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‘More than a shoe’: Museum exhibit celebrates America’s sneaker culture

A Brooklyn Museum exhibit explores the rise of sneaker culture in the U.S. and how the shoes, which were invented in the late 1800s, evolved into a $34 billion industry. NewsHour's Ivette Feliciano reports.

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  • TYE WALLEN:

    These are like my children.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Tye Wallen says he wears every last one of his 300 pairs of "children," though you might just call them sneakers.

    Since the 22-year-old Brooklyn college student began collecting vintage and new basketball shoes 10 years ago, he estimates he spent close to $50,000 on them, from $25 to $1,500 a pair.

  • TYE WALLEN:

    I'm into them because of the style, how they look, how they feel. I get stopped all the time about the different sneakers I wear. I won't get rid of any of them unless I really have to.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    When he buys sneakers secondhand, Wallen keeps the original box to preserve their history.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Out of all of these shoes, how many would you say you actually wear?

  • CHRIS VASQUEZ:

    Ten, 15 pairs?

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Ten, 15 pairs out of more than 100 pairs of shoes?

  • CHRIS VASQUEZ:

    Yeah.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Unlike Wallen, 21-year-old Chris Vasquez, who's also from Brooklyn, keeps most of his more modest, 100-pair collection stored away in his closet.

  • CHRIS VASQUEZ:

    I mean, if you just look at the way these sneakers look and the box that they came in, this is more than a shoe; it's art. So, I think, if you wore them, you kind of, like– you kinda destroy them. I mean, you wouldn't wear a painting, would you?

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    No.

  • CHRIS VASQUEZ:

    Yeah.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    If both Vasquez and Wallen, who consider themselves "sneakerheads" needed any validation their collections are art, thye need to look no further than this exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    The story begins in the mid-1800s, when the company Goodyear invented the vulcanized rubber sole.

    The fact that we are in an exhibit dedicated to sneaker culture, what does that say about the industry and where it's headed?

  • JIAN DELEON:

    I mean, it's a double-edged sword…

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Jian Deleon is the Deputy Style Editor at Complex Magazine, which covers urban fashion and hip hop culture.

  • JIAN DELEON:

    This culture that was once for a certain group of insiders who were super passionate about it has become mainstream.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    In 1917, Converse introduced the first canvas-top sneakers made just for basketball. The "All-Star" was later named after athlete Chuck Taylor.

    Fast forward to the 1980s, sneaker companies saw an emerging market in black and urban communities.

  • JIAN DELEON:

    Sneaker culture, hip-hop culture, street wear, they're all part of this community that stems from, you know, hip-hop in the '80s. There was a distinct mode of dress that, you know, for a lot of minorities, like, these were our status symbols.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Nothing brought more status than owning a pair of J's or Air Jordans, created by Nike in the basketball icon's rookie season. Deleon believes this is when sneakerhead culture was born.

  • JIAN DELEON:

    It's like advertising was made to make us want these as luxurious items that represented: "Okay, I have enough to spend $200 on a shoe." You know, "My house may not be as big as I want it to be, but I got them J's, though."

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Sneaker sales in the U.S. today are $34 billion a year. Dozens of blogs and forums announce sneaker release dates and where to snag a coveted pair.

    Deleon points to high-end sneakers on display at the museum by designers such as Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo and even Chanel. This 2009 collaboration sneaker between Louis Vuitton and Kanye West retailed for $960. This Ebay seller is asking for $3,400 for her pair.

  • TYE WALLEN:

    It's a great feeling, but it's never over.

  • IVETTE FELICIANO:

    Tye Wallen says he cares less about brand-name recognition or price tags. Sneakers simply make him happy. He knows many people may not understand his pricey hobby, but he'll keep collecting sneakers for years to come, keeping a running wish list on his smartphone.

  • TYE WALLEN:

    Any shoe that I bought, I don't regret. You can be anybody you wanna be through a pair of sneakers.

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