Brands Poised to Surprise in 2018
By David Blackmon / @jusdave3_2
From year to year, several sneaker brands seem consistently poised to breakout and become the new Belle of the ball. These brands offer several outstanding or at least eyebrow-raising general releases and collaborations that show as proof of their future potential. Compiled below are several of the brands that have proven what’s possible when they put forth their best efforts.
The passion project of Solebox founder Hikmet Sugoer was one of the underappreciated bright spots of 2017. With super brands Nike and Adidas vying to produce the cheapest and most widely sold footwear to appease their shareholders, Sonra stepped onto the scene in 2016 with an opposing philosophy. Sugoer’s approach to curating his brand has been quality over quantity. Drawing on nonconventional leather that is both environmentally and skin friendly through its production from vegetable tanned leathers as opposed to heavy metal produced leathers, Sonra offers handcrafted footwear Made in Germany. Offering between 50 and 375 individually numbered pairs with each release at a retail of about $280 (270 Euro), Sonra has made itself a boutique brand with a loyal band of followers.
Sonra’s commitment to the utmost quality delivered in a subtle, visual aesthetic has truly made the brand something uniquely special. With 2018 here, Sonra could surprise the masses by expanding its releases in multiple ways. With only one real UK retailer and no collaborations in their two-year history, the footwear brand has the opportunity to make a significant splash this year. Expanding their releases to 300 to 600 plus pairs and partnering with a US or bigger UK boutique like Sneakersnstuff for their releases could surely help increase worldwide visibility and broaden appreciation for the brand. A collaborative release with a brand like Extra Butter or Afew would also do wonders for Sonra’s street credentials. Of course, Sugoer may be opposed to recreating many of the aspects that brought Solebox to worldwide prominence. Either way, the opportunities for Sonra to majorly impact sneaker culture in 2018 abound.
Finland hasn’t been a country synonymous with streetwear and sneaker culture. However, Finnish brand Karhu has existed for quite a while but didn’t garner major worldwide attention until hip-hop innovator, fashion aficionado, and Kardashian beau Kanye West was photographed wearing a pair of Karhu Fusion 2.0’s. Internet buzz and social media hype helped spike sales for the “bear” brand and until this moment in time, Karhu stood as a minimally appreciated brand, especially stateside. Several collaborations with a few European boutiques has helped create a niché following for Karhu but the Kanye moment really elevated the brands profile.
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A close relationship with Boston brand Concepts and a recent Cambridge store opening could spell big things for Finland’s sneaker purveyors as they attempt to grow their support in the US market. Karhu has also promised to expand their size runs to include US sizes above 12 more regularly as well. With these new realities 2018 may be the year we see Karhu become a recipient of real mainstream hype. Their Boston roots may soon bear fruit with a Concepts or Bodega collaboration or with some other US based sneaker boutique. While a major US boutique collaboration would certainly help sustain their mainstream appeal and possibly explode the brand to another plateau of sneaker culture appreciation, the question of whether they can capitalize in 2018 still remains.
As a brand that has continually had its up and down moments, Reebok has seen better days. Once a main competitor for Nike, Reebok has somewhat fallen out of favor with the hype sneaker crowd. Similar to Nike and their recent acquirer Adidas, Reebok has turned away from athletes as their main spokespeople and turned to hip-hop artists and other celebrity endorsers to garner sales. Within the last two years the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Future, and Rae Sremmurd have all helped push Reebok’s current lineup. While this has helped buoy sales and relevance somewhat, the future of Reebok has seemed less than appealing. Kendrick Lamar’s departure for Nike last year seemingly points to some dysfunction (or Nike’s undeniably deep pockets) within the Reebok ranks.
However, the departure of Kendrick Lamar is not Reebok’s biggest problem. Their penchant for consistently releasing unappealing silhouettes like the InstaPump Fury and Furykaze have turned down their appeal in the lifestyle market. The highlight of Reebok’s most recent past was the Ventilator anniversary which saw a flurry of collaborations with popular boutiques like Sneaker Politics, Highs & Lows, and Bodega. This bright spot points to when Reebok has seen its greatest success. When sticking to its clean and classic models like the Ventilator, Club C and the beloved Reebok Classic, Reebok has a strong following. Cool variations to these models like the Classic Mid/High and Ventilator Supreme help vary the offerings but are everlastingly familiar, similar to Nike’s Air Max stable. One or two boutique collaborations this year could bring back some of the luster and popularity of the Manchester founded brand and make 2018 a surprising comeback year.
I’m sure there are a few brand loyalists yelling at their screens insisting Saucony had a great year in 2017 and hasn’t really gone anywhere. I’d be inclined to agree with them to an extent, 2017 had a few great offerings from Saucony. The Good Will Out “VHS”, the Afew “Goethe”, and the Bodega “Classified” were all quality collaborations. The “Goethe” was especially good with its strong backstory and refreshing color palette. However, despite Saucony’s quality, yet single-digit, collaborative efforts in 2017, the brand seemed to struggle to sustain any lasting excitement, specifically against the third and fourth quarter onslaughts of Nike and Adidas.
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Hoping to expand their popularity, Saucony also experimented with offering limited collaborative releases for a handful of YouTube/Instagram sneaker influencers. This didn’t have quite the effect that Saucony anticipated. The YouTube influencers had no problem pushing their own Saucony shoe, but immediately reverted to only touting retro Jordan and Nike/Adidas general releases. Even though two of the sneakers were palatable, the influencer experiment really proved ineffective at expanding the Saucony audience.
Beyond this misstep Saucony has had consistent issues with quality control on their general release models. Despite these issues Saucony can overcome and make 2018 their year. With collaborations like the West NYC “Freshwater” and “Saltwater”, Bait “Cruel World” Series, and Premier “Life on Mars” under their belt, Saucony has proved they can drop heat with the best of them. With more than a handful of thoughtful, collaborative shoe drops and by addressing quality control issues for their general releases, 2018 might be the year Saucony leapfrogs into the hearts and minds of every sneaker aficionados everywhere.