Sneaker culture: exclusiveness, performance and… tech?

May 14, 2018

Lyst, the fashion search engine, recorded over 3 million search entries for sneakers every month. That is more than handbags, which were considered the ultimate fashion accessory… Until now. It seems that sneakers are establishing themselves as statement pieces and collector’s items more and more. No wonder if you take a quick look at the numerous celebrity collabs with major brands, such as Puma x Rihanna’s Fenty (most searched pair on Lyst), Kanye West x Adidas, Pharrell Williams x Adidas… Collabs between fashion brands and historic sneaker houses are also all the rage, as for Comme des Garçons x Nike, Adidas x Alexander Wang or Converse x Colette x Club 75.

However, famous names are not the only pull factor towards sneakers. Smart design, innovative fabrics, or the possibilities to play with a pair’s look through tech are adding to the hype.


Sneaker culture 101: Exclusiveness

Exclusive Air Force Ones by Nike x Comme des Garçons x Supreme were released on May 18th, 2017. They were sold out in… one hour. Exclusiveness and rarity have always played a role in sneaker culture — and collabs are no new phenomenon. Maybe you remember Jay Z x Reebok’s S. Carter in 2002 or Run DMC x Adidas’ Superstars.

This quest for uniqueness can explain the sometimes skyrocketing price of sneakers. Widespread resell, also a big part of sneaker culture, is another factor. Pharrell x Adidas’ NMD Human Race Burgundy F&F cost a mere 7 000€ (F&F meaning “Friends and Family”, adding even more exclusive value). On another level, Eminem sold a pair of Air Jordan 4 from his own collection for $70 000.

You can even find a “Sneaker Sotck Exchange” in Detroit. StockX is a marketplace where individuals and collectors (some famous, like Eminem and Mark Wahlberg) exchange fresh pairs of sneakers. The exchange rate varies according to financial indexes based on brands, iconic pairs… Each transaction is transparent and each pair is controlled for authenticity. As sneakers are elevated as collector’s items, counterfeit is commonplace. If you look far enough, you can even find faux pairs of exclusive collabs and limited edition… that never existed. Black market exclusivities include for instance Gucci x Adidas kicks, Yeezy Boosts (from Kanye West and Adidas) x Supreme, that were never issued.


Can tech make your shoes more unique and rare?

Endless customization can be achieved through technologies that focus on the visual aspect of shoes. For now, shoes that have a stronger tech component are mostly conceived by start-ups. Big brands tend to shy away from these types of pairs, as they are not made for sports and digress from their core business a little bit.  

For instance, Shiftwear shoes allow their owner to change the patterns on their shoes as much as they please, thanks to a pattern library (including GIFs) that can be accessed in HD, from their phone.

Sneaker culture: exclusiveness, performance and… tech?

Some pairs are a bit more interactive and include technologies that react to the wearer’s environment. Orphe designs LED-equipped shoes that react to the movements of the feet inside them. They also interact with music and can control some of it.

Sneaker culture: exclusiveness, performance and… tech?

Going even further is the start-up Vixole, that sells “infinitely” customizable e-sneakers. They even have an API that allows them to connect with virtually any app. Not only visually stimulating, these shoes have various applications. They can be used to express a truly unique style, be noticed, play games using VR, or broadcast a political —or commercial—message…


The sneaker industry, a pioneer in mainstreaming tech?

That it be with the use of fabrics or production techniques, the sneaker industry has long been very innovative. Nothing surprising, as sneakers were originally made for athletes, who constantly seek to optimize their performances — amongst other things via optimum equipment.

Having adjustable and personalized shoes has long been a clear objective for major brands R&D departments. Adidas Future Craft 4D was a major news item last year. Designed based on years of athlete data, the pair is produced with a technology that “transforms liquids into solids”.

Sneaker culture: exclusiveness, performance and… tech?
Lechal Haptic

Numerous firms other than huge sneaker institutions are issuing e-sneakers designed for athletes. iFit, for instance, produces the Altra IQs. They integrate sensors that collect the strength of the jogger’s feet’s impact on the ground. An app on their phone help them monitor they race as they go. Other pairs are designed to help and facilitate the life of differently abled people. Lechal for instance makes shoes and soles that help the visually impaired navigate with sensitive signals transmitted directly to their feet in case they go the wrong way. In the same vein, Sneakairs allow families of Alzheimer’s patients to track their relatives.

Nike was recently in the spotlight with its cushion soles technology, Nike Epic React. What’s interesting here is not only the technical level of skills to design and produce the shoes, but also the degree to which the technology is accessible (if not especially affordable) to “the masses”, as they are sold on the regular market. This type of kicks are designed from jogger feedback: not only professional athletes, but also regular johns. Sneaker culture has played a huge part in mainstreaming tech. Speaking of the pair in highsnobiety, superstar basketball player Michael Johnson thus said: “I think that everybody will benefit from this”.


Look Forward’s Perspectives

Although collabs are mostly a marketing tool, thus bound to lose the consumer’s interest once they become more and more mundane (and less of an “event”), sneakers are not done surfing the hype. If “only” collector’s items so far, they are pieces of pride and joy and are going to become much more. Stars of athleisure, sneakers are bound to become smarter and will allow for better comfort and athletic performances, as well as establishing new frontiers for style and tech.

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