YouTube is one of the most powerful and expansive mediums of communication in today’s digital world. Since its inception in 2005, the once-humble video sharing site has blossomed into an endless library of content, with everything from news to music to cat videos to fight compilations just a simple search and a click away. YouTube has created a new breed of “influencer,” one that controls and sways a viewer’s taste through their videos.
YouTube also brought many subcultures into the spotlight by making them much more accessible. “Sneaker YouTube” was a fringe term only a few years ago, but has exploded in popularity due to daily vlogs (video blogs), unboxings (new product being opened live on camera) and discussion videos from content creators with subscriber numbers in the hundreds of thousands, like BULL1TRC, Blake Linder, Money Kicks, and Qias Omar amassing huge loyal followings.
Today, sneaker YouTube is very loud, brash, and maximalist. It’s seemingly become about who can spend the most money, buy the most pairs of sneakers possible, have the biggest collection and jockey to get the most free product from their “sponsors”. It’s a strange microcosm for late-stage capitalism, and although the mindless consumption is borderline horrifying, it’s also impossible to turn away from.
However, sneaker YouTube wasn’t always this way. Before sneakers exploded in popularity and resell values of rare kicks shot sky-high, sneaker YouTube enjoyed a “golden age” of sorts from 2012 to early 2015. The content may not have been as refined and well-produced as it is today, but one thing that newer videos simply can’t match is the raw, grassroots enthusiasm and true love for kicks (not just love of how much they’re worth or how rare they are) of early sneaker YouTubers. It was all about the product, but not in the same mindless way it is today. Reviews, discussion videos, and long pickup videos were the name of the game, and the tight-knit community was an exciting thing to be a part of. It was a time when 100,000 subscribers was immense and 500,000 subscribers was entirely unheard of.
So today, we’re taking a look back into the past, and exploring the glory days of sneaker YouTube by nodding to some of the many personalities, video styles, and sneakers that made it so enjoyable. Get ready: you’re either in for a fun trip down memory lane, or a learning opportunity where you can discover the genesis of sneaker YouTube.
Let’s start at the very beginning with a question: why did sneaker YouTube become a thing in the first place? There’s really no exact answer, but the most accurate guess is likely because collectors like to show off their things, and explain why they like them/what makes them special, and YouTube offers a great platform to do just that. One of the earliest examples of this is Franalations, a sneaker collector from California who started making videos back in 2012, and still produces content today, although most of his time is spent on his successful sandal line, Sandalboyz.
Franalations offered something that wasn’t really available to sneakerheads at the time: a chance to check out exclusive product from a (mostly) unbiased perspective as well as offer real-life feedback and opinions on kicks. Before Twitter and Instagram grew into what they are today, it wasn’t as easy to see/find out about new product from an independent point of view, and his simple, straight-to-the point videos connected with sneakerheads the world over who followed him as he branched out into toys, clothes, and “day in the life” videos.
However Franalations wasn’t the only sneakerhead making “pickup” videos. San Fransisco’s Dubsepslap415 rose to popularity for his “Sneakerhead Saturdays” series, posted weekly in which he’d share his pickups from the prior week. As his popularity grew, so did the amount of kicks in his videos until he was constantly over 25 new items each week.
If you watch the video above and then the video below, you’ll see: things got out of hand quickly. In later videos, Dubstepslap415 began to comment that there were “more important things than shoes” and that he was “spending time on other things” before stepping away from sneaker YouTube completely in 2015.
It was more than just product too. Golden era sneaker YouTube was full of intelligent sneaker heads with big personalities. You either had to love them or hate them, but no matter how you felt about them, your opinion was very strong. Scoop208 and The Sneaker Addict (also known as DJ Delz) gained loyal followings by being loud, outspoken, and brash. Both channels have experienced their fair share of ups and downs (being accused of PayPal scamming, selling fake kicks etc), but both are still around, churning out content on the daily and holding it down for OG sneaker YouTube.
And before Complex’s wildly popular “Sneaker Shopping,” there was Nice Kicks’s “Sneak Peek,” where host/editor George Kiel would visit the home of renowned collectors, athletes, and musicians so they could show off their collections. Everyone from Mayor to Nick Young made an appearance on the show, and offered a look into both the closets and mindsets of famous collectors, making you feel like you were along for the ride. The series came to an end a little over a year ago, but its influence is still felt in Complex’s content today.
Not all sneakerheads are collectors by default however. Some prefer to learn about the performance aspect and technical specifications of a shoe, which is where the “performance review” genre of sneaker YouTube video was born. KickGenius and Nightwing2303 were two of the first to put high-end, high priced performance shoes to the test and give their honest feedback on the product, saving many a product-conscious hooper from blowing a bag a bad pair of shoes. Both have reached new levels of success, with KickGenius boasting almost 950,000 subscribers and Nightwing receiving his own sneaker silhouette with BrandBlack.
And just because we always gotta show love to the underground favorites, there were several smaller channels churning out unique content as well, like GTFan712, who just returned to YouTube a month ago after a long hiatus. Known for his simple, clean on-feet videos and matter-of fact style, he offered a video and a description that was all about the product iself, not the person reviewing it.
There are far too many sneaker YouTube OG’s to list every single one, but content creators like JumpmanBostic, TBlake, Mr. Foamer Simpson, Elite Kicks and Eddie Win all contributed to the rise of sneaker YouTube as well. Some have moved on to other ventures while some are still creating fresh new sneaker content, but all played an integral part in the growth of the sneaker YouTube community.
As you take a look back at some of these videos, you can literally watch the evolution of sneaker YouTube and sneaker culture as a whole, from first pickup videos to “influencers” beginning to get seeded products, to the monolith of hype it’s become today. As sneaker YouTube gradually became larger and large, it traded in the charm and community feel it used to offer for higher viewers, more money, and more free product. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as anything cool will eventually grow and morph into something else, but we do find ourselves hoping that sneaker YouTubers can recapture some of their old magic and bring back the authentic grassroots feel in 2018 and beyond.
What’s your favorite sneaker YouTube channel? Do you prefer pickup videos, product reviews, performance reviews, or something else entirely? Do you miss the “golden age” of sneaker YouTube, or do you prefer the vlog-style content that’s become more popular today? Sound off in the comments or hit us up and let us know on Twitter!