Sneakers are a staple of modern culture and while their performance and technology are championed, it’s style that drives sales. Sneaker culture may have been birthed under the almighty Swoosh, but high fashion brands have cashed in on the market since the 1980‘s. Currently there’s a resurgence for designer sneakers and customers are shelling out upwards of $1500 for high end footwear. Question is, are the shoes worth the stacks?
Sneakers are susceptible to market trends and costs, making the pricing of quality kicks very fluid. When a brand designs a shoe, they’re given a final price, meaning they only have so much money to spend on components. As costs of materials and labor increase, so does the shoe and material downgrades are an easy way to cut costs. For example, compare the the original Jordan XI Concords, which cost $125 in 1995 to the retro release that came out in December 2011 that went for $180. Collectors love comparing the differences between OG pairs and re-releases.
However, for diehard sneaker fans, spending upwards of $200 for a basketball sneaker with inferior quality is a source of frustration. Material design illustrates the divide between athletic-brand and designer kicks, as Balenciaga’s buttery soft-top grain lambskin leather and calfskin suede sneakers far exceed squeaky fake patent leather. In buying a brand like Balenciaga, you're paying for the high-end nametag but also for quality. Imitation materials may last longer but they don’t break in organically like real leather, and the better your shoe looks with wear, the longer you’re likely to keep it in your footwear rotation.
Currently, the sneaker marketplace is flooded with retros. When the Jordan Concord XIs came out in December 2011 it was mania. However, minutes after the release, the streets and resellers were flush with Concords and the shoe lost its appeal of exclusivity.
Designer sneakers are gaining popularity because they’re different. Christian Louboutin’s men’s footwear line is one of the most requested items for NBA players since they are so different from what everyone else is sporting. This is mostly due to overdesign and gaudy styling. The overpriced and hard to find shoes have become so popular, that I convinced my NBA clients to try different shoes.
Jordan Brand re-releasing old favorites helps hide the fact that their performance shoes are not selling at the level of years past. Consumers buy more for style than function, and it’s difficult to wear a performance shoe casually due to their design. Style-centric celebrities like Kanye West don’t wear performance shoes, only designer kicks or original Jordans, since shoes like the bulky LeBron IX would compete with their ensemble. To get the most mileage out of expensive footwear, consider cost per wear — the Balenciaga Arena high-tops retail for $545 but wear them once a week, for three months — they cost about $45.41 a wear. If you wear every pair, it's easier to justify the purchase. Buying smart is key, as a pair that is simply designed with distinctive details always gets more wear. A good example of this is the original Jordan IIIs and the introduction of elephant print. Past designer models like the heinous Prada America Cups and all-over print Gucci joints came and went out of style quickly due to over-design. Minimal designs like Maison Martin Margiela’s 22 low tops are given new material designs every season, like all-over natural gum, but the silhouette remains undeniably Margiela.
Finally, it comes down to taste. If you want to rock something unique, going the designer route makes sense. Personally, no matter how hype Jordan IIIs get, I will always rock them, because they’re simple. For your own personal style, it’s gotta be about more than just the shoes (sorry, Mars).