Skip to main content

Complex - 50 Most Influential People In Sneaker History | By Jeff Staple

  • Author:
  • Updated:

When Complex asked Jeff Staple to come up with a list of most influential folks in the sneaker industry, a swirl of mixed emotions ran through his veins. One moment it was pure elation at the honor to compile such list, then another it was near panic attack at the burden of getting it right. But finally, the founder of Staple Design and Reed Space came away with his Top 50 list this morning. Thought out thoroughly, the list features many known personalities, interjected with some surprises as well. Of course, Staple knows the list is by far from complete from other folks' perspectives. So he's opening his Twitter @JeffStaple account for your suggestion...

Scroll down to see some of the honorees, including Freshness' Co-Founder Yu-Ming, or to Complex for a complete listing.


49. Tetsuya Shono

Who And Why: Creator of New Balance cool
Years Of Influence: 1997-present

New Balance is a fairly traditional company, but they have this really unique angle on their position in sneaker culture and one of the most instrumental people in NB that maintained relevancy with young people and the sneakerheads was Tetsuya. He was able to do the classic NB silhouettes that were really coveted by sneakerheads versus styles that were geared towards marathon and performance runners. He was really pushing the envelope in a company that was really traditional at the time.


45. Yu-Ming Wu

Who And Why: Sneaker collector, web pioneer
Years Of Influence: 2003-present is one of the earliest blogs to highlight sneakers, toy culture, and street culture. And back in the day, Yu-Ming was just an ordinary guy with a true appreciation for the sneaker culture. He eventually turned that love into a business and you always have to commend a guy like that... who is able to do what he loves for a living.


40. Ronnie Fieg

Who And Why: Designer, entrepreneur, collaborator
Years Of Influence: 1998-present

Ronnie was the head buyer for David Z for many years. He now has a store called Kith and in my mind, Ronnie is one of those young guns that will carry the torch for sneaker culture as it moves forward. He's a great mix of being educated from the streets and yet, experienced and professional enough to work within large companies. To have both of those ears finely tuned is a really powerful thing to have.


30. Paul Mittleman

Who And Why: Downtown kid, creative director for Stüssy and adidas Originals
Years Of Influence: 1992-present

Paul was the Creative Director of Stüssy for many, many years. He's now at Adidas in Germany and was really influential in the early days of street culture and sneaker culture, especially when Stüssy had a huge link with a lot of brands like Nike, Timberland, and Vans.


24. Marcus Tayui

Who And Why: The man behind and SB, Quickstrike innovator
Years Of Influence: 1998-present

Those at Nike know that if Mr. Tayui never worked at The Swoosh, things would be very different there. You could argue that HF might not be involved in Nike. Hence HTM might not exist. Early Nike COJP editions might not exist. Which in turn could have meant that Tier Zero wouldn't have existed. On top of that, Marcus pretty much started Nike SB. And to be responsible for that, pretty much cements you in sneaker history forever. He was also responsible for the Pigeon Dunk happening. He's the guy that said "Jeff, you wanna design a Dunk dedicated to NYC?" Guess what my answer was.


20. Jon Warren

Who And Why: Skater, head designer at Vans
Years Of Influence: 2002-present

From cementing their feet into skate culture to doing collaborations with Opening Ceremony, Vans is one of those strange brands that has the ability to morph into any culture they come to. It's just become a great canvas—a blank slate that Vans allows others to draw on. Mr. Warren has balanced this dual identity of Vans superbly.


19. eBay Resellers

Who And Why: Game changers
Years Of Influence: 1995-present

There was a time in sneaker history when it looked like this: Tradeshows, Salespeople, Buyers, Retailers, Rinse, Repeat. The resellers phenomenon turned shoes from commodities, to collectables. Collectively, they've created a stock market for sneakers. And I'll tell you, that little mentality of knowing eBay exists changes the way footwear designers design shoes. It's no longer about what the Foot Locker buyer will like. It's about the extra detail that will make everyone go crazy and pay insane amounts of money to get their hands on an exclusive pair.


18. Damany Weir

Who And Why: Entrepreneur, Flight Club founder
Years Of Influence: 1998-present

Damany was one of the top eBay resellers, putting a stranglehold on the entire global market of sneaker releases and making a ton of money from it. He eventually turned that into a business called Flight Club and sneaker companies really had no idea what to do about it. His store is an anomaly, carrying kicks that not even Nike Town had, but he didn't even have accounts with sneaker companies. Damany definitely flipped the market upside-down.


17. Biz Markie

Who And Why: Nobody beats the Biz
Years Of Influence: 1986-present

Like Jay, Biz was able to mix his sneaker fandom with music to really influence his fanbase. It's said he has over 20,000 pairs of kicks! And a lot of sneaker enthusiasts really respect him for his unique, experimental style. As crazy as his outfits might have seemed at the time, everyone respected The Biz.


12. James Jebbia

Who And Why: Supreme NYC
Years Of Influence: 1994-present

The influence that Supreme has on sneakers to this day is one of the most exciting things to look forward to if you love shoes as much as I do. There are people that hate on what he has created. But you cannot deny the fact that most sneaker companies would give their right and left arms to work with James. That says a lot about where he is in this culture.


4. Hiroshi Fujiwara

Who And Why: Streetwear godfather, stylist, the "H" in "HTM"
Years Of Influence: 1988-present

Hiroshi is pretty much the godfather of all things "street". He brought DJ and hip-hop culture to Japan and then became an influential, iconic stylist. He's got his fingers in pretty much everything: Supreme, Nike, Levi's, Oakley, Kangol, Burton, Visvim, Stussy, Fragment, W-Taps, Neighborhood, Soph and the list goes on. One of these days, I'm going to create a lineage of where streetwear began, and Hiroshi will probably be at the very top of that tree


3. Kevin Ma

Who And Why: Hypebeast founder, blog pioneer
Years Of Influence: 2005-present

I just heard a thousand moans. Hear me out.

If you're a sneakerhead, imagine a world without Hypebeast and everything that they represent. What would that mean to the culture today? It would TOTALLY change it, not just from a fan standpoint, but also from a brand standpoint. Ask people from the sneaker companies about Hypebeast and they'll probably say that half of their current employees would be without jobs if it weren't for this blog. It's to the point where brands go apeshit if they're featured on the front page of Hypebeast. (And conversely feel like a failure if they are passed up by Kevin and crew.) They've become so successful in fact, their company name has now being used as an adjective to describe people. Don't forget this. Kevin started out as a fan. Just like you. Just like me. Lead, follow, or get out of the way.


1. Michael Jordan
Who And Why: The greatest basketball player of all time
Years Of Influence: 1984-present

Michael Jordan is just that dude. If Tinker Hatfield is Leonardo da Vinci, Jordan is Zeus: The deity that was able to distort gravity and physics. When you look at a superhero, you look at what that superhero is wearing. Superman had his cape. Batman, his utility belt. With Jordan, it was his shoes. Jordan gave you the dream and any part of that you could capture, you did. It had to be the shoes.

Also, consider the rest of this list. If you were able to pull aside the other 49 people and ask them to choose one person they'd like to work with, I think the consensus would be MJ. He is the G.O.A.T.