10 black icons that shaped the sneaker industry

If you take a moment to think about some of the most hyped sneaker collaborations in history, you'll find that the majority of them were made by black people. From Kanye West to Serena Williams, the game wouldn't be what it is today without people of color at the helm, so we present ten black icons that shaped the sneaker industry as we shaped it.

Why is this important? Black culture is not celebrated enough and in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, it is vital that we use our platform to showcase the individuals who have made the greatest impact on the culture. Just think about the music you listen to or even the movies you watch - would it really be what it is without POC?

No, which is why we think it is essential to defend these legends because they are not just a well-known name associated with a brand. They are an inspiration to all of us and each of them deserves more credit when it comes to credit.

 

Kanye West

It's safe to say that many of us wouldn't love sneakers if it wasn't for Kanye West. Although he is known as an artist with a whopping twenty-one Grammys under his belt, he is now perhaps better known for his contribution to the sneaker game. From BAPE to Nike to Louis Vuitton, Ye has worked with them all, but his partnership with adidas is by far his most successful to date.

Starting in 2015 with the Yeezy Boost 750, he's since released more than ten standout silhouettes, each of which plays an important role in shaping the culture. For example, Yeezus debuted the Yeezy 700 at the 5 Yeezy Season 2017 showcase, and chunky sneakers have become wildly popular ever since. While it can be argued that Raf Simons started the trend with his avant-garde take on the Ozweego, the craze wasn't quite socially acceptable until Ye came into the spotlight.

 

Martine Rose

One of the most talked about designers, Martine Rose kicked off her rise to stardom in 2017 with her breathtaking London Fashion Week menswear collections. Since then, she has partnered with a host of different brands, including Balenciaga and Napapijri, who reintroduced the ultra-popular floral fleece that sold out in previous seasons.

Of course, you can't talk about the British designer's accomplishments without mentioning her Nike Air Monarch collaboration that redesigned the classic silhouette from scratch. Available in three clean colorways, all were injected with bulbous pods that paid tribute to Rose's love of wearable sculptures.

 

Michael Jordan

Whether you know him as the professional basketball player, the entrepreneur or the owner of the Charlotte Hornets, one thing everyone knows Michael Jordan for is his signature Air Jordan line. One of Nike's most successful and popular shoes, the partnership began nearly four decades ago in 1984, and it's still going strong.

Comprised of over thirty unique silhouettes, the most iconic of all has to be the 1 Air Jordan 1985 and the 4 Air Jordan 1989. He's also collaborated with some of the biggest names in art, music and fashion, including KAWS, Eminem, and Virgil Abloh. It's a good thing MJ listened to his mom as he originally wanted to sign with adidas before Deloris Jordan convinced him to meet the Swoosh first, and the rest is history.

 

Pharrel williams

Best known for his NMD Hu line, Pharrell Williams' coveted adidas collaboration dates back to 2014. In September of that year, he teamed up with the Three Stripes for the world famous adidas Superstar "Supercolor" collection. Consisting of fifty different shades, this was something that had never been done before.

In 2017, Skateboard P and Karl Lagerfeld said goodbye to Colette with the Chanel x Pharrell x adidas NMD Hu. Limited to just 500 pairs, each sold for around £ 1.000 and sold exclusively through an online lottery. They launched on November 23, and just two days later, the Paris retailer closed its doors for the last time.

 

Rihanna

Nine Grammys, twelve Billboard Music Awards, thirteen American Music Awards and seven MTV Video Music Awards, these are just a few of Rihanna's achievements before we even talk about her contribution to the fashion and sneaker scene.

RiRi has worked with some of the most notable fashion designers for years, so it was no surprise when she launched her own label. Shortly after, she teamed up with PUMA for the FENTY x PUMA collection that hit the runways of every major Fashion Week, with many sneakerheads calling her PUMA Creeper 2016's Shoe of the Year. Not only was this a big year for women of fashion, it was also monumental for people of color.

 

Run DMC

While Run DMC isn't exactly an individual, it's safe to say the sneaker industry wouldn't be what it is today without them. Founded in 1983 by Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels and Jason Mizell, they are considered one of the most influential acts in the history of hip-hop culture. They were also one of the first groups to sign a multi-million dollar deal with adidas.

Known for wearing their Adidas Superstars laceless and sticking out tongues, nearly half a million pairs were sold in the same year, which was an unprecedented number for the time. The Three Stripes then launched an entire Run DMC line, complete with fully sponsored tours.

 

Serena Williams

Serena Williams is not only a legend on the tennis court, she has won twenty-three Grand Slam titles, which is what most players in the Open Era are, she is also a great fashion icon. From her 2018 Vogue cover to her ongoing collaboration with Nike, a collection that really had sneakerheads on their feet, Williams' Off-White x Nike collab in which Virgil Abloh designed three colourways just for her.

Dubbed the "QUEEN" collection, the pack consists of the Nike Air Max 97, the Nike Blazer Mid and the NikeCourt Flare 2 PE. Each model featured a gradient midsole that fades from pink to purple, as well as black deconstructed elements and a "Volt" zip.

 

Skepta

Skepta is bringing it back to the UK and has been making strides since the early 2000s. From his humble Tottenham beginnings to his Konnichiwa days, his Nigerian ancestry has always played a big part in his work. In 2018, he was even installed as a chef in his Nigerian hometown in Ogun state and received the title of chief of the Amuludun of Odo-Aje.

As for sneakers, the British grime artist stole the scene in 2017 with his Nike Air Max 97. Inspired by a trip to Morocco, the upper was painted in a luxurious gold and black palette and adorned with traditional patterns. He has since had three other Swoosh silhouettes, including the Skepta x Nike Air Max 97 / BW hybrid, which arguably started the mismatched trend.

 

Travis Scott

It's crazy to think that Travis Scott only signed with Nike three years ago and the culture hasn't been the same ever since. He started it all with a Nike Air Force 1 in 2017 and then expanded to the Air Jordan line for two years before returning to the AF1 with the 2019 "Cactus Jack". He also worked on the Nike SB Dunk in 2020 and ever since, the skateboard silhouette has become one of the most hyped silhouettes of the year, with even general releases selling out within seconds of dropping.

You obviously can't talk about his Swoosh collab without calling the Travis Scott x Air Jordan 1 High "Dark Mocha". Known for its earthy palette, La Flame literally turned things around by reversing the Swoosh. While this was originally considered gimmicky by many sneakerheads, it quickly became an icon that is sure to make it into the history books.

 

Virgil Abloh

Originally trained as an architect, Virgil Abloh's calling came about when he started making his own T-shirts at a screen printing shop in Chicago, where he met Kanye West. The duo later did an internship at Fendi for a short period, after which he first dove into the world of streetwear with Pyrex Vision, which later became Off-White.

Known for his use of quotation marks, zip-ties and barricade tape, he joined Team Nike in 2017 for the coveted "THE TEN" that deconstructed ten of the Swoosh's most iconic silhouettes. Just a year later, Abloh was crowned Louis Vuitton's artistic director of menswear. This step was important from a diversity standpoint, as the Parisian label had never had an African American artistic director. It also meant he was one of the few color designers to run a major fashion house, after Olivier Rousteing for Balmain and Ozwald Boateng for Givenchy.