words // Zac Dubasik
If you frequent sneaker blogs, it seems like there’s barely a week that goes by without seeing a new collaboration pop up these days. They can come in all shapes and sizes, and involve partners as diverse as artists, celebrities, designers, store buyers, boutiques and pretty much any other entity imaginable.
While shops like Undefeated and Supreme have been doing them with Nike for over 10 years, a trend of smaller brands (at least when it comes to the sneaker collecting community) working with a wide range of collaborators can probably be credited to Ronnie Fieg’s work with ASICS. Whether or not you’re a fan of them, the Salmon Toe GEL Lyte IIIs proved just how popular these projects could be, and set off a landslide of collaborations.
What exactly is the point of these collaborations though? Ultimately, it’s to sell shoes. But the motivations behind them, and the beneficiaries of them, can vary greatly. To fully understand who has what to gain from a collaboration, let’s look at each party with something at stake.
In a typical collaboration, an independent party (who we’ll call Collaborator B, such as Supreme), works with the manufacturer of a product (who we’ll call Collaborator A, such as Nike) to produce their interpretation of that product. Collaborator A is typically a much larger entity, with plenty of brand awareness.
So what’s in it for them? For one thing, the cool factor. Nike can sell Air Force 1s all day. They don’t need Riccardo Tisci to help them. But he can help them connect to a crowd who may think they’re above Nike. It can also help launch a product, the way we saw HTM used with the first colorways of the Flyknit Chukka.
In theory, a collaboration will drive interest to the rest of the line. In practice? It doesn’t always work that way. A retailer who asked to remain anonymous recently told me that the running collaborations they carry “sell out as fast as retro Air Jordans, but we can’t give the non-collabs away.”
As mentioned before, almost any entity imaginable can be Collaborator B. Oftentimes though, they are much smaller in terms of profile than Collaborator A. Supreme may be the most hyped “skate” shop of all time, but Nike just had a $27.8 billion year in revenue. That means that for Collaborator B, there’s an opportunity to be seen by a far bigger audience than they can acquire alone.
Ronnie Fieg may have had a long history of behind the scenes success, but once his name started appearing on shoes, and people liked them, not only was he able to provide retailers with exclusive product, he was able to elevate his personal profile. And with each successful release, it opened more doors, and allowed him more collaborations. Everyone has known ASICS all along, but now the entire sneaker world knows Ronnie.
The interesting thing about retailers in this whole equation of collaborators is that they can fall into two categories. Sometimes, retailers are Collaborator B. In those cases, a collaboration can offer instant legitimacy. If New Balance is willing to work with a boutique to produce a limited edition sneaker, that boutique must be worthy of such a partnership, right? On top of that, 10 sneaker blogs will most likely be posting about it, and linking to it. This is clearly a win-win situation for collaborating boutiques.
What about the retailers simply carrying the collaborations though, as often happens these days? Outside of Air Jordan retros, they’re about as much of a sure thing as you’ll find. Even if a shop didn’t get to work on that collaboration themselves, they at least get to sell them out in a day, which is another easy win.
Nothing quite drives hype in the sneaker world like a collaboration. And while that inevitably means the product will be harder to get, it also means that we still have the chance to own some great products that wouldn’t have happened without collaboration. Thanks to collaborations, untold stories have been explained, new materials and executions have been attempted, and even die-hard fans of one brand have checked out others. There’s also no denying how much resellers have benefitted from the increased hype associated with collaborations.
As you can see, depending on the perspective, the party with who benefits the most from a collaboration can vary greatly. The brands that employ them obviously have the most to lose, and least to gain, yet we see them time and time again. For everyone else though, it’s usually a win. So hopefully they keep it up, because it’s always a great thing when consumers win. The more cool products we have access to, the better.