by CCID 1 Jul 2019

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Exploring the rise of sneaker culture in the Central City

“There are sneakers everywhere,” says Anna Wintour, artistic director of Condé Nast and editor-in-chief of US VOGUE. And she should know.

As the influential woman who singularly drives the billion-dollar global fashion industry, Anna puts it down to one thing: comfort. “Women everywhere are asking for comfort,” she notes in the magazine’s video series, Go Ask Anna. “Years ago, I remember it used to be that women would wear sneakers on the subway or while walking to work and then immediately when they got to the office they would go into their bags and bring out their high heels. And that obviously is no longer the case.”

While comfort might well still be a characteristic of sneakers, the other is street chic. And it’s this street cred factor that has made the shift to wearing sneakers universal, and unstoppable. As Rolo Rozay, founder of Sneaker Cartel, a Cape Town CBD premium sneaker boutique and an instrumental figure in the city’s sneaker culture, puts it: “You just can’t stop the growth, it’s something that’s there. A few years ago, you wouldn’t even be allowed in certain places with sneakers, but it has now gone beyond race and gender.”

Thanks to these trends, the global athletic shoe market, estimated to be worth $63.4 billion in 2017 according to Fast Company, is expected to grow by 5% annually over the next seven years to hit $95.1 billion by 2025. Grand View Research forecasts that nearly one billion sneakers will be sold that year.


This sneaker explosion is evident in Cape Town and has prompted an increase in sneaker retailers in the Central City, from those offering premium sneakers to those catering for more affordable options. And they compete side by side for clients. In St Georges Mall, Side Step, Street Fever and Jack Lemkus all trade in one stretch, joining many other sneaker shops in the precinct as well as across the CBD.

While sneaker culture is on the rise, Cape Town has always been ahead of the game. Entrepreneurs who have been at the forefront of the local scene for years aren’t surprised: for decades, the Cape Town coloured community has promoted the sneaker culture that has reached new heights globally. Rolo says that’s why you see “bubbles” being held in such high regard in Cape Town.

According to Highsnobiety, bubbles are kicks (sneakers) such as the 90s Air More Uptempo (made famous by Chicago Bulls legend, Scottie Pippen), Air Griffey Max 1 (signature sneaker of Baseball icon, Ken Griffey Jr.), and various iterations of Jordan and Air Max designs replete with visible air bubbles on the sole.

Rolo Rozay founder of Sneaker Cartel
Sneaker legend Rolo, who is a “90s kid” himself, and some of his peers who are sneakerheads were heavily influenced by the 90s from sport, to TV shows and music. “Growing up listening to hip-hop music, having an uncle who looked fly, reading The Source, XXL and getting that American influence early in my life is where it started for me,” says Rolo.

Fabian Michaels, store manager for Archive, a high-end sneaker retailer in the CBD, shares Rolo’s sentiments: “Sneaker culture is different here in Cape Town. It’s all about the retro brands, your 80s and 90s brands, all the stuff that they are bringing back now, like the Air Jordan 1s. We have a lot of history.” In addition to the Air Jordan 1s, the other sneakers that have become classics and have a huge following include: Nike Air Max 1s, Nike Cortez, Adidas Stan Smith, Vans Authentic, Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars, Adidas Samba, Nike Air Force 1s and New Balance 574.


Pointing at some of the sneakers in store, Fabian remarks, “Your parents probably wore some of these retro sneakers … it never gets old. The history moves from the past to the future, back into the past and future. We call it back to the future.”

Both Rolo and Fabian agree that, in recent years, social media has also contributed to elevating sneaker culture and sneakerheads along with their collections. Word of mouth is also a powerful tool, Fabian says. He adds that there’s a sense of community among sneaker lovers and even within the different retailers as they support each other. Another factor that continues to propel the growth of sneaker culture in Cape Town and the Central City is the wide range of events such as Sneaker Exchange, which takes place annually at various venues where sneakerheads buy, sell, or trade their sneakers. The event, founded by Zaid Osman and Tebogo Mogola in 2013, is now dubbed Africa’s largest sneaker expo and attracts about 4 000 attendees wherever it’s held across the country.


The success of the sneaker can be attributed to many things but it’s clear that wearing these kinds of shoes is more than just a passion. It’s a lifestyle, and it offers wearers a clear sense of identity.

Says Rolo: “People call us the pillars of this thing (sneaker culture), and it all started with our love for it. But above all, it’s about being an individual before the sneakers. We all have a story.”


Craig Jacobs
City Views spoke to renowned designer Craig Jacobs to get his views on the rise of sneaker culture. Craig is the founder and creative director of Afro sports luxe label, Fundudzi by Craig Jacobs. He is also a trend forecaster and columnist.

Increasingly, people are wearing sneakers, even when they’re dressing formally. What do you think is driving this trend?

I think the cross-over from the street and into formalwear can be traced back to when luxury houses cottoned on to the pull of the sneaker to inject coolness into their brands.

Collaborations like those between Louis Vuitton and artist Kanye West back in 2009, and partnerships between designers like Alexander Wang with Adidas, have created excitement while ushering in a new design approach to the humble sneaker. I think that was the tipping point, encouraging sneaker lovers to amplify the design draw of sneakers by incorporating them into a formal wardrobe.

You often wear beautiful sneakers. Why do they appeal to you?

Style language has changed so much over the years, and the disruption of traditional rules injects a sense of newness which appeals to me. I like the dichotomy of putting on a formal suit and pairing it with a great pair of kicks to show that I don’t really take fashion that seriously. And the truth is, it’s also great for the sheer practicality – comfort always wins in my book.

Do you think this sneaker trend is here to stay?

Absolutely. It most certainly is. As footwear designers expand their repertoire with a whole range of new sneaker permutations, it’s clear the sneaker is adding new energy in formalwear.


The history of the sneaker is said to date back to the 18th century when plimsolls – the earliest rubber-soled shoes – were invented.

The Idle Man, an e-commerce website specialising in menswear, notes: “It was in 1890 that Britain joined the trainer game when J.W. Foster and Sons (better known now as Reebok) developed some of the earliest running spikes for athletes. Then came the process of vulcanisation (a process of ensuring the rubber is more durable), pioneered by American inventor, Charles Goodyear, and picked up by the U.S. Rubber Company who used the process of vulcanisation to develop canvas upper sneakers called Keds.

“Then the turn of the century saw some exciting developments in the trainer and sneaker world when William J. Riley founded New Balance, the Converse Rubber Shoe Company was formed in America, and Keds were being fully mass produced. And soon after, the world was introduced to the Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars and Adi and Rudolph Dassler started producing their own handmade running shoes under the name Adidas in Germany. Then the 1940s to the 1960s saw a cultural change in people’s attitudes towards sneakers as younger generations started to wear them for fashion rather than sports. The 1960s also saw two of the most iconic brands in the world – Nike and Vans – being born.”

Also notable in the history of sneakers is Michael Jordan’s 1984 deal with Nike and its impact. According to reports, Nike’s Jordan brand alone now brings in more than $3 billion in revenue each year.

“After he ‘wear-tested’ the Nike Air Ships for the first few months of his NBA career, Jordan, with the help, ingenuity and the foresight of executive Sonny Vaccaro, agent David Falk and legendary designer Peter Moore among others, ignited the sneaker game that, three decades later, has become almost as important globally as the game of basketball itself. It’s hard to believe that something – one thing – can have a 30-year, ever-changing lifespan in this done-and-die, on-to the-next-one cultural market we have created,” writes Robert “Scoop” Jackson, a columnist for ESPN, about the cultural impact of the Jordan sneakers.


167 Longmarket St |

Jack Lemkus
26a St Georges Mall |

26A Shortmarket St |

Sneaker Cartel
164 Long St |

Puma Select
137 Bree St|

9 Adderley St (Golden Acre) |

Studio 88
9 Adderley St (Golden Acre) |

Le Coq Sportif (Golden Acre)
Shop No S33, 9 Adderley St

Street Fever
Shop C71, 9 Adderley St (Golden Acre)
Shop 1, 30 St Georges Mall |

Tekkie Town
5 Waterkant St |

Mr. Tekkie
Cnr St Georges Mall & Strand St |

Side Step
St Georges Mall, Riebeeck St
9 Adderley St (Golden Acre) |

118 St Georges Mall |

Shop 11, Adderley St |

7 Bree St |

IMAGES: Heather Shuker, Scott Arendse