Pierre Hardy Poworama, 2011 Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum , gift of Pierre Hardy Photo: Ron Wood Courtesy American Federation of Arts /Bata Shoe Museum

Contrary to every generation of teenagers, sneakers were not invented by them, they originated in the mid-nineteenth century.

But what is it about the sneaker that has seen them rise from the humble white Dunlop Volley to become treasured possessions and mass-cultural touchstones? The Rise of Sneaker Culture investigates this across five sections. It includes a brilliant competition (hint #mysneakerstory) and it’s FREE.

As someone who has been working in consumer psychology and studying trends for way too long, I’ll be amongst the first to check out The Rise of Sneaker Culture which looks at:

  • Rubber Revolution (1830s to 1920s). The birth of the sneaker through the industrial development and the rise of sports culture. Included is the 1860’s spiked running shoe.
  • The Body Politic: Sneakers, Statehood, and Sporting (1920s to 1960s). The development of specialised sport shoes, and the pursuit of the perfect body.
  • Sports, Stars and Status Sneakers: Fashioning Fitness in the Twentieth Century (1970-80’s). Looking at the celebrity/footwear connection, the growth of fitness culture and the status sneaker.
  • Fresh Out the Box: Sneaker Culture and Shifting Masculinities (1980 to present). The synergy between hip-hop, basketball, and sneakers.
  •  Innovation and Design. Iconic sneakers created by some of today’s most forward-thinking designers, such as Eric Avar, D’Wayne Edwards, Tinker Hatfield, Tobie Hatfield, Steven Smith, and collaborations with Rihanna, Kanye West, Sophia Chang, Tom Sachs, Damien Hirst, Prada, and Lanvin.
Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik Modell Waitzer, 1936 adidas AG Photo: adidas AG / studio waldeck Courtesy American Federation of Arts

Also on show are an original 1923 Converse All Star/Non Skid, a pair of 1936 track shoes, the original Air Force 1, and early Adidas Superstars, a complete presentation of Air Jordans I–XX3 on loan from the Kosow Sneaker Museum.

Private collection items have also been included, from such as legendary hip-hop group Run-DMC, sneaker guru Bobbito Garcia (Kool Bob Love) and Dee Wells of Obsessive Sneaker Disorder.

The exhibition began at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto and organised by the American Federation of Arts, the international travelling exhibition has had popular showings in Toronto, Brooklyn, Atlanta and Oakland, and now heads to AGWA.

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This exhibition focuses on the compelling history of the sneaker from its origins in the 19th century as a luxury form of footwear to its current centrality in fashion,” said Elizabeth Semmelhack, Senior Curator of the Bata Shoe Museum. “We are thrilled that The Rise of Sneaker Culture will be shown at AGWA and hope that the exhibition’s focus on how technological innovation, politics and cultural identity have helped to shape the importance of sneakers today will be of interest to visitors of all ages.”

Also included is film footage, interactive media, photographic images, and design drawings contextualise the sneakers and explore the social history, technical innovations, fashion trends, and marketing campaigns that have shaped sneaker culture over the past two centuries.

Coordinating Curator, Robert Cook, AGWA Curator of Contemporary Design and International Art said,

“The Rise of Sneaker Culture is a huge and unprecedented opportunity for all Australian sneaker collectors and fans to track the history and development of their favourite wearable art form. It will locate their passion in the combined history of creativity and technological development out of which the never-humble sneaker continues to be reborn.”


In conjunction with the exhibition, the American Federation of Arts partnered with Skira Rizzoli to create an extensive exhibition catalogue that includes an in-depth look at the history of sneaker culture, interviews, personal stories, and insights from 24 influential contributors about how sneakers defined their image. $70 RRP


10am-5pm, Saturday 13 May
An open house event celebrating the first day of The Rise of Sneaker Culture, including music from WA DJs and local bands, sneaker swap, skateboarding and urban dance, sneaker tours, basketball and much more. AGWA’s sneakerlier will be revealed, plus WA collector, Lee Ingram, and AGWA Curator, Robert Cook, will be in the Gallery for insights into the exhibition and sneaker culture across the world.


2-3pm, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays
Just for kicks, join one of AGWA’s Guru Guides for a short introduction to the world of sneakers.


Thanks to Singapore Airlines, you could win a trip for two to San Francisco, simply by sharing your favourite sneaker story via Instagram. It could be the pair that saw you travel around the world. Fashion kicks that scored cred with your crew. Or maybe the ones you were wearing when you took 3 for 6 at cricket. Sport, street, fashion, travel or work … if it’s your story, AGWA wants to hear it. To enter, simply submit a short video with #mysneakerstory.

The competition runs 10am, 5 April 2017 through to 5pm, 4 September 2017 (AWT).

At first I was tempted by checking out the original running shoe, but then I looked through the rest of the catalogue and … wow sneaker overload. Where to start ?!! Don’t worry if you’re not into sneakers, I’m sure the designs alone will spark some creations of your own.

How lucky are we to have this in Perth? I’m so pleased it’s on for a couple of months as I know I will go several times. Many, many thanks to AGWA for putting it on and FREE of charge! The question is which comfy sneakers to wear as there’s going to be a lot to see.

The exhibition opens Saturday 13 May closes 4  September FREE
Sneaker Saturday – 10am-4pm, Saturday 13 May | FREE

For more information go to Art Gallery of WA

For a few more images go to The Ponder Room


Glennys Marsdon
Most kids grow out of asking ‘but why’, Glennys didn’t. So she trained as a psychologist and established The Customers’ Voice, consumer psychology consultancy in 2000, where she researches why we do what we do. After losing her partner in 2005 she understood the importance of making the most out of life, and began The Ponder Room blog, to help people do just that. By ‘having a go’ she now has a monthly column in a magazine, three non-fiction books published, been nominated for a Telstra Business Women’s Award, and profiled by US internet guru Seth Godin in a worldwide competition about people making a difference. She firmly believes in living a positive life and following your passion.