The 10 Most Influential Sneakers of the 2010’s
In a decade full of ‘influencers’, it takes something truly special to cut through and create a significant impact. Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen the rise and rise of our ever-changing sneaker culture, and, if you dig into it, you can pinpoint those influential shifts down to a certain few pivotal moments
We’ve sure seen some banging drops this decade — from colorful statement sneakers to trainer takeovers and straight hype-generating drops — but this isn’t a ‘best of’ list. It’s all about influence; A list full of sneakers that changed the shape and rhythm of the sneaker landscape through their respective releases. One could even call these all Wave Runners because these either started a wave or were the biggest part of one.
So, whilst we near the end of the ten-year spell that was the 2010’s, the team at HOUSE OF HEAT sat down, brainstormed, deliberated, culled, argued and almost punched on over what we think are The 10 Most Influential Sneakers of the 2010’s — so we hope you enjoy it. We literally spilled blood for you guys.
10. Ronnie Fieg x ASICS GEL-Lyte III ‘Salmon Toe’
The KITH founder has had such an influence on the trainer culture this decade, so much so that we wanted to include Ronnie’s entire collaborative body of work. But if we had to pick just one sneaker that encapsulates Ronnie Fieg’s influence on the sneaker culture, it would be GEL-Lyte III ‘Salmon Toe.’ Simply put, this is the best Ronnie Fieg collaboration to date. It encapsulates Fies knack for simplistic style, minimal yet worked enough to be different. With only 72 pairs made — 40 of those including special wooden boxing — building a ton of hype along the way.
Ronnie Fieg’s importance to the ASICS Gel-Lyte III, ASICS, and the trainer culture as a whole, is undeniable. With 70+ collaborative releases under his belt, it’s classics like these, as well as the liks of his ‘Cove’, ‘Nice Kicks’ and ‘Miami’ drops that are still being talked about as the best trainers of the decade that put him right at the top of the list os most influential collaborators of the 2010s.
9. LeBron 8 ‘South Beach’
LeBron James, a Clevelander through and through. Selected at Number 1 in the 2003 NBA draft by his home team, and carried the franchise on his back to the NBA Finals in 2007. It was something that every child dreams of growing up. But when circumstances lead the King to leave Ohio to join D-Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach, the entire basketball world was in shock. Many, myself included, thought that James would be a Cavalier for life. It was — and still is — one of the most momentous decisions in all of sports. Every eyeball in the sports world was on the King and Co. in SoFlo — and Nike had an enormous opportunity to leverage the situation for their hoops division — and what they came up with was pure perfection, the LeBron 8 “South Beach”.
The signature Miami tones of teal and pink were completely different from methodical team-color releases we were accustomed to — it was far different from anything we’d seen before. It was one of the first few sneakers responsible for the explosion of aftermarket sales, and it put Nike Basketball into an entirely different league for the proceeding 4-to-5 years. From insane Christmas releases to What The drops — Nike Hoops was on a tear. Hell, people were even wearing current-day models as fashion pieces — What The? — and it all came back to this banger. Nike Basketball’s best ever sneaker? We know so.
8. Fragment x Air Jordan 1
In the lead up to the 30th anniversary of the Air Jordan 1, Jordan Brand linked up with Hiroshi Fujiwara’s Fragment Design to introduce the “Remastered” Air Jordan 1 signature line. The updated take on the silhouette saw the return of high-quality materials to the iconic Peter Moore-designed sneaker, and with it came a ton of killer flow-on colorways. The newly remastered makeups were more in-line with vintage qualities of the OG 1985, but more importantly, restored an aesthetic that was hella pleasing on the eye. The hype, helped it all along, of course, a formula that’s stood the test of time. There’s no doubt that this was a turning point for the Air Jordan 1, which is now widely considered as the most popular sneaker on the market today.
7. Air Jordan 11 ‘Concord’
Nobody likes hitting the malls a couple of days before Christmas. But in a time before online sneaker drops and raffles, we had to. Jordan Brand’s decision to bring back the OG Air Jordan 11 ‘Concord’ — arguably the most iconic sneaker of part II of Mike’s career — on December 23rd meant pandemonium. The release was also right at the hight of a sneaker and streetwear boom, with celebrities like Kanye West and Pharrell always seen in Jordan retros. You can just imagine the chaos. So much so that police had to shut down several malls in Austin and Seattle, and even had to use pepper spray to keep the crowd in order. Sales were canceled in Richmond, Califonia after shots were fired into the air. A kid even died after being stabbed over a pair in D.C. — R.I.P.
Like the previously mentioned LeBron 8 ‘South Beach,’ the Concord was another sneaker that contributed to the aftermarket boom. Its release was the pinnacle for Jordan Brand’s non-collaborative releases from the decade — a moment so influential on the brand’s future performance that we might not see another OG release ever top it.
6. adidas YEEZY 350 V1
The biggest sneaker news story of the decade was Kanye West’s decision to leave Nike for adidas at the peak of his collaborative clout. Fresh off the heels of the Air Yeezy 2 — the most hyped sneaker in history (fact) — there was a falling out. Kanye wanted more creative freedom; He expressed frustration over Nike’s unwillingness to change, likening the Swoosh to Obama: ‘perfect’ but ‘not really going to change anything. He was also getting stitched up financially, with Nike refusing to pay him royalties for the sales of his own shoe. A life-long Nikehead, Ye described his departure from Nike as ‘heartbreaking’ — but he found everything that he was looking for (and more) when adidas opened their arms to welcome the creative genius that is Kanye West.
What we got from West’s debut Three Stripe drop was definitely not what anyone had expected — but it was authentic to Ye’s style at the time. His evolving design ethe, his shift to muted, neutral palates and minimalism sparked an entirely new wave of fashion — his own YEEZY Season collection releases were all part and parcel of the movement, too — but at its core, Kanye’s celebrity drove the hype sky-high — and the comfort, oh my God.
5. Nike Air Foamposite One ‘Galaxy’
The early part of the decade absolutely belonged to Nike Basketball. Colorful combinations and wild prints made for must-haves on a weekly basis. The hoops division was in their bag making some serious statement sneakers — because, back then, it was about the shoes first, with a fit to accentuate the footwear. These days, it’s all about the entire aesthetic, but in 2011, the statement piece was on the feet. Surprisingly leading the charge was a decade-old sneaker in the Foamposite, which embraced colors and prints like none other. Every Foamposite they dropped was a banger, but even then there was nothing that quite stood up to 2011 All-Star Weekend’s ‘Galaxy’ Foamposite One.
Just how McDonald’s is engineered to taste good these were made just for hype. Galaxy printed uppers with glow-in-the-dark soles ensured that these would command attention — and that they did. There were wild scenes in New York, savage riots in Florida and — as always — violence surrounding the release. And while all of this sounds like an episode of a typical hyped-up drop in 2019, these scenes were unheard of in 2011; even making its way into the news, and the psyche of the general population.
Arriving around the same time as colorful Nike Basketball silhouettes like the KD 4, LeBron 8 and Kobe 7, it added to the statement sneaker culture — one that’s only seen its demise in the last two or three years.
4. adidas Ultra BOOST
Halfway through the decade, the market’s momentum was shifting. For the first time in a long, long time, people were not only talking about adidas but buying adidas. Jordan retros and Nike Basketball had done their dash — or perhaps it was a culture shift started by Kanye West — but the all-new adidas Ultra BOOST quickly found itself at the top of the most popular sneaker list. Nike/Jordan Brand’s stronghold on the market was diminishing, thanks to a lower-priced, infinitely more comfortable sneaker that was literally designed for the ‘gram.
adidas knew something Nike didn’t: Influence is a hot commodity. Soon after Kanye joined team Three Stripe, adidas went on and signed influencers, artists and more — all of which donned the aesthetically pleasing silhouette, resulting in a feed full of white cloud midsoles, dainty-toe photos, and de-caging videos. For once, the innovative, forward-thinking Nike was beaten at their own game — you can thank John Wexler for that. It was a perfect silhouette, arriving at the perfect time, with the perfect strategy in place. It was a marketer’s wet dream — and they did it all without an official collaborator on board — Incredible.
3. adidas YEEZY 350 V2
As much talk as there was around Kanye’s move to the Trefoil, he really didn’t hit his stride with the Stripes until the 350 V2 arrived. The market was starting to adjust to the drastic aesthetic differences from his work with Nike, but they still desired something with a little more character than simplistic-patterned Primeknits. The migration was fast; from militaristic-styled wording to bolder contrasting Primeknit patterns — and by the time the bold-striped likes of the Beluga came along, everyone was hooked (except the old heads who don’t like change) We were also starting to see bigger drops and more colorways, making them more attainable — and more desirable. Aftermarket prices were still high but affordable. YEEZY Brand had figured out the perfect balance of supply and demand: The adidas resurgence was now in full swing. We even had lifelong Nike heads wearing Three Stripes for the first time, and if the Ultra BOOST or V1 hadn’t already swayed them, it was the V2 that did.
2. OFF-WHITE x Air Jordan 1
All of adidas’ hard work came undone in one swift moment in 2017 when Nike linked up with long-time friend and creative consultant to Kanye West, Virgil Abloh and his brand OFF-WHITE. That moment was the release of the audacious “THE TEN” collection; With ten pairs in total, it was the single biggest collaborative release in sneaker history. To Virgil’s credit, he did an exceptional job on a task that would overwhelm even the most experienced collaborator: to rework ten different silhouettes, some being the most iconic sneaker in Nike brand history, and to deliver them all at once. Nike knew that hardcore Ye fans (who knee who Virgil was before the collection) would eat these up — and then the rest of the market would follow. And boy did they.
Of course, the headline for the pack was the Air Jordan 1 ‘Chigaco’, a sneaker that, in the eyes of many, would be sacrilegious to tweak. But not only did Virgil tweak it, he overhauled it. It was like nothing we’d ever seen before: exposed foam tongues, detached, oversized Swooshes, “QUOTATIONS”, and zip ties, of all things. The power move from the Swoosh didn’t start a wave, but a damn Tsunami, and it took everyone along for the ride. All of a sudden, people had forgotten about the NMD and the Ultra BOOST and were focused on Nike’s next OFF-WHITE release. Well played, Mark Parker. Even now, 30+ OFF-WHITE x Nike releases later, the hype is still there, with the upcoming Air Jordan 5 for All-Star Weekend at the top of most people’s must-cop list for 2020.
1. Nike Air Yeezy 2
It should come as no surprise that the biggest sneaker of the decade belongs to Kanye West.
While all three colorways of the Nike Air Yeezy 2 sold out, it was the Red October edition that quickly became the most desired sneaker of the trio — and of the decade. But it almost didn’t happen. It was a fucking balls-up on Nike’s behalf, and one of the key reasons why Kanye ended up leaving Nike for adidas.
It was first teased on his Yeezus album in 2013, but then it popped up everywhere, from wifey’s IG feed to a flex on Saturday Night Live. Ye and Nike promised they’d release later that year — but, like a lot of Ye’s promises, it would go unfulfilled (what the hell happened to Yhandi, anyway?) With no release date in sight, they continued to pop up everywhere — Kanye wore them during the Yeezus Tour and Geno Smith famously got flamed for wearing a fake pair courtside — but all of that built the anticipation even more. Then the famous Kanye rants started: Nike CEO Mark Parker was in Ye’s firing line, saying that ‘he talked shit’, and then before we knew it Kanye was wearing these new things called Ultra BOOSTs.
Then, on February 9th, 2014, they dropped.
Nike obviously had production pairs on-hand. They shock-dropped the pairs at 1:00 pm and they sold out. Instantly. Nike also noted that there would be no re-release.
The whole damn thing was a telenovela in real life.
The hype surrounding the releases was so damn big it had a multitude of flow-on effects; it brought sneakers into the pop culture spotlight like nothing had ever done before (or after) it, and it was the precursor for all non-athlete sneaker endorsements and collaboration. The influence of this pair is immeasurable. Without this sneaker — and in particular, the Red October situation — the current sneaker climate would look nothing like it does today — but whether you think that is a good or bad thing is a different story.
Sean Wotherspoon x Nike Air Max 97/1
Love him or hate him, Sean Wotherspoon’s effort on the Nike Air Max 97/1 was one of the biggest drops of the 2010s. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t find room in the top 10 for him, probably because it arrived a little too late in the decade to really see how impactful the release may end up being. It definitely re-upped the market’s love for late-90s Air Maxs, which no doubt had a boost in Nike’s sales. It was a much needed lift for the Swoosh, whos trainer category took a belting at the hands of the Ultra BOOST and NMD the years prior.
Aside from the limited-release factor, the method in which they released played a huge part in their success, too: He went on a multi-city tour in a Combi painted up in his collab colors to sell pairs to lucky customers across the nation, connecting with fans on a personal level and thus making the Nike brand feel smaller and more intimate with the market.
adidas YEEZY 750
This shoe isn’t talked about enough, probably because it hasn’t aged well, nor did it see a decent run of releases. The latter is probably the main reason why it didn’t quite make our most influential list above, but it did play a significant role in the rise and rise of YEEZY and adidas brands during the mid-part of the decade. They were just as hyped — if not more than — the 350 V1s, but from a marketers point of view, they just didn’t quite have the same potential as the low-riding predecessor.