Influence is the bug that no one can escape. No matter how hard someone tries to fight it, there’s always another person who, even slightly, dictates their decisions. Especially when it comes to sneakers. It’s funny to joke around and say that people are #influencers, but there are people who actually make trends happen within sneakers.
There are many reasons someone can be influential in sneakers. Athletes and rappers will always have a certain level of cultural cool, but there are also people behind stores, who run social media accounts, and design the actual sneakers.
When making this list, we didn’t take “power” into account. That’s a different list. So CEOs of retail stores and brand employees who simply hold important-sounding titles weren’t included. With that said, here are The Most Influential People in Sneakers Right Now.
* we’ve only listed the Top 10, but you can check out the whole list at: Here
10. Gentry Humphrey
Role: Production Creation Footwear Lead, NSW
Most know Gentry Humphrey for his days with Jordan Brand, but he has since moved onto filling a similar role with Nike Sportswear—which is huge right now. The sweet spot for Nike is getting athletic footwear to people who don’t necessarily play sports. His work with basketball has caused hype around silhouettes and given them new flair. He was able to do this during his days with Jordan Brand, and he has made the Foamposite One an even more sought-after sneaker due to his wild touch. Although Gentry doesn’t play things safe, he, by his own admission, has been able to cause hype around the sneakers he designs. And that’s what sneaker culture feeds off of.
9. Ronnie Fieg
Role: Founder/owner of KITH, designer
When it comes to collaborations, it’s feasible that no one is able to draw more hype than Ronnie Fieg. He’s nearly single-handedly responsible for the revitalization of ASICS, and even launched a Paris Pop-up around a Puma sneaker. Kids had never lined up for these brands before Fieg put his touch to their silhouettes and made them new for a group of consumers that had never looked twice at early-’90s running sneakers. But instead of being content, Fieg continues to make moves. His retail operation, Kith, has become notorious for carrying sneakers that are hard to find in the States and has become the go-to shop in NYC for limited collaborations. The most impressive thing about Fieg is how quick his sneakers disappear. His collaboration with New Balance on the “Daytona” 1600s was the best release of Black Friday 2013, and he was able to, almost silently, drop a New Balance 577 on Cyber Monday, which also sold out within the blink of an eye. Fieg continues to prove to people that he can do whatever he wants in the sneaker industry and make it cool. He’s actually convincing brands to re-release models that they wouldn’t otherwise, and as long as he’s mocking up his infamous color schemes, heads are going to be lining up for his sneakers.
8. Marc Dolce
Role: Designer, NSW
His creations have merged Nike’s past and future. Nike Sportswear design director Marc Dolce’s main job is to examine the athletic company’s significant silhouettes, and figure out ways to re-engineer them. You may know him from modernized classics like the Penny V, the Lunar Force 1, and the Zoom Rookie. What you may not know is that Dolce has one of the toughest jobs as a Nike designer. Imagine having the task of recreating a classic Nike silhouette so that it’s innovative, but still relevant to the brand’s heritage. If anyone can execute that successfully, it’s Dolce.
7. Phil Knight
Role: Co-Founder, Nike
Phil Knight is one half of the founding architecture for Nike, and is still the most recognizable name and face from the brand’s corporate structure. If it wasn’t for Knight, Nike might have never turned into the athletic monolith that it is. And Knight’s roots at the University of Oregon are supplying Nike with a direct access to the coolest university to sneaker enthusiasts. Nike and Jordan have done their share of Oregon-themed sneakers lately, and without Knight’s history with the school, these projects may have not come to fruition. They refer to Knight as “Uncle Phil” around Oregon for a reason. As long as Nike and Jordan can slap a big “O” or Puddles the Duck on an Air Jordan V or Foamposite One, kids are going to want to enroll at the Pacific Northwest school. The basketball and football teams will be winning games, and Phil Knight’s legend will grow.
Role: Rapper, Team Jordan member
In case anyone has been living under a rock, Drake officially became a member of Team Jordan and has samples of his “OVO” Air Jordan Xs and XIIs wreaking havoc on eBay. Drake has always had an affinity for sneakers, but his style has grown over the past year or so and his connections with the sneaker world have flourished. Just last year, Drake was seen wearing the “Oregon” Air Jordan IIIs and took a picture of himself wearing the white/red Air Jordan XVIIs. Drake has worn rare Jordans in the past, but his new level of influence is affecting the tastes of consumers. People legitimately want the XVIIs to be retroed in a manner that doesn’t involve a Countdown Package. He also put Twitter on alert during his SNL performance. Although Drake didn’t wear Jordans during the show—he opted for Timbs—people were speculating whether he was going to break out any of the OVO sneakers. NBA players are wearing his Jordans on court, the Toronto Raptors dedicated a night to him, in which the OVO Air Jordan Xs were raffled off, and with Kanye leaving Nike to sign with adidas, Drake is the perfect answer to bolster Jordan’s cool in the non-athlete category.
5. Tinker Hatfield
Role: Designer, Nike
Where would Nike be without Tinker Hatfield? The brand would be established, but many of its famous sneakers that built the foundation of the brand’s legacy would have never existed, and that’s not even touching Tinker’s influence with the Air Jordan line and Jordan Brand. Tinker gets to choose his own personal projects with Nike. Who else has that leeway? He worked on the Melo M10, which has proven to be Melo’s best sneaker in a while, if not his best signature sneaker ever. Tinker also designed the Air Jordan XX8 and the Nike Zoom Vapor 9 Tour—two of the most forward-thinking silhouettes for both reaches of Nike. And let’s not forget about his connection to HTM, which really got the Flyknit Chukka rolling last year, too. But it’s not just Tinker’s new work that’s influential. His older work—the Air Jordan designs from the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s, his creation of the concept of Air Max and crosstraining, and designs of the Air Tech Challenge II and the Huarache runner—is just as fresh to a newer group of consumers who didn’t grow up on those silhouettes.
4. Michael Jordan
Role: Retired NBA Player, Namesake of Jordan Brand
For a guy who will turn 51 in February and played in his last NBA game over a decade ago, Michael Jordan still has a heck of a lot of pull. His eponymous company grosses well over a billion dollars a year, and kids who weren’t even born when he played his last game as a Chicago Bull (June 14, 1998) proudly rock his Jumpman logo. He also gets a lion’s share of the credit for extending adolescence nearly indefinitely among men who would have otherwise, in a pre-Jordan world, long since switched over to hardbottoms. And whilst his personal style is still, shall we say, interesting, there is always a commotion when he breaks out a never-before-seen sample, or even wears a general release on the (practice) court. Will MJ’s influence ever wane? Not much lower than this.
3. LeBron James
Role: NBA player, Miami Heat
The talk of the NBA season, sneaker wise, is whether LeBron James would wear his signature sneakers, the LeBron XIs, or not. Even though LeBron can’t decide whether he likes his newest signature sneaker or not, it’s been a huge success with sneaker fans. Meanwhile, with the Soldier VII, he’s effectively promoting two current signature sneakers at the same damn time. But LeBron’s impact extends off the court, too. What LeBron’s wearing is a huge point of conversation. His decision to wear the “Oregon” Air Jordan Vs overshadowed the fact that he was giving his ankle rest before a game, and when he decide to wear a pair of Kobes, the Internet went nuts. Judging from his Instagram feed, he’s clearly enjoying this newfound status. But at the heart of the conversation, LeBron is influential because he’s the best player in the NBA with the most important signature sneaker in the league. If LeBron doesn’t even have to wear his sneaker for it to sell, then his influence is exponential. Anything he co-signs is instantly cool.
2. Mark Parker
Role: CEO, Nike
Nike is the biggest sneaker brand on the planet, and Mark Parker is the captain of that ship. He keeps the brand on course to explore its athletic innovation, but is able to keep it as cool (or cooler) than its ever been. Parker was able to tell Kanye West he didn’t believe in the Air Yeezy, managed to piss Kanye off in the process, and came out unscathed. Parker has been able to make Nike focus on turning everyone into an athlete. Under Parker’s tenure, Nike has made dressing for everyday sports the hip thing to do. Nike has always been huge, but there feels like a rediscovery of the brand thanks to sneakers such as Flyknit and Free. People who had absconded sneakers for menswear found themselves crawling back to the Swoosh. Even though those same people were probably Kanye fans, Parker’s decision to not put a larger focus on a Kanye collection actually kept the brand true to its roots: being at the cutting-edge of the sneaker world.
1. Kanye West
Role: Rapper, producer, designer, adidas
Kanye West’s blowup with Nike and subsequent signing with adidas was the biggest sneaker-related event to happen this year. Everyone was wondering when his swan song with Nike, the Air Yeezy II “Red Octobers,” would release. They never did, but Kanye was still able to get his fans to take a side against Nike CEO Mark Parker, and everyone was waiting for a rapper to sign a new sneaker deal. West helped rappers effectively become the new athletes, and Kanye’s dissatisfaction with the sneaker industry became an everyman struggle. Adidas had always had a perceived cool, but it grew exponentially when Kanye decided to sign with the brand. Sure, adidas already has Rick Owens, Jeremy Scott, Raf Simons, and Yohji Yamamoto, but Kanye made the brand relevant in a way that its athletes never could. Following a rash of radio interviews, in which he continually shit on Nike, Kanye finally officially inked his deal. He could have signed with any sneaker brand and instantly made them the new buzzword. His fanbase is so engaged that people who don’t have an interest in sneakers are following his sneaker moves, and no matter Kanye actually does with adidas, people will be waiting to purchase it. The sheer feeling of anticipation is what lands him at the number-one spot. Will he stay here? Let’s wait and see.
* via Complex Sneakers