Written by Matt Welty (@matthewjwelty)
240 years ago this day, the Sons of Liberty were pissed off at being taxed by the British government and protested by throwing boxes of tea into Boston Harbor. Boston is beloved for its connection to the birth of our great nation, but it's also grown to be a hub for another passion: sneakers.
The city is home to roughly 637,000 residents and it may not be known as the coolest city in America. It's full of top-tier college students and obsessed sports fans, but its impact on the sneaker industry has revitalized the notion of the sneaker boutique and given collectors and enthusiasts reasons to wear brands outside of Nike and adidas.
Boston's footwear legacy can be traced back to shoemakers of the Colonial era, and the ethos of creating quality footwear has never left the city. New Balance was founded in 1906 and still manufactures sneakers domestically to this day. Reebok, Saucony, Converse, and Puma North America all call Boston and its greater area home.
No other city in America has a better one-two sneaker boutique lineup than Concepts and Bodega.
Without Boston and it's surrounding communities, much footwear innovation available today might have never happened.
Concepts, which was founded in 1996 as an offshoot of footwear store The Tannery, and has had built a following over the years that's outlasted many sneaker boutiques in New York that have fallen by the wayside.
The store arguably had the biggest year out of any other boutique in the world. Its collaboration with New Balance on the 998 "C-Note" and "Mint" was one of the year's best sneakers. The store also worked with New Balance on the underrated "Northern Lights" pack—three pairs of buttery suede 574s with glow-in-the-dark soles.
It's easy to overlook that Concepts also helped bring FILA back to sneaker legitimacy with two suede renditions of the Original Tennis, ASICS on a pair of Gel Lyte IIIs, and Nike SB on two pairs of Christmas sweater-themed Dunk His.
Bodega was no slouch, either. The shop continued its ongoing collaboration with Saucony, and worked with Vans and Reebok. This year also marked the first time that Bodega had worked with New Balance, with its collaboration on the 577 "HYPRCAT."
These two shops weren't the only ones in Boston to make major moves this year. The city is also home to Frank the Butcher who collaborated with Reebok for a Black Friday release of the Reebok Run DMX 10. Boston-based steetwear mega retailer Karmaloop also announced that it will stock the Kanye West x adidas collection.
It's easy to say that Oregon, which is home to major brands Nike and adidas, is the real hub for sneaker design, but the the state lacks the pivotal sneaker boutiques that really move the culture. Boston's brands—New Balance, Saucony, Converse, Puma, and Reebok—are more likely to collaborate with a host of domestic and international sneaker stores.
New York is a bigger participant in sneaker culture, but Boston serves as America's brain trust for sneakers and footwear in general.
New York sneakerheads will take exception to Boston being argued as a more influential than them. The Big Apple can be seen as the birthplace of sneaker culture, and its basketball and hip-hop history is what helped the fuel the interest in kicks as more than something that's worn to protect feet.The collaborations come in small numbers, and sell out quick. They visit the back catalogs of these iconic brands, and introduce sneaker enthusiasts to silhouettes and models that they otherwise wouldn't discover on their own.
But Boston has a basketball legacy, too: the Celtics have won 17 NBA Championships, more than other team. New York does have its share of sneaker boutiques: Kith, West NYC, Extra Butter, and atmos New York, but other than Kith, the other shops haven't been as prolific with their collaborations or had the ability to gain international prestige like Concepts and Bodega have.
Thanks to their massive online presence, the two Boston-based shops have built a bigger following outside of the city. New York is a bigger participant in sneaker culture, but Boston serves as America's brain trust for sneakers and footwear in general.
Converse's Chuck Taylor All-Star is the best selling sneaker of all time, and New Balance is the only major athletic sneaker brand still manufacturing in the United States. Nike even had its research and development headquarters in nearby Exeter, N.H. Without Boston and it's surrounding communities, much footwear innovation available today might have never happened. There would be fewer avid consumers, and less choices on which brand to lace up.
Boston isn't known as one of the fashion or style capitals of the world, but the sneaker minds and tradition of the area are what keep everything moving. It just so happens that 2013 was the year that Boston re-established itself as a sneaker heavyweight.
Matt Welty is an editorial assistant for Complex Sneakers, and grew up in Stratham, N.H.
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