ARTICLE BY Ross Dwyer

The Real Sneaker Influencers: 2022's Most Influential People of the Year (So Far!)

2022's Most Influential People in Sneakers (So Far!)

Our wild run of mid-year roundups is drawing to a close, and for its final act, we're taking a look at six of the biggest needle-movers from the year's first six months. From designers to musicians and athletes, the six stars listed below all put their fingerprint on the game in the first half of 2022 – you'll recognise some of the names from our recent list of the year's biggest stories – and, although one of them, Virgil Abloh, is sadly no longer with us, he lives on through his influential legacy and the paradigm-shifting products he created. Salute to the real sneaker influencers!

Teddy Santis

Teddy Santis

Teddy Santis is runnin' sh*t this year. Aimé Leon Dore​'s nostalgic, elevated NYC aesthetic is one of the preeminent styles in modern street culture, and, combined with Santis' role as creative director of New Balance's MADE in USA line, makes him one of the most influential tastemakers in the game.

Santis is almost single-handedly responsible for the revival and subsequent success of the New Balance 550, a shoe that's uniform for Soho street urchins and Instagram style savants alike – and released in a third batch of colours this year. He also brought some juice to the 650, its high-top cousin, and has cranked out appealing in-line styles of the 990, 990v2 and 990v3 through his above-mentioned work with the MADE in USA line.

Essentially, he's been given the key to all of New Balance's lifestyle product and with it unlocked a whole new fanbase for the brand while expanding exactly what they can be and represent. Expect to see much more from him in the second half of the year!

,Kanye West

Kanye West

Kanye West's flock of acolytes would dub it sacrilege if he was left off a 'most influential' list, and they'd have a righteous point. Over the last decade-plus, it would have been ridiculous to leave the man now legally known as Ye off this list, and 2022 is no exception. As his Yeezy brand with adidas continues to grow in value, influence and stature, West isn't resting on his lapels, pumping out popular new silhouettes like the Yeezy BOOST 350 V2 CMPCT and giving us more colourways of warm-weather staples like the Foam Runner and Yeezy Slide as well. Earlier this week, he filed to trademark 'YZYSPLY,' indicating that he's looking to add a retail footprint to his Yeezy empire.

Besides Yeezy's footwear design efforts and possible retail expansion, West is taking sneaker culture heavy-hitters and slotting them into new roles that enable them to use their wealth of knowledge in different ways. His longtime cohort Steven Smith – himself responsible for the Yeezy BOOST 700, Yeezy 450 and above-mentioned Yeezy Foam Runner – was recently named the head of Donda Industrial Design, while earlier in the year former Nike ACG design director Nur Abbas was named head of design at Yeezy.

Yes, West's fingerprints have been all over sneaker culture in the first six months of 2022 – and we also got a chance to see him rocking adidas from another generation over the course of Jeen-Yuhs as well!

Virgil Abloh

Virgil Abloh

Entering 2022 without Virgil Abloh's boundless creative energy was a strange feeling for the sneaker community as a whole. Abloh, who passed away in November 2021, had a level of influence and an inherent curiosity that could only be compared to his longtime friend and creative partner Kanye West. As it turns out, even after leaving us his influence is still just as strong as ever.

The expansive, expensive and awe-inspiringly beautiful Louis Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1 collection was Abloh's swan song, an offering of elevated sneakers that served as the ultimate expression of his desire to erase the lines between the streets and high fashion. Each pair in the 47-style lineup was instant grail status, and we don't see any way another sneaker can topple 'em for the title of the year's best: they're a great-looking shoe, the final chapter of a culture-shifting story and a poignant tribute all in one.

Besides the LV AF-1s, we got Air Force 1 Mids made by Off-White and Nike, a whole grip of skate and basketball-inspired Louis Vuitton sneakers and two cut-out takes on the Blazer Low. It's uncertain when the well of Abloh-designed silhouettes will dry up – he was a prolific creator who seemingly had the capacity to handle dozens of projects at once, and his wife Shannon will now lead the newly-formed Virgil Abloh Securities, essentially a wide-reaching design organisation – but what's utterly clear is that even after Abloh's passing the rest of the sneaker industry still stands firmly in his shadow.

Breanna Stewart

Breanna Stewart

Breanna Stewart is no stranger to asserting her dominance on the basketball court for the WNBA's Seattle Storm, and she fully extended that influence into the sneakersphere in 2022. Stewart signed with PUMA back in 2021, a deal that included a signature model. Just days ago, her signature shoe – the Stewie 1 – was officially announced at WNBA All-Star Weekend, making for a milestone moment in hoops footwear that immediately cemented her a spot in this list.

Stewart may not have been as active in the sneaker headlines as some of the other names on this list during the last six months, but the impact of her just-announced signature model simply cannot be overstated. She's the first lady hooper to get her own shoe in 12 years. 12 years! Can you imagine a 12-year gap between NBA players getting signature shoes? Didn't think so.

Large footwear brands often love to talk a big game about equality, the same way they do 'net zero' carbon emissions: it sounds good, but what they're doing most of the time is offering empty platitudes in the name of PR and kicking the can down the road action-wise. Stewart's shoe, however, automatically slam-dunks those platitudes and conventions, immediately putting her shoulder-to-shoulder with NBA players who have their own signature kicks. She's opened a door for her WNBA counterparts to be on equal footing as their peers in the NBA, and others, like Elena Delle Donne are already starting to walk through it. Let's see more signature hoop shoes for women in the next six months!

Chris Gibbs

Chris Gibbs

Union owner Chris Gibbs knows his way around a colab: he goes way back with Jordan Brand and Nike, among others, and this year alone he worked with the Swoosh and the Jumpman to cook up desirable Dunks, amazing Air Jordan 2s and compelling Cortez. That's a pretty damn good trifecta for only half a year, and because of it Union took the number one spot in the 'Most Popular Collaborator' section of our audience-generated most popular sneakers and topics list from the year's first half.

According to you, our beloved Sneaker Freaker community, Union is the collaborative champion of the last six months. That's due in large part to Gibbs, the man who helps create the drops and oversees the memorable marketing campaigns that accompany them. Your guess for what Union will cook up over the next six months is as good as ours, but just like you we're sure excited to see what's in store!

John Donahoe

The fantastic four plus one more of sneaker royalty that you saw earlier on this list were front-facing individuals with a large public presence. John Donahoe, the sixth and final party to be spotlighted here, is much more of a behind-the-scenes string-puller. As the CEO of Nike, the largest sportswear brand in the world, the strings Donahoe pulls hold a tremendous amount of weight and can re-shape sneaker culture. ,

As Nike celebrate their 50th anniversary over the course of 2022, Donahoe has served as a steady hand in turbulent times – though the Swoosh's cultural cachet and revenue are still strong, they've been battered by continued COVID restrictions in China and the ever-present threat of supply chain issues, which have vastly increased their shipping costs. In a recent earnings report for Q4 of the 2022 fiscal year (which doesn't follow the same schedule as the calendar year), it was revealed that North American sales had decreased by 5 per cent year-over-year while Greater China sales sank 19 per cent year over year. This shows that a brand as burly as the Swoosh isn't immune to headwinds!

Donahoe kept the ship steady over the year's first six months, and is aiming to meet the challenges ahead by continuing the expansion of Nike's DTC business model while offering less product at longtime partners like Foot Locker. The Swoosh also sees untapped potential in the metaverse, and is aiming to make their mark on the new frontiers it offers. We'll definitely be watching what the rest of the year looks like for them from a business standpoint, but with Donahoe at the helm they'll be able to navigate any turbulent waters.

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