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SELECT Discussion: Too Much of a Good Thing

August 8, 2013by Aaron Kr.
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The dynamics of the sneaker game have changed in immeasurable ways through the years, with the most dramatic shifts taking place fairly recently. The sneaker business has been booming as of late and it seems like every new weekend brings a new batch of “must have” releases. Consumers are getting the shoes they covet and the sneaker companies and retailers are reaping the benefits. Good news for everybody right? Sure, but for the sake of argument, let’s take a look at the big picture and some of the more underlying effects that are silently shaping the future of the sneaker landscape.

From a business standpoint, it makes plenty of sense to cash in while demand is high, but going about it in a way that will still set you up for the long term as well requires a delicate balance of ambition and restraint. Once these brands burn through their entire retro catalogs and explore every new color scheme and graphic treatment imaginable, what will there be left to sell you? Of course there will always be new models emerging with the latest in performance innovations, but there will also still be demand for the classics – only, what happens when there are no classics left to bring back? Well, they’ll probably just bring them back again, but after a shoe’s umpteenth re-release, it can lose a little of the impact that made them so special in the first place.


That’s all well and good, and certain iconic silhouettes will continue to stand the test of time, but even legends can fall from grace if pushed too hard. The danger is very real and we’ve recently seen it with unquestionably revered silhouettes like the Air Force 1 and then the Dunk, which hit such heights of popularity that they ultimately fell victim to oversaturation. While the AF1 and Dunk will never lose their Hall of Fame status and still have many loyal devotees, they are proof that even unthinkable cornerstones of sneaker history can fall out of favor with the mainstream once enough is deemed to be enough.

We’re not suggesting that sneaker companies should deprive consumers of the shoes they want, but there has to be some more consideration put into the lasting effects of milking every last drop. Is it worth it to go after every dollar today if it means killing a shoe for tomorrow? If it means having a product that everybody wants to get their hands on, that’s a fork in the road that any brand is happy to deal with, but the decisions they make can vastly alter the trajectory of the shoe’s legacy and its ability to succeed down the road. There are two sides to the debate, and we’re going to examine them both in our first installment of SELECT Discussion, so continue on to explore the double-edged sword that comes along with the laws of sneaker supply and demand.


EVOLUTION or OVERKILL?


Following its original release in 1997, the Nike Air Foamposite One spent a little over a decade fondly remembered as an innovative classic with an unmatched unique appearance. While the model enjoyed a strong cult following, especially in the DMV area, it wasn’t until the release of the “Eggplant”colorway in 2008, and then the “Copper” in 2010 that the average sneaker consumer really started to catch on. For the most part, Foam Ones and Pros have followed a simple formula – metallic foam upper, black eyelet strips, tongue and ankle, and a clear iced outsole. While there have been some slight deviations through the years, that was the basic blueprint for most of them, and that’s how Foamposite fans liked it.

Then in 2012, the “Galaxy” edition sent Foamposites soaring into the stratosphere, giving the shoe a wildly colorful full graphic print on the foamy uppers and making it one of the most sought after releases of all-time in the process. While it wasn’t easy to get a pair of the Galaxy’s, as a result of the hysteria they caused, the Foamposite series became an even bigger juggernaut with each new colorway that followed unthinkably challenging Air Jordan retros for weekend retail dollars.

The other major impact of the “Galaxy” Foams was the boundaries it broke with its use of painted graphics and departure from the clean metallic sheen of its predecessors. The “ParaNorman” edition came a few months later, and before we knew it, a slew of patterns and prints were making their way onto the revered Foamposite palette. While they may have come equipped with the ability to turn heads, none has come close to capturing the magic of the Galaxy, and in the end, only time will tell how they hold up and fit in to the broader scope of Foamposite history. Despite their ability to take the Foamposite to new and exciting territory, the real question for Nike is how long they can sustain the shoe’s popularity without treading into the waters of overkill.


PURIST:

Some might say that these splattered applications are only distracting from the hypnotic lines and grooves that make the shoe such a marvel in the first place. Now, with almost every color of the rainbow used up and the Safari and Asteroid versions on the way, we’re left to wonder what’s left to do to the Foamposite and how long it can remain at the top of the Nike Retro food chain. The Foamposite will always been a cherished milestone of Nike Basketball history, but are all these new colorways and loud designs detracting from the shoe’s ultimate legacy?

They can obviously always cycle back to OG colorway re-releases, but by the time they do, will the huge fanbase that’s hunting them right now still be so interested? Many longtime Foam aficionados saw the Galaxy as the beginning of the end for the shoe they loved, but the floodgates that have been opened in its wake have been met by plenty of consumers eager to scoop them up. So even if you’re disappointed in some of the aesthetic directions taken, you’re complaints have unfortunately been muffled out for the moment by the sounds of ringing cash registers as these more daring and unconventional Foam colorways continue to clear out at retailers.

REALIST:

Any time a consumer is eager and willing to pay $200+ for a sneaker, it’s pretty hard to resist the urge to keep putting them out. For Nike, taking risks is nothing new, and in this case, if cashing in now means that people might not be as adamant about buying the shoe down the road, then so be it. The brand has the confidence in their products and heritage to reasonably believe that there will always be love for a shoe like the Foamposite. And if there isn’t, the Swoosh still has plenty to fall back on. If people stop buying Foams, they’ll more than likely be selling them whatever it is they’ve hopped over to.

In the meantime, the Foamposite onslaught shows no sign of slowing down with painted graphic uppers not only playing a major part, but apparently only getting started. The shoe has evolved as a result of these bold new visual directions, and although some folks might not like to see the classic formula tampered with, Nike has always done a pretty remarkable job of keeping their classics relevant, so it’s hard to bet against them when it comes to their resourcefulness, creativity and ability to adapt.


WHEN LESS WAS MORE


Back in the late 80s and early 90s, sneakers were as good as they’ve ever been. Groundbreaking models were everywhere you looked, and no era since has come close to yielding such a bountiful crop of classics. All the major brands were going hard after their slice of the market and there was plenty for consumers to choose from. Because of this sense of parity and competition, most brands moved at a quick pace to try to stay ahead, and that meant keeping it moving and not relying on any one shoe for very long. After some time passed and people began to wax nostalgic about these seminal releases, each one had a few memorable colorways that became the face of the shoe.

As a result, most models were brought to market in only a handful of different color make-ups before they had run their course, and then it was time for something new and on to the next shoe. This kept things evolving and progressing, and although the same basic cycle is still in place today, there has been one major shift in the process. Demand has grown exponentially, and now, when a new shoe is introduced, it might release in as many as twenty or thirty colorways over the course of a year or even a season. If that shoe is a hit, the approach usually pays off handsomely, but by the time the thirtieth pair drops, we’re usually left feeling sick of looking at the model rather than remembering it fondly.

It’s like when you hear a new song you love and you can’t get enough of it. Then the song becomes a big hit and you hear it everywhere you turn. Before long, that same song you once loved is now actually nauseatingly annoying to you because of how much it’s been crammed down your throat. It’s still a great song and under different circumstances, you’d probably still love it, but thanks to the oversaturation that can come along with success, your lasting memory of it may be negatively altered forever.

Sneakers and fashion in general are no different. Things can get so popular that it inevitably makes them unpopular, and that’s an obstacle that sneaker brands need to navigate carefully. There are very few shoes that finish as strong as they started and there’s something to be said for that. Sometimes this stuff just needs to go away and breathe a little, but the desire to cash in makes it hard to do so. In the short term, it’s nice to stack up all that revenue, but is it worth it if people are sick of the shoe when it’s all said and done? There has to be some happy medium where a brand can make a nice chunk off of a popular model without completely beating it into the ground and tarnishing it’s future legacy.


PURIST:

In the early days of the Air Jordan and Air Max lines, each yearly model released in little more than maybe three or four original colorways. As a result, each and every one of them had a distinctly unique identity and memorable place in the series. When you thought about a certain shoe, a specific set of colors would instantly fly right through your mind. Now, when Nike and Jordan Brand want to bring a shoe back into circulation, there are certain no-brainer versions of said shoe already in place with a built-in following and the ability to disappear from store shelves each and every time they return. Can the same be said for today’s signature models and other flagship products?

Granted, we’ve been treated to tons of juicy color schemes and eye-catching design approaches, but when you picture a recent sig model in your head, you don’t even know where to start in terms of identifying a lasting face of the shoe that sticks out in your memory banks. When you think back on the Kobe 8 (or when Nike goes to retro it down the line), what will be the standout colorway or two that immediately come to mind? Chances are that everyone pondering that question right now will probably have a different answer. While that may not seem like anything to worry much about at the moment, what happens to the future of the retro market when the “new classics” have no semblance of an obvious tangible identity to represent them?

REALIST:

To a large degree, the countless versions of popular shoes that we see today are a direct result of consumer demand. As popular as the classic Air Jordans were during their original runs, there is no denying that the market has grown immeasurably to the point that they can certainly sell a lot more of them nowadays. The same goes for current models like the LeBron, Kobe, KD, etc. It would appear that today’s sneaker-consuming public is insatiably hungry for tasty new colorways of the shoes they like, so it only makes sense for the companies to keep them coming. Yes, things sometimes get stale by the end of a shoe’s run, but the variety that comes along the way certainly keeps things plenty interesting for consumers, and ensures that the Sneaker News team has fresh new stories to share with you on a daily basis.

If the yearly LeBron shoe only released in four colorways, each one would probably seem a little more important in retrospect, but think of all the great concepts, stories and color applications that we’d be missing out on if that was the case. It basically comes down to a classic grass is greener on the other side dilemma. As much as some of us might like to see sneaker brands do a better job of preserving the integrity of their heritage, ask yourself if the sneaker world would still be a such a fun and unpredictable place if the variety of options we have today was scaled back to the way it used to be.


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