Honouring the Sneaker: A step-by-step look into the colourful history of the shoe

April 2021 _ History of the shoe and sneaker
Main art by: Isabelle Feliu @isabellefeliu

The art of protecting and supporting our feet has been long, illustrious and ever-evolving. The shoe, and in particular the sneaker, has come far and wide, so we wanted to take a look back at it’s colourful history to see the ups, downs and roundabouts it’s taken to bring us to the durable, comfortable and highly coveted (SAYE) sneaker we see today.

THE ART OF PROTECTING AND SUPPORTING OUR FEET HAS BEEN LONG, ILLUSTRIOUS AND EVER-EVOLVING. THE SHOE, AND IN PARTICULAR THE SNEAKER, HAS COME FAR AND WIDE, SO WE WANTED TO TAKE A LOOK BACK AT IT’S COLOURFUL HISTORY TO SEE THE UPS, DOWNS AND ROUNDABOUTS IT’S TAKEN TO BRING US TO THE DURABLE, COMFORTABLE AND HIGHLY COVETED (SAYE) SNEAKER WE SEE TODAY.

It’s difficult to imagine what life would have been like pre-shoe wearing and the journey it would have taken to arrive at the sneaker we have today. Our imagination instantly transports us back to the caveman era, imagine the earliest of modern humans trudging through mud, climbing over rocky terrain, crossing rivers, it’s wet, dry, cold, and wet again.

Our feet, the poor things, must have really been put through the wringer.

Like all revolutionary ideas, it was most probably the practical need and desire to protect the feet from external factors that would’ve been the driving force behind fashioning footwear out of the material found in nature.

Over the next thousands of years, the foot protecting industry has steadily grown and grown and made it into a multi-billion dollar powerhouse today, in which design and appearance is just as important as functionality.

The story of the shoe seems to have a few holes in it, not what you really look for in a shoe, so it’s difficult to nail down an exact timeline.

Many accounts say that footwear was technically created 40,000yrs ago, some reports date to the Catalonia region of Spain in the 13th century and others say that ‘real shoes’ the way we know them were created back in the 1500s.

What we do know about the sneaker, is that the very first one was invented by Wait Webster in the 19th century. It wasn't called a sneaker then, they were originally called Plimsolls, and featured super thin rubber soles, with an ultra thin material on top and were used for active exercise or activities.

So let’s step back in time (pun intended) as we look through the history of the sneaker…

FIRST SHOE EVER FOUND

THE EARLY STORY OF FOOTWEAR

THE EARLY STORY OF FOOTWEAR

Recently archaeologists uncovered some preserved shoe prints that were dated back to the Paleolithic era, some 40,000 years ago. Experts have hypothesized that it’s probably when early man began to adapt his feet to his environment.

The oldest footwear ever actually recovered dates back to around 3,500 BCE and were found in an Armenian Cave. Made out of pieces of rawhide stuffed with straw and tied together with leather strips, These ancient moccasins were most probably used to traverse and hunt in the rocky terrain of the Middle East. However the oldest protective foot coverings ever found could hardly be called shoes at all.

The evolution that footwear has seen from thousands of years ago to now is extreme. From the papyrus sandals of the Egyptians, to European pointed toed uncomfortable eye-sores known as Poullions, and finally to the extravagant and advanced sneakers, heals, flats, sandals, boots of today, footwear has constantly evolved to suit the needs, tastes and expectations of the times.

THEN CAME THE SNEAKER

1832

In 1832 a shoemaker named Wait Webster patented a process whereby rubber soles were added to shoes and boots.

1892

In 1892, Goodyear (the rubber tire company) produced a shoe labeled plimsoll, which they later branded Keds, featuring thick rubber soles that were melded to canvas fabric.

The creation of plimsoll marked the very beginning of the modern sport shoe that we see today.

Following on from his creation, Goodyear came up with the first vulcanized rubber galoshes; then went on to make canvas-and-rubber tennis shoes which are a similar version to the traditional sneaker. However it’s important to note actual sneakers were invented by U.S. Rubber, a conglomerate that bought Goodyear’s shoe company in 1892.

Many companies around America were following the release and quick success of Keds and in 1917 the Converse Rubber Shoe Company created what would come to define the rubberized shoe, the Converse All-Star.

Converse began marketing the new All-Stars towards the emerging basketball community, by convincing Chuck Taylor, who was one of the best high school players in all of America to wear and endorse their shoes. To great success! The shoes themselves were even called Chuck Taylors, and became the best selling shoe of all time, with 550 million pairs produced since 1917.

FUN FACT

Ever wondered why they’re called sneakers?

The story goes that sneakers were so quiet thanks to their rubber soles, especially compared to the thuds, squeaks or clicks the footsteps of other shoes of that era made, that you could easily sneak up on someone in them. Sneakers were essentially the world’s first silent shoe.

If you spun around fast on a basketball court, they would produce a high-pitched squeal, but essentially they provided stealth and surefootedness.

1936

Adolf "Adi" Dassler, now famously known as the founder of Adidas, was a german cobbler, entrepreneur and inventor who in the early 1930’s began creating sneakers with athletes in mind. From modern running shoes, to spiked heels for sprinting, his creations were internationally acknowledged as the best.

Adidas (then named Dassler) gained massive recognition when Olympic Gold Medalist, Jesse Owens, wore a pair of Dassler's shoes to the 1936 games. It’s then that the industry, the branding and marketing surrounding it really took off.

1950-1960s

Running shoes continued to evolve throughout the '50s and 60’s, and namely The Trackster from New Balance was the first running shoe made in multiple widths. Which meant more runners than ever had access to the sport as they allowed for an ideal fit.

The Trackster claimed to enhance traction, absorb shock, and prevent injuries, which were common with the metal spiked sprint shoes of that period.

1970s

As technology and interest grew, the sneaker became bigger, with more support around the ankle and a chunkier heel.In the 70s running became one of the most fashionable types of active leisure, and it was around the same time that another label emerged, the one and only, Nike.

One of its founders, Bill Bowerman, was obsessed with the idea of ​​making shoes for running lightweight and eventually birthed the Nike Waffle shoe, designed to have runners land on their heel while running. According to the story, Bowerman made his first waffle sole using his wife’s waffle iron, hence the unique name!It would take another decade or so, before we would see sneakers in every single wardrobe and outfit across the globe.

1980s

The year everything in the sneaker world changed.

Nike, Reebok, and Adidas were beginning to become household names and were dominating the running shoes market.

Throughout the 1980s, Nike makes its mark with two huge pivotal moves.

In 1985, the world saw one of the largest brand x star partnerships, as Air Jordans were produced exclusively for Michael Jordan and marked the beginning of the brand's collaboration with the basketball legend. The announcement spurred pandemonium. To this very day, the Air Jordans are one of the most famous sneakers and they continue to accumulate colossal sales.

Nike’s second foray into famosity was in 1987 Nike made a revolution in the world of running, creating Nike Air Max – the world’s first sneakers with a visible air cushion as a shock absorber.

With Nike cornering the sports market, Adidas began marketing toward everyday, non-athletic usage. The brand iconically collaborated with music group Run-D.M.C. to introduce the brand to a whole new market.

1990s

Sneakers became more of a fashion statement in the '90s. The chunkier, the better.

The 80s and 90s were a key time for sports shoes. With many brands gaining more and more popularity and sales growing, the footwear market was now well and truly for the masses. Designs, prints, colors evolved with current trends, laying the foundations of what we know today as sneakers.

The turn of the 1990s meant that the competition was now fierce. Sneakers were no longer competing against other types of footwear, but against other brands of sneakers. Marketing became central with huge budgets, and the endorsement of sports stars and celebrities grew much larger than ever. They were marketed as a fashion statement, not just sports shoes.

2018

The first prototype of the Saye Sneaker was in February 2018. Our mission was to build an online sneakers’ brand that created super cool sneakers you’ll want to wear for years. On top of that we would plant trees for each sale, become a zero-waste brand by using bio-based and recycled materials and be true to these values and overall purpose forever.

3 years later and we are ROCKING OUT better than ever before, thanks to you, our valued customer, and to a wonderful team of superstars.

Let us know below what your all time favourite sneakers have been!!!

“We do not
inherit the
Earth from our
Ancestors, we
borrow it from
our children”

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