business – we’re talking 55 billion dollars. Stemming from sporting powerhouses, including Nike and Adidas, the movement had initially found its momentum with the endorsements of big-name celebrities and brand-to-brand collaborations – namely the 1984 Nike Air Jordans. While sneakers arrived without the internet, they have come to define it, and little did anyone know the social epidemic it would eventually cause.

25: The average number of sneakers sold by Nike per second

“The biggest thing is, it’s kind of an industry that people thought would have died down by now, but it is becoming more and more popular,” Gerard Caradonna, buyer for Sydney’s Subtype Store, told ICON. “That’s also because it started off as such a niche demographic when you look back years and years ago. Sneakers were within specific cultures and groups, but it was never a minority. Today, it is worn by literally every single guy and girl who are within their own world or bubble and they’ve all contributed to the sneaker community.”

$4.4 billion: The total revenue of the Jordan brand during 2017

The success of the industry has sparked an innumerable slew of celebrity collaborations, cult followers and consequential exorbitant reselling leading the ‘bubble’ to become inflated. Loosely thrown about in a new age of economics, it almost seems outlandish to liken the current phenomena to the 17th-century Dutch ‘tulip fever’. Although its relevance is strangely uncanny.

During the Dutch Golden Age, spanning throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, science, art and trade stood in great steed among the world’s most prosperous countries. Before the Eighty Years’ War between the Dutch and the Spanish, the Netherlands was building its economy and opportunities for the people, and, in turn, a new influx of luxuries arrived at the shores – one of these rare commodities was tulips. Viewed as a symbol of wealth and hierarchy – like the wearer of 1984 Nike Air Jordans in the streetwear community – the Dutch people began to collect the tulip. It was considered hard to cultivate in a way that brought out the exotic colours, and thus prices rose as demand increased. Companies were established to buy and sell the bulb and soon after the flower was traded along lengthy chains of resellers. A desperate bid to gain a healthy profit. (Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?)

$268,816: The resell price of  Michael Jordan’s worn 1984 Converse Fastbreak sneakers

Speculated to have occurred between the years of 1634 and the “great collapse” in 1637, the unique event has long been studied among historians and economists. The details and facts surrounding ‘tulip fever’ are generally fluid.

In the space of an alleged three years of trade and an eventual oversupply of stock, prices were said to have plummeted. Contracts were not fulfilled, leading to unpaid merchants in February 1637, and so the stiff social construct of the Dutch society had diminished and ‘tulip fever’ regressed back into the ground it had once sprouted from. Some tales speak of absurd gambling and irrational buying, while others believe the trade was indeed very systematic in its dealings. Nevertheless, its formula for inevitable collapse has remained universal.

10 mins: The time it took for the first Yeezy Boost 750 to sell out

Its acceleration and sudden halt was dramatic to say the least, and centuries later our spending habits appear to be no different. Nowadays, consumers will sleep in front of stores overnight to cop the first pair of new-release BAPE kicks, while a rare pair of 1984 OG Air Jordan 1 sneakers were recently auctioned off with a starting bid of US$50,000. How’s that for absurdity?

But where does the buck stop? A saturation is now upon us and there is a clear decrease in how much the mainstream market is willing to pay for a hyped pair of shoes.

$1311: The average resell price of the Off-White x Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers

“There’s so much in the market. These days you’re looking at collaborations every week from multiple brands, so I think the consumer is no longer loyal to a particular store like they used to be,” Caradonna explained. “Number one, brands have overdone it with collaborations these days. Before, when a collaboration would come out, no matter what it would be, people would be all over it. These days, you’ve got a collaboration every single week with different brands and, unless it’s Supreme, no one cares. That’s had an effect in the slowdown of the sneaker bubble.

“Every brand is trying to beat ‘that’ brand. It’s bringing out great shoes and the sneaker market has never been so excited about so many releases, but eventually everything comes to a stop. For that mainstream consumer, they’re not in it for the long haul. They’re all about the buzz now, but eventually if this continues to go on and it becomes a pattern, they are just going to pull away.”

400 million: The average number pair of shoes produced by Adidas annually

Comparatively, the dubbed ‘sneaker bubble’ is more of a slow burn. It’s agreed that hardcore collectors and savvy resellers will continue on the baton and the industry will never truly die. But in a world where we strive to be different, we all dress the same, and, if anything, we beg to ask: what’s next for the large majority?

“I think we’re definitely going to see another uplift in luxury come through over the next couple of years,” said Caradonna. “For that mainstream culture, I certainly think it will go more court and basics.”

From the classic silhouette of the court shoe – think Converse, Lacoste and Superga – and preppy essentials, paradoxically Caradonna believes minimalism will see a new wave into the market. But will the trend have the same impact as that of the hyped sneaker model? Either way, you heard it here first.

Sources (Opposite page, top to bottom): NDP, Business Insider, Sneaker Freaker, Vox, Lyst, Expanded Ramblings. All prices converted from USD to AUD 23/3/19.

THIS ARTICLE APPEARED ORIGINALLY IN THE APRIL 2019 EDITION OF ICON MAGAZINE.

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thoughts?