Sneakers have gone a long way from being just a pair of comfortable footwear. You probably even have plenty of pairs to stock an entire closet. You can’t be faulted for the extravagance, though, especially nowadays when the shoe is engineered to maximize comfort and functionality for every type of physical activity imaginable. There was a time when leather shoes were considered the end-all of style and comfort, until familiar brands released custom footwear that traded sleek designs in favor of efficiency. Now you’ll see celebrities wearing basketball shoes and sneakers everywhere, even to formal galas and red carpet events. The Rubber Sole of Sneaker Technology The sneaker started out as an offshoot of an unlikely product: the bicycle tire. Manufacturers eventually realized the importance of firm grip to foot traction, incorporating the rubber sole to beach footwear.
The first pairs rolled out in England in the early 19th century, earning the nickname of plimsolls and gathering a small following. Sports companies like Spalding eventually caught wind of the idea of creating shoes for athletic events, at the turn of the 20th century and with the renewed interest in recreational sports. The first Olympic Games of the century probably spiked market interest and introduced the sneaker as the footwear of choice for athletes. Ergonomic Design When the First World War came to a sobering conclusion, the public found recreational sports and community activities a noble cause and diversion. These increased the demand for footwear which serves the purpose, and brands like Keds and Converse stepped up to meet the need. This period saw the exponential growth of the sneaker industry, overlapping the sectors of media, business, and the arts like never before. Manufacturers saw the need to incorporate technology and ergonomics into the design, leading to shoes built for better traction, comfort and fit. Ventilation slits were introduced to the design to maintain comfort during intense physical activity, and soles were treaded and padded in a variety of ways to maximize functionality.
Introduction to Popular Culture Up to this point, sneakers were merely considered as the footwear for athletes, up until the 1950’s when the American educational system permitted relaxed dress codes for students. Boys and men were the first to see the potential use of sneakers as casual footwear, and the resulting popularity prompted the leather shoe companies’ reaction. The latter claimed sneakers don’t complement the form of developing feet, but sneaker companies maintained that the designs ensured freedom from the constricted fits of leather shoes and hard soles. Custom Footwear for a Variety of Activities The growing market was eventually met with the introduction of imported brands, with new designs coming in as early as the 1960’s. Pop culture contributed to the popularity of the sneaker, especially in the next decade when jogging became the preferred activity for many pedestrians. Walking and running on asphalt and concrete strain ankles and feet, and newer, more appropriate designs were called for. This led to the customization of active footwear to complement specific sports, and the rest, as they say, is history. You can check online and survey a variety of shoes built for comfort and function. Active footwear engineering isn’t exactly rocket science, but the technology certainly comes close to it.