Category Archives: Products/Business

The history of sneakers: from commodity to cultural icon

Sneakers have become highly covetable collectors’ items.
Zarya Maxim Alexandrovich/ Shutterstock

Naomi Braithwaite, Nottingham Trent UniversitySneakers (or trainers if you’re British), once the symbol of athleticism, have transcended their primary function to become commercial and fashionable objects of desire. From sportswear and street style to catwalk fashion, sneakers have made their mark as cultural commodities.

You can listen to more articles from The Conversation, narrated by Noa, here.

The global sneaker market valued at approximately US$79 billion (£56 billion) in 2020 and is predicted to reach US$120 billion (£85 billion) by 2026. With such huge growth, it is unsurprising that they are considered big business.

Such are the strides in the sneaker industry that a new exhibition at London’s Design Museum explores how the shoe became an undisputed cultural symbol of our times.

Comfort is king

The last decade has seen a huge shift in how sneakers are worn. Donning a pair is no longer frowned upon in the workplace or on more formal occasions. Even British etiquette experts Debrett’s have given their seal of approval, deeming them socially acceptable for smart casual occasions.

The continued dominance of the athleisure trend has had a significant impact on the growing sales of sneakers – along with the pursuit of comfort. This only grew more during the pandemic as lockdowns made people further prioritise comfort, which resulted in a rise in sales of loungewear, athleisure and flat shoes, like sneakers.

As such, sneakers have moved from the niche to become coveted as fashionable objects. Footwear is now the biggest selling category in the online luxury market and sneakers have made a significant contribution to this growth.

High fashion brands from Gucci to Balenciaga are setting the pace in the luxury sneaker market. In 2017, Balenciaga’s Triple S became the biggest seller in the luxury sneaker market and its popularity seems unstoppable.

To understand how the sneaker has emerged to become a footwear phenomenon, it is important to trace its legacy from function to cultural icon.

From tennis shoes to track

The earliest sports shoes were created by The Liverpool Rubber Company, founded by John Boyd Dunlop, in the 1830s. Dunlop was an innovator who discovered how to bond canvas uppers to rubber soles. These were known as sandshoes and worn by Victorians on their beach excursions.

Historian Thomas Turner defines the latter decades of the 19th century as a time when industrial progress and social change were twinned with a growing enthusiasm for sporting pursuits, in particular lawn tennis. This resulted in the need for a more specialised type of footwear, which Dunlop’s rubber sole could fulfil. Dunlop launched their now iconic, Green Flash model in 1929, which was worn by tennis legend Fred Perry at Wimbledon.

Other significant sports shoes of the 20th century included the Converse All Star, designed for basketball. However, it is Adidas and Nike that have both shaped the sneaker’s evolution from sport to style.

The Cortez is Nike’s original running shoe, designed by co-founder Bill Bowerman and released in 1972.
2p2play/ Shutterstock

Founded by Adi Dassler in Germany in 1924 as “Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik”, the company later rebranded as Adidas in 1949. The brand created the first track shoe with a complete leather sole and hand-forged spikes, which was worn by Jessie Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Nike was created by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight in 1964 as Blue Ribbon Sports and became Nike Inc. in 1971. This coincided with the running craze that hit America. Nike’s first commercial design was the Cortez, cushioned for running. The Cortez was worn by Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, securing Nike’s cultural status.

The commercialisation of cool

Research by the sociologist Yuniya Kawamura on sneakers defines three waves of the phenomenon. The first wave in the 1970s was defined by an underground sneaker culture and the emergence of hip-hop. Adidas’ Samba design, as a key example, became a key part of Terrace Fashion within football fan subculture. In 1986, Run-DMC released the song My Adidas, leading to a sponsorship deal with the brand. This forged the sneaker’s deep-rooted place in popular culture.

The second wave of the phenomenon began in 1984 with the launch of Nike Air Jordans. This gave rise to the commodification of sneakers and their desirability as status items, fuelled through celebrity endorsements. For Kawamura the third wave is marked by the digital age and the resulting growth in sneaker marketing and resell culture.

The global sneaker resale market was valued at US$6 billion (£4.6 billion) in 2019 and is forecast to be worth US$30 billion (£21 billion) by 2030.

The growing presence of “sneakerheads” who collect and trade sneakers have ensured that they maintain cult status. Nike and Adidas routinely release limited editions shoes associated with a celebrity, hip-hop star or athlete.

It is not unusual for people to go to extreme lengths to get their hands on these rare models, queuing through the night. Examples include Nike Air Yeezy 2 “Red October”, and Air Jordan x 1 Off-White “Chicago”.

These shoes have a retail value of US$190 to US$240 (£135 to £170) and are reselling for between US$1,695 and US$6,118 (£1,202 and £4,339). The lucrative sneaker resale market has created a new cult of sneaker enthusiasts who through entrepreneurial spirit are generating significant hype along with personal income.

From sport to fashion, sneakers dominate the consumer market. Yet, despite their adoption by the mainstream, sneakers retain their coolness as cultural icons.The Conversation

Naomi Braithwaite, Senior Lecturer in Fashion Marketing and Branding, Nottingham Trent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The History of Tea

History of Hot Cross Buns

The Rise of Google

The History of Coffee

The Strange History of Cereal

Wakey wakey: a history of alarm clocks and the mechanics of time


Matthew S. Champion, Australian Catholic University

It’s the time of year when we Australians start returning to our normal rhythms. The first beats of the day are often the dreaded beeps of the alarm clock or a digital symphony from a bedside phone.

These modern electronic alarms are just the latest in a long sequence of methods used to wake us from sleep: from the watchmen on ancient city walls waiting for the dawn to more recent clocks on wheels that have to be chased to stop ringing.

The job of waking us up when our body clocks are telling us to sleep is a big ask. When did we first start using alarms, and what did they sound like? What’s changed about the sounds of time, and what hasn’t?


Some of the earliest words we have for time measurement show people’s particular interest in dividing up the different parts of the night.

In the pre-modern world, without electric lights and electric alarms, people paid more attention to the quality of light and the sounds around them. A rich vocabulary emerged in ancient languages for the different parts of the night. One early Latin word for the time before dawn was gallicinium, the time of the cock’s crow. Scientists have since discovered roosters really do know what time that is.

Rooster crowing outdoors
‘Cocker-doodle-doo!’ Pre-modern night was divided into multiple segments, and the time before dawn was named for the cock’s crow.

Birdsong remains an important way of experiencing waking up. In Australia, we often evoke birdsong when we think about sleep and waking — from morning caroling magpies, to the versatile currawong or the midnight call of willie wagtails. Less melodic, though equally striking, is another possible bird noise associated with early rising — “sparrow’s fart” — first attested to in the 19th century.

Read more:
Birdsong has inspired humans for centuries: is it music?

Human wake-up calls

The human body has developed its own repertoire of alarms.

The Islamic call to prayer, the adhan, sung by men called muezzin, is one of the most sonically striking examples, with various versions marking out differences between traditions and regions. The melismatic chant — where a single syllable is sung over several musical notes — is both a wake up call to prayer (“Prayer is better than sleep”) and a prayer in itself.

Some early-morning calls were combined with weather forecasting systems. In the 15th century the town criers of the port of Sandwich on the south coast of England would call out the wind changes in the night so seafarers would know when favourable (or unfavourable) winds sprang up. Much later, in some parts of the industrial world, professional knocker-uppers might use a pea shooter or stick to tap on windows to wake you up for your shift.

Having humans wake you up would usually mean someone has to stay up all night. But how would that person know when to cry the alarm? Sundials would obviously be useless. This is one reason technologies developed to count the hours of night — ancient and medieval water clocks with markings to show how water flow corresponded to time passing, and later (from around the 14th century) sand glasses in the familiar hourglass shape.

man taps on window
That’s service. Professional knocker uppers used to wake workers.
Wikimedia Commons/Nationaal Archief

Mechanical clocks

The Middle Ages saw one of our most amazing inventions — mechanical clocks, originally driven by weights. Gravity pulled suspended weights down to drive the clock mechanism. The weights were periodically wound back up for another cycle.

These clocks began as large objects in churches and town belfries. Some had elaborate automata: the extraordinary 16th-century Strasbourg clock includes a famous cockerel whose cries echo through the cathedral. Its automated rooster is from an earlier clock made in the 14th century.

Ancient cathedral clock
The astronomical clock in Cathedral Notre Dame, Strasbourg, Alsace.

Some large clocks played music on bells before striking the hours. This year is the 700th anniversary of what may be the first such musical clock, installed in a monastery near Rouen in 1321. It played a hymn, Conditor alme siderum (Dear Creator of the Stars), for the season of Advent that starts the Christian year.

Such chimes are our first recorded mechanical music, and a precursor to today’s musical alarms. The technology was probably developed by tech-geek monks as a way of dealing with waking up to sing their prayers in the night — even better if that wake-up call, like the adhan, was a pious prayer itself.

Read more:
Acedia: the lost name for the emotion we’re all feeling right now

The modern alarm clock

The earliest versions of the clocks we know today were made for large communities, public spaces or courtly elites.

clock on wheels
The ‘clocky’ alarm clock on wheels requires the waker to chase it.

Gradually though, and certainly by the mid to late 15th century, you could find heavy iron wall clocks in private houses (made in places still famous for clockmaking, such as Switzerland). These often had pins that you could place around the clock face to set the bell ringing at a particular time. These house alarm clocks could wake the owner to work and pray.

It was during this period, too, that compact spring mechanisms made smaller and smaller personal watches possible, carried or worn on the body from the 16th century.

The personalisation of time accelerated in the 19th century and gave rise to some wild modern alarm clocks. Among the more striking inventions of the French magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin was a clock that lit a candle after the alarm sounded.

Read more:
Morning haze: why it’s time to stop hitting the snooze button

Though nothing has reached the sophistication of the breakfast-making Rube-Goldberg-style alarm clocks seen on The Goodies, automaton clock alarms have promised freshly made coffee and toast or even just their aroma. Here the familiar sounds of the kitchen, with their enticing morning smells, soften the rude awakening from sleep.

Today’s alarms, with all their invention, come as a gift (or depending on how much you enjoy waking up, a curse) from the Middle Ages to us today.The Conversation

iPhone clock icon
The iPhone can do a lot of things, but it cannot make toast.
Brett Jordan on Unsplash, CC BY

Matthew S. Champion, Senior Research Fellow in Medieval Studies, Australian Catholic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

It gets better with age: a brie(f) history of cheese in Australia


Morag Kobez, Queensland University of Technology

In this series, our writers explore how food shaped Australian history – and who we are today.

The history of cheese in Australia has, until recent decades, been a rather tasteless affair. Not so long ago our choice was either “vintage” or “tasty”.

We associate Italy with salty wedges of Parmigiano-Reggiano. France is synonymous with pillowy-soft triple bries and intensely aromatic Roquefort. Paneer is the cheese of Indian curries. Queso Oaxaca is quintessentially Mexican, while the humble cheddar is named for the English village in which it was first produced.

Australia’s most well-known cheese, on the other hand, is not recognised for its remarkable flavour or texture but rather its brand name, which was recently changed to Cheer following campaigning of many years against its racist connotations.

Great cuisines — and their cheeses — have arisen from peasant societies. As the historian Keith Hancock wrote in 1930, Australia “has not inherited a village civilisation nor love of the soil, but she has inherited factories and factory farms”.

Early provisions

Cheese is listed among the provisions aboard the First Fleet. Even convicts received a weekly cheese ration — albeit, less than that of officers and seamen.

Ensuring access to cheese upon arrival also seems to have been a priority for the white settlers, acquiring seven cows on the fleet’s final stop in The Cape of Good Hope. However, the plan to begin cheesemaking was thwarted when the cows escaped soon after they arrived in what they called New South Wales.

It took a further eight years for another herd to be assembled, and the first dairy was built in Rose Hill in 1796, near the banks of the Parramatta River. The fledgling industry expanded with the foundation of Van Diemen’s Land in 1804. By 1820 the weekly produce market was offering cheese for sale at two shillings a pound.

Black and white photograph of a cattle yard.
The Briarwood dairy, property of S. Blanchard in Brogo, NSW, photographed in 1885.
State Library of New South Wales

Given that cheddar was by far the most common cheese being produced in England at the time this cheese was most likely a rudimentary cheddar.

Australia’s first commercial cheese factory — the Van Diemen’s Land Company — was established in Tasmania in the 1820s. Not long after, farmers from the NSW district of Illawarra began to send their cheese and butter to Sydney by sea. As more ports opened, dairying extended all the way down to Bega in southern NSW.


Henry Harding arrived in Bodalla on the south coast of New South Wales from England in 1853. The son of the “father of Cheddar cheese”, Joseph Harding, Henry shared his father’s dictum that: “cheese is not made in the field, nor in the byre [cowshed], nor even in the cow, it is made in the dairy”.

This began a long era of commercialisation and industrialisation in which consistency, ease of storage and distribution and longevity were foremost considerations. The blue and yellow boxes of Kraft processed cheddar which travelled so well became a fixture of our cheese landscape.

I choose good wholesome food like ... kraft cheese!
An advertisement for Kraft Cheese in the The Australian Woman’s Mirror, 1935.

Before the 1980s, most of the cheese made in Australia were cheddars from big factories. But in that decade we begin to see some European varieties introduced — though virtually all white-mould cheeses sold in Australia until the mid 1980s were tinned camemberts and bries, mass produced in Europe and stabilised to survive long periods in transit.

Read more:
An ode to mac and cheese, the poster child for processed food

This cheese bore very little resemblance to those available in Europe, and stand in stark contrast to the vast range of artisan cheeses on offer in Australia today: delicate, hand-tied pouches of cow’s milk mozzarella with their oozy filling of stracciatella made by Vannella Cheese; nutty, aged French-style washed-rind from Holy Goat made with organic goat milk or biodynamic quark and feta from Mungalli Creek Dairy produced without fertilisers or pesticides.

To what then, can we attribute the rise of this vibrant cheese industry?

Broadly speaking, there was a cultural and political shift towards more ethical practices in food production and a backlash against industrial food systems.

The values and meaning we associate with mass-produced food have changed.

Food cultures

Perhaps it started with the tree-change hippies in the 1970s. A small, decaying dairy in Nimbin was resurrected following the counter-cultural Aquarius Festival of 1973, bringing with it an ethos of sustainability, community, resilience and simplicity.

Read more:
Nimbin before and after: local voices on how the 1973 Aquarius Festival changed a town forever

Then there is the slow food movement founded in Italy in 1989. It espouses ideals of good-quality flavoursome food, clean production that does not harm the environment, fair accessible prices for consumers and fair conditions and pay for producers.

More recently, we’ve seen an “artisanal turn” with its critical focus on the industrialisation of food. The proliferation of food media, celebrity-driven television cooking shows and social media have taught us good food is small-scale, artisan, local, connected – and the antitheses of factory-produced sliced cheddar.

A tasting platter and wine flight.
Australia’s tastes in cheese has developed alongside our taste in other artisan foods, too.
Chelsea Pridham/Unsplash

Three decades ago, low cost cheddar accounted for around 70% of the cheese we consumed. These days, we eat a diversity of fresh, mouldy, semi-hard and stretched cheese — almost half of the cheese we consumed in 2019.

We may not have a national cheese but we have certainly developed a distinctly Australian food culture. Central to this culture is the emphasis on quality over quantity. There is certainly something to cheer in that.The Conversation

Morag Kobez, Associate lecturer, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The History of Beer

A History of Plastic

%d bloggers like this: