Dookie Rope

SOLEcial Studies

and the 50th anniversary of hip-hop


The connection between hip-hop and fashion is undeniable — the faces behind the music have been putting a unique head-to-toe spin on street wear since the early 1970s when dance parties in the Bronx, DJ Kool Herc, and a number of other poets, artists and urban philosophers were shaping the emerging music scene. In fact, one of the strongest and most important ties between the music and the trends has been the “toe” piece of that cultural phenomenon: the sneaker.

Few understand this connection better than Sean Williams of SOLEcial Studies. Created in 2011 to educate and empower people of color and women to seek careers in the sneaker industry, the SOLEcial Studies program has resulted in 150 people finding entrepreneurial or corporate roles within the industry. A few years ago, the Ac Magazine team had the pleasure of attending a class led by Williams, and since then SOLEcial Studies has grown, expanded, and continued to fill a much-needed gap in the sneaker industry.

To learn more about the sneaker/hip-hop connection — and to honor the music genre’s 50th anniversary, we recently sat down with Williams for a chat:

Ewing 33

What are the key moments in hip-hop history that correlate with sneakers?
To me, there are quite a few key moments. One of the most important is the totally overlooked fact that sneakers were a part of the hip-hop experience because they represented the anti-establishment. Look how far sneakers and hip-hop have come together!

Why sneakers? Why not another accessory that was widely used in the community? What started this long history together?
Hip-hop is a movement started by Black and Latino youth who had enough of being disenfranchised and disregarded by the establishment. Sneakers at the time always fell outside of the scope of what was deemed “acceptable” footwear (to go to work, to church, to clubs, etc.) thus making them perfect for the movement that was about to take shape in New York City — a movement which was all about making its own rules.

Adidas Rivalry

There were rappers who wore shoes and boots when they dressed up to perform at certain clubs and restaurants in the 70s — and there are pictures to support this — but sneakers were officially a part of the hip-hop uniform on a normal day for many of us (going to school, playing sports, or casual excursions). The growth of hip-hop in the music industry, especially with Run DMC and their iconic song and endorsement deal with adidas, is what cemented the association of rappers in sneakers to those living outside of our experiences. The rappers were a reflection of the rest of us out in the streets because their success gave them a major platform. It gave our urban experiences a serious spotlight. As the culture spread, our fashion sense became the blueprint for people like us all around the world.

Bally Triumph

What brands did we see play a crucial role in this movement?
In the 70s, it was predominantly adidas, Converse, Puma, and Pro-Keds. Other than the Nike Cortez, which was preferred by the B-Boys and B-Girls, Nike was a non-factor and Jordans didn’t even exist yet. In the 80s there was a lot of sneaker brand diversity among urban consumers. Foreign-made brands like Fila, Lotta, Diadora and Sergio Tacchini would redefine luxury. But by the 90s that would change dramatically as brands like Reebok and Nike and Air Jordan (which is a subsidiary of Nike) would become major players that pushed adidas and Puma to the side. Any other brands smaller than those suffered dramatically. Many of them got hit so hard with a nosedive in sales that to this day they still don’t know what happened — but I do.

Dapper Dan Puma

By the 2000s up to around 2021, Nike, Air Jordan, and adidas laid claim to dominance. In the most recent times (post Yeezy — now that adidas and Kanye West have concluded their partnership) New Balance has found a great groove among the Gen Z consumer. My hope is with Coco Gauff winning the 2023 US Open they get an additional boost. With regard to hip-hop “making brands” the very candid and undeniable truth is, hip-hop culture — in tandem with social media — moved the needle on all of this regardless of the brand. And all the brands know it. The question is — will they ever truthfully and candidly acknowledge that. Many choose to act as if their urban customer doesn’t matter. It angers me.

What’s one moment in the last 50 years of hip-hop that doesn’t usually make the top timeline of events, but you think it’s a crucial moment?
I would have to give that one to Missy Elliott getting her endorsement deal with adidas in 2004. She was the first non-athlete female to ever sign such a deal. She deserves all her flowers while she’s still with us.

SSCA Air Force


SOLEcial Studies

SOLEcial Studies was established in 2011 as a sneaker industry education program that educates and empowers people of color and women to seek careers in the sneaker industry. The program has resulted in almost 150 people working in footwear and fashion as entrepreneurs or with roles in the corporate ranks of the sneaker industry.

In July of 2015, the SOLEcial Studies CommUNITY Academy in Dumbo, Brooklyn opened. It is America’s first educational establishment to focus on non-design related careers in the sneaker and fashion industries. The academy’s sneaker book library, the “Bobbito Garcia Library of Laces,” is enabled with Web3 technology; and a content creator studio is the home of their new podcast “Critical Lace Theory.” The education-based programming now includes Web 3 technology, NIL (Name Image and Likeness) and Intellectual Property Essentials. All of these new course offerings complement other SOLEcial Studies classes which are always being offered all year round via in-person and online options.

If you’re interested in learning more about SOLEcial Studies head to We look forward to seeing everything that’s ahead not only for SOLEcial Studies but for the next generation of designers it trains up as well.