We examine the significance and huge impact of the Nike Air Foamposite One “Galaxy” sneaker.

Sneaker culture has seen a lot in its 30-year history – from the spate of sportswear-related violence in the late ’80s to the hysteria caused by anything on Kanye West’s feet and the riots that greeted the 2011 release of the Air Jordan XI “Concord.” The release of Nike’s Air Foamposite One “Galaxy” in 2012, however, was the stuff of legend. The Foamposite line had proved time and again to be popular with sneakerheads (consistently fetching between $250-$500 on the resell market), but the Galaxy colorway would create utterly insane levels of hype on release. People camped outside stores a week before the shoe dropped, it would reach bids of $70,000 on eBay and one die-hard sneakerhead even offered up his car for trade in an attempt to get the sneaker. The shoe currently resells at an average of $1,085 – almost a 500% increase from its original retail price.

Seasoned sneakerheads will know that huge markups and mile-long lineups are all just part of the game, so what was it about the Galaxy Foams that were so significant?

“The Galaxy Foam was maybe the biggest release ever in terms of its impact on the sneakerhead world” Josh Luber at sneakerhead data resource Campless told us. “It’s at least partly responsible for the scene’s massive growth.” There were a few obvious reasons the Galaxy was a highly desired shoe – it was the first time Nike put a printed upper on a Foamposite, it celebrated 2012’s NBA All-Star Weekend and was guaranteed to be limited. However, the Galaxy was much more than just a limited edition Nike sneaker – it signified the moment the Oregon sportswear giant’s ability to create hype reached utterly stratospheric heights.

“The massive growth of sneakerhead community – which started in 2011 and was capped by the Air Jordan 11 Concord release at Christmas – truly exploded in the first quarter of 2012” Josh told us. By the beginning of 2012, Instagram’s popularity had rocketed in two years from 1 million users to 80 million, connecting sneakerheads all over the globe. What had previously been an insular culture – one that lived mainly on forums and blogs – was blown wide open, with footwear aficionados all over the world able to show off their kicks at the touch of a button. “Instagram’s hockey-stick growth encouraged so many new sneakerheads, while Nike hit the pinnacle of its marketing prowess and ability to leverage limited release product to drive mass hysteria,” Luber commented.

While most high-profile Jordan and Nike Basketball sneaker drops are expertly calculated to sell out instantly while still shifting tons of units, the Galaxy Foamposite was a different kind of release. The shoe was produced in miniscule amounts and was designed to cause pandemonium in the sneakerhead community – which, thanks to Instagram, was rapidly expanding in both size and demand. In the past, exclusive sneaker releases were localized – different shoes would drop in different parts of the world – but Instagram and the well-established sneaker blogs ensured that everyone wanted to get their hands on the Galaxies.

It was initially announced that the Galaxy would be available at 21 Mercer in New York, at the NBA All-Star games in Florida and online at Nike.com. “You had perceived mass distribution of a very limited shoe,” Josh told us, explaining that everyone thought they had a chance of copping when in fact only a handful of pairs were available. Sure enough, a few days before the Galaxy’s launch, Nike announced the sneaker wouldn’t be dropping online – presumably because there were so few pairs it wasn’t worth risking their webstore crashing when thousands of sneakerheads hit it at once.

When 21 Mercer randomly tweeted that customers could queue for a wristband that would allow them to purchase the sneaker when it dropped, all hell broke loose. “I was on a call for work and I saw the tweet” Luber remembers. “I immediately made up an excuse to get off the phone…by the time I got to 21 Mercer there was a line around the block. I waited in it but I had no shot. The line never even moved.” Demand for the shoe was exacerbated by how few of them were actually available – hence the aforementioned huge markups, ridiculous eBay auctions and attempts to exchange shoes for vehicles.

Just a few months earlier, the Air Jordan XI “Concord” had wreaked havoc across the US, with Police shutting down stores, widespread violence and even rumors spreading of murders connected to the shoe. However, that was a widely available release produced in huge quantities – hundreds of thousands – which used a legendary Jordan colorway that the man himself wore throughout the Bulls’ historic ’95-96 season. The Concords were, like most Jordan Retro drops, produced in just the right volume to ensure they sold out instantly while still selling in vast quantities.

The Galaxy Foamposite – which had no connection to Jordan, or anyone else for that matter – had just as much demand from thirsty sneakerheads, but was available in miniscule amounts. By launching the shoe on Twitter rather than the usual lineup system, Nike created a frantic scramble for the sneaker that created a residue of hype with a huge aftermath that made headlines all over the globe. It proved how Nike could turn any sneaker of its choosing into a hysteria-inducing release, and marked the point that sneaker culture turned from an insular, close-knit community into a full-blown pop culture phenomenon.

Nowadays everyone with an Instagram account flexes their new purchases, thousands of footwear aficionados attend sneaker conventions and everyone from pop stars to museums are celebrating the sneaker’s cultural significance. It’s hard to imagine the culture enjoying such widespread popularity had the Galaxy Foamposite not blown the sneakerhead world wide open – fuelled by Instagram’s ability to connect thousands of footwear aficionados instantly and Nike’s skill at creating hysterical levels of demand at the drop of a hat.

For more analysis of the sneaker industry, check out:

The Most Valuable Sneakers of 2015 Q2
The Ingenious Methods Nike Uses to Control the Sneaker Resell Market
Why Did So Many People Give Away the Yeezy 350 Boost?
Tracking the Resell Price of Both adidas and Nike’s Yeezy Sneakers

  • Photography: Nike.com
Words by Alec Leach
Freelance Writer/Editor/Consultant

Alec Leach grew up in Brighton, England, but now lives in Berlin