Once reserved strictly for the weekend and casualwear, today’s sneakers have evolved into cult items and statement pieces with plenty of edge, desirability and staying power. The industry behind them is fast-paced and ever-evolving, primarily driven by male ‘sneakerheads’ - a constant reinvention with one foot in the past and one in the future. Old styles and new. Reissues or high-profile collaborations with influential style icons, dropped in str ictly limited runs. These are some of the ing redients that make the sneaker scene a booming market inflated by hype, saturated with desirability and defined b y exclusiveness. As sportswear behemoths Nike and Adidas, followed by Puma, and luxury powerhouses such as Gucci, Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, Valentino and Fendi, all continue to spr int ahead with buzzy new drops and partnerships that generate waiting lists and raffles, today’s sneakers have hurdled their or iginal function, transitioning seamlessly from the r unning track to the workplace, and even onto the red carpet.
“I believe the acceleration of their cult status ironically started with the wide acceptance of sneak ers as a f ashion and style item,” said Heiko Desens, Creative Director for PUMA Sportstyle. “Sportswear brands think out of the box now and diversify their product offer. Exploring unique collaborations and breaking boundaries in design is generating desire among sneaker fans,” he added. This desire is dr iving sales: the cur rent $47.1 billion
“[Sneakers] are intrinsic to so many things that are important to [the consumer] - music, community, an exchange of ideas. But most importantly, they’re a freedom of expression. That’s what makes them so desirable.” — Torben Schumacher
athletic footwear industry is expected to hit the $6 8 billion mark by 2021. Nike, which also owns Converse, leads the pack with 20 17 footwear revenues of $21.1 billion. At the end of last y ear, the Oregon-based giant - motto: Just Do It - also rank ed first among the leading f ashion brands in ter ms of the number of Instag ram followers with 75.4 million f ans.
German arch-rival Adidas and its streetwear-inflected Originals brand, continues to represent serious competition to Nike, spurred by red-hot styles such as Kanye West’s ultra-successful Yeezy Boost and the NMD silhouette . In 2017, Adidas’s footwear revenues totaled $10.36 billion. Torben Schumacher, General Manager of Adidas Originals, explained the philosophy of the brand with the three str ipes. He said: “We constantly challenge our selves to evolve with our consumer. There’s no compromise of functionality and comfor t over style anymore, and we need to deliver against that demand.” He added that the chief ingredients for success are having a g reat team and listening to consumer needs. “It’s very exciting to see wher e the new generations will take us as they create the buzz,” he observed.
Puma’s Desens ag reed that there is a g rowing level of dialogue between the companies that mak e the sneakers and the sneakerheads who wear them: “With the higher tur nover on product releases the consumer de velops a more sensitive filter on what’s cool or not.” According to Maur izio Purificato, co-founder of the tr endy landmark Antonia store in Milan and Macao, the f ascination for limited-edition sneak ers is a sign of the times, especially in the menswear market. He under scored how Nike and Adidas have dr iven a new way of interacting with the y ounger generations that serves the sense of immediacy typical to Millennials, Generation Z and of the f ast-paced ‘Street’ world.
“Differently from fashion labels that are still tied to r unway shows - to seasons and to a months-long w ait for an item to r each the stores - sneakers are seasonless with incessant r eleases,” said Pur ificato. Recently Antonia teamed up with Diadora Her itage to refresh the B. Elite tennis shoe, originally launched in 1983. Purificato said: “Sneakerheads are plugged in. They follow the launches on social media and kno w that there are limited quantities and a limited time-frame. All at democratic pr ice points.” Revamping iconic styles with the r ight balance of legacy and cur rency scores major points amongst sneakerheads. Standouts here include Nike’s Air Jordans, the Air Max that celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, the Adidas Superstar and the Puma RS-0 range.
Increasingly the spor tswear giants blend form and function by weaving their sports heritage and perfor mance know-how into lifestyle-leaning designs.
“While we have a fashion and cultural appeal, everything we do is rooted in sport. Our goal is to extend this cultur e into fashion and lifestyle,” said Adidas’ Schumacher.
Founded in 1911, Fila is a brand that boasts plenty of heritage. In April 2018, it updated its Mindblower running shoe from 1995, characterized by a chunky silhouette and bold, warped logo that taps into both the cur rent logomania and the craze for ‘ugly’ and ostentatiously technical sneak ers.“The Mindblower collection allows us to expand on the success of the Her itage category by seamlessly balancing the past, present and future,” said Louis W. Colon III, Vice President of Her itage and Trend at Fila Nor th America.
The rapid r ise of the sneaker business has catalysed many subsidiary sneaker-driven initiatives such as StockX, the industr y’s own stock market to buy and sell the coolest pair s, and The Drop Date, a website whose aim is to help fans collate and keep track of the m yriad launches. Even Ikea has jumped on the bandwagon with a capsule collection designed with Chr is Stamp of streetwear brand Stampd that comes with clear plastic shoe bo xes designed to show off your favorite styles, even when they are in storage.
The luxury market has become a wholehear ted participant in sneaker fever too. Gucci leads the w ay with its hallmark Ace tennis shoe as well as the retrochunky Rhyton. Balenciaga’s minimal Speed sock sneaker and maximalist Triple S style have both become contemporar y cult items. And Fendi has introduced the Rockoclick, a customizable, handcrafted sneaker available in 24 different combinations to which you can add your initials. Big business fuels big statements: music star Kanye West, also the creative mind behind the Yeezy Boost 350, recently stir red things up on Twitter by claiming that he is “the single highest paid per son in footwear. That means I make more money on shoes than Michael J ordan.” He added that the Yeezy sells 40 0,000 pairs in four hour s.
Despite his bombast, Kanye is not the only celebr ity sneaker auteur reaping the rewards of sneaker fever: collaborations in all shapes and for m channel plenty of star power. A standout for Adidas is its par tnership with Pharrell Williams, whose reinterpretation of the NMD silhouette includes a blockbuster effort with Chanel, launched exclusively at Paris’s much-mourned concept store Colette.
Nike generated major buzz by joining forces with Off-White’s Virgil Abloh for the ‘The Ten Icons Reconstructed’ project. From the Air Jordan I to the Air Max 90 via the Converse Chuck Taylor All Star, Abloh infused his signature postmodern twist, imposing or iginal taping details and a tight colour palette. Evidence of this strategy’s impact is the success of the r econstructed Chuck Taylor: thanks to Abloh’s Midas touch an almost ubiquitous style, which according to StockX “rarely makes its way into the secondar y market,” was reselling for up to eight times its $1 30 retail value after release.
Abloh said of the pr oject. “These ten shoes have broken barriers in performance and style. To me, they are on the same le vel as a sculpture of David or the Mona Lisa. You can debate it all you want, but they mean something. And that’s what’s important.”