word // Nick Engvall
In the last 10 years, the sneaker culture and industry has changed probably more drastically than any other industry. (Well, maybe cell phones can make a claim...) It may seem as if the number of sneakerheads has increased tenfold, but really the internet has just brought us all together. Whereas in 1999, there wasn't much going on in the sneaker community online, and even online retailers like Zappos were barely beginning. =
Obviously over a 10 year period there are limitless influences that can change a culture, but in my mind there are a few things that had impacts beyond what anyone could imagine. Following the influx of retro releases that began in about the turn of the century, something happened that set off a chain reaction of sorts. In 2001, Nike teamed up with iconic streetwear brand Stussy, as Stussy created their own version of the Nike Dunk. Aside from athletes who received their own colorways, or sample product, this was essentially unheard of back then. So much so that the Stussy Dunks slipped under the radar for most people. After that first collaboration on the Dunk, the silhouette would soon become a creative palette for countless artists, boutiques and brands.
Aside from the Stussy Dunks, two collaborations came about in the following years that raised the bar more than any others. First was the Supreme Dunk Low. What made this collab stand out amongst all others was the use of elephant print. Whether or not the use of elephant print was good or bad is debatable, most would agree that the Supreme Dunks are good looking shoes, but some may see it as the first step down the long road of over usage. Either way these shoes changed the game, and also were at roots of the internet hype machine that we all simultaneously love and hate today.
A couple years later in 2005 the team at UNDFTD, or more specifically co-owner Eddie Cruz, worked out one of the craziest collaborations ever. After a conversation with Tinker Hatfield, Cruz was given the chance to design a colorway of the Air Jordan IV. The military inspired UNDFTD x Air Jordan IV was the first Jordan sneaker to ever share another company's name. Undefeated auctioned a number of the Air Jordans on their website, and the prices skyrocketed, selling on average for $4,000 a pair. Today due to the hype factor and the rise of sneakerheads' use of eBay, it's not uncommon to see the UNDFTD x Air Jordan IVs listed for two times that price.
Collaborations have become so much a part of our culture that there are seemingly dozens every month. Sometimes it can seem like overkill, and others it seems to be a perfect balance of both hype and demand. A perfect example of a great usage of collaborative partners was the recent 20th Anniversary Reebok Pump Bringback. Utilizing 20 partners to design a limited number of the groundbreaking and unforgettable Pump was too much, and not enough at the same time. The result was the epitome of what the collaboration game has become today, the hype, the hate and hot sneakers. At the same time collaborations were taking precedence in sneaker culture, another ingenious idea was also feeding the rising prices. NIKEiD launched around the turn of the century. Creating your own design of one of a select few classic Nike sneakers was exactly what many were looking for. Giving would-be and wanna-be sneaker designers a place to see all of their sketches and scribbles come to reality of course came at a premium price. The creation of your own colorway has become an important part of the culture across many brands, so much so that the latest hyped release from Nike, the Zoom Kobe V, actually launched on the NIKEiD site before general release colorways. For many sneakerheads, owning their own boutique is a dream and collaborations are a big part of that, so the chance to design your own version gives everyone a shot at the feeling of success. The pinnacle of personal design being the Nike Bespoke program at 21 Mercer in New York City that allows you the choice of a wide variety of premium materials packaged with a hands-on experience and for many, a once in a lifetime opportunity. As can be expected, the Bespoke program further elevates the prices of sneakers with prices pushing the $1000 mark for a 1 of 1 design that is truly yours and yours only. The final piece of the 10 year puzzle that is the last decade is one that builds off of all the aforementioned hype, collaborations and premium prices. The influx of premium brands has been undeniable in the last couple of years. Without the previous pieces, the work of one of the most famous sneakerheads of all would not have come to fruition. Of course I'm talking about Kanye West. At the Grammy's in 2008, Mr. West had nearly every sneakerhead talking about what was on his feet. As the first non-athlete to ever have his own sneaker with Nike, West grabbed the attention of the old schoolers with a classically styled midsole, and the youngest of kids were caught up in the hype of his creativity. Even if you didn't care for the man or his music, the throwback feel of the all black, and at the time unkown Air Yeezy was somewhat mystical. For some it quickly became nothing but hype, while for others the Air Yeezy became the longest waiting period in history. With over a year of hype, the Air Yeezy launched in limited quantities in April of 2009, much to the delight of both the kids who had been camping out front of their local shop for the previous week, and also to the delight of those sitting at home online making fun of the pictures of those braving the weather for the Yeezys. Kanye wasn't finished using his fame and the power of hype to his advantage. He finished out the decade by adding all the pieces of the puzzle together by teaming up with none other than Louis Vuitton. The culmination of hype and collaborations, the Kanye West for Louis Vuitton Collection, released in the summer of 2009. A handful of Louis Vuitton sneakers were released and the least expensive of which was $840, nearly 5 times the cost of the "expensive" Space Jams that released last week. Whether you love him or hate him, Kanye West took over the sneaker world at the end of this decade. Judging by the way that everything he had a hand in sold out instantly, he's not the only sneakerhead living the good life in 2009. Despite all of the hype and skyrocketing prices this decade, then again, just being a sneakerhead really is living the good life.