In 2017 Exclusivity is King
2015 seems like a fond, far-away memory. A year packed with great releases as brands like Asics, Reebok, Puma, and Diadora offered thoughtful, quality, and fanatic-focused collaborations. It was a year filled with anniversary collaborations celebrated tastefully and reasonably often. It was a time when phrases like “first come, first serve” and “online availability” were still synonymous with quality, collaborative pieces.
In current day 2017, 2015 seems like a warm distant, illusion.
With the dawning of 2017, words like “hype”, “exclusive”, “limited”, and “friends & family” have become the standard for collaborative releases. 2016 was a year dominated by boost, and if Adidas had their way, 2017 would have followed similarly. Post Ronnie Fieg/Kith’s Response Trail Boost and multi-colored mid ultraboost, Adidas began what felt like a weekly campaign to flood the market with weak, unimaginative ultraboost and nmd variants. The Iniki Runner and Zebra Yeezy’s were the sole bright spot in the Adidas boost line-up for spring. The latter of course was limited availability with one or two sparse restocks despite Adidas and Kanye’s prior promise of making them widely available. Throughout the year Adidas offered a minimal amount of other bright spots. The Haven Ultraboost and the Parley Collaborations were both great releases, however the Haven release proved “limited” and the Parley’s released in sizes which excluded sizes above 12.5, not an issue for most enthusiasts, but still alienating a small part of the market.
Nike, seemed to be poised for a stellar year with the 20th anniversary of the Air Max 97 silhouette, but as is often the case, the ball was dropped by team “Just Do It” once again until late in the year. The Kaws Air Jordan IV collaboration was a spectacularly imaginative take on a staple Jordan brand profile, this was limited, as was an Air Jordan 3 collaboration with DJ Khaled. Public School offered three follow-up colorways to their Air Jordan 12 releases. These shoes were released exclusively in three cities and involved a scavenger hunt of sorts to acquire a pair. The Air Max day releases for the Atmos Elephant Air Max One and Masters were extremely hyped, somewhat limited, and releases were restricted to raffles and giveaways. The first come, first serve and online releases for these sneakers were fraught with backdoor and reseller handouts leaving many enthusiasts unfulfilled or stuck paying $400+ resell prices. Absent the Air Max Day releases was the Air Max 97 which didn’t have an official release until May. Of course, post the first Silver and Gold Bullet releases, Nike proceeded to saturate the market with Air Max “Premium” and Ultra variants of the 97. While the Premium was a new and exciting take, the plethora of Ultra alternates took away from the possibilities of varying OG 97 colorways. Overall the Nike releases weren’t completely lacking, but what hurt was the Swoosh’s penchant for over-marketing exclusive or limited shoes with niche followings to the entire fashion and sportswear industry. Mass emails and SNKRS push notifications created immense and unnecessary buzz for sneakers that true fanatics were waiting for with patient resolve.
Once boutique brand Diadora surprised this year with several large-scale collabs which produced several “exclusive” released shoes. Their first major collaboration of the year brought in first time Diadora partner Afew. After a very contentious social media contest for an extremely limited “Friends & Family” version of their main release, resellers seemingly managed to gain the upper-hand showing off multiple pairs of “the Cure”. The Afew X Diadora main release was a raffle affair which offered little chance for stateside sneakerheads. Diadora offered another collaboration mid-summer with TGWO, however this proved to be another limited initial release offering only a handful of shoes in partial size runs. In September came the LimitEDitions Correfocs fiasco. After a very contentious social media contest,… wait sound familiar? The 400 shoe “limited” (no pun intended) run fell short or still has yet to conclude, take your pick. Either way disappointment was seemingly a prerequisite. Even more recent was the End? X Diadora collaboration of the “extremely limited” Opera. After so many successful Hanon and Diadora pairings, one would expect something more widely offered, but instead going exclusive seemed to be preferred.
“Remember, remember the L’s in November”
I had to reserve a small section for Off-White, Complexcon, and Novembers slew of releases. Virgil Abloh has become a consistent hitmaker in the fashion world, with 2017 being no exception. His much anticipated “the Ten” release saw initial “exclusive” launches at a few Nike pre-reserve events. Events that offered glitchy and consistently full pre-registrations. Concurrent releases were no better. Nike’s own online draw was cancelled due to “overwhelming demand”, in-store releases proved volatile and somewhat dangerous. Future releases are promised but something reasonably attainable for the masses seems very unlikely.
Complex has in recent years become the hype man to the hype less. This year Complexcon managed to step far beyond pushing mainstream Jordan retros and other non-runner silhouettes to the teen and adolescent sneaker and fashion mainstreamers. Partnering with boutiques like Concpts and Undefeated, Complex managed to offer multiple Complexcon “exclusives”. Sneakers like the beloved Kennedy, the olive Undefeated Air Max 97, and several others were mainstreamed to Complex’s wide audience. This string of Complex only releases attracted numerous resellers and previously unengaged “sneaker enthusiasts”. Limiting releases to the in-person convention excluded many true fans of these niche silhouettes.
Adidas and Pharell once again teamed up to offer more Hu silhouettes. After numerous botched online raffles and multiple in-person launches that resulted in uncontrolled mayhem in the streets, Adidas NYC quickly suspended in-store releases. Jeff Staple and Nike teamed up for Staple Pigeon’s twentieth anniversary by releasing a new colorway of the famed Staple Pigeon Dunk. While Nike and Jeff Staple sought to make this shoe widely available by offering a pop-up before the initial launch and spreading stock across a number of boutiques across the country, supply at each drop was minimal. Rumor has it Staple itself made well under 1,000 pairs available directly through their store and website, an underwhelming number based on the anticipation drummed up from the original 2005 release and the popularity of the Staple Pigeon Dunk to the varying factions within sneaker culture.
Before the month of November concludes there still remain FOG Vans, two Yeezy releases, the Sean Witherspoon Air Max (as I write this the scheduled online draw has been cancelled), the Concepts New Balance 999, Kaws AJ IV, two Kith Adidas shoes, Roger Federer AJ III Atmos, the Nike AF100 releases, and a worldwide release of the Asics and Woei collaboration (rumored), all of which will probably not offer sufficient stock to make purchasing during a regular release an option or keep resell reasonable for those who end up dealing with resellers.
Several winners abound this year despite the slew of exclusive and limited releases. New Balance, despite the Concepts release debauchery, has offered up multiple hit releases which have brought multiple GR 1500’s and released a new silhouette, the 574sport which has been an instant hit for the brand. Asics has remained largely quiet this year. Aside from the Woei, Ronnie Fieg Volcano, and the Mita Souvenir Jacket follow-up release, the brand has kept a relatively low profile and offered consistent and relatively subtle general release models, while bolstering the profile of the newly revived Gel-Mai with a few quality collaborations. Saucony, while still struggling with quality control for its general release models, managed to drop several collaborative gems, including the Goethe with Afew and the Classifieds with Bodega.
The problem with Nike and Adidas releases in 2017 is their constant rivalry. Since Adidas closed the gap in the sales category, Nike has done everything in its power to get eyes back on its brand. Nike appears to have a constant need to over market every shoe instead of relying on word of mouth or putting the power of their influencers to work which has previously helped drive sales for many of its releases and kept shoe sales relatively siloed within their respective circles. Nike’s greed for elevated sales has trumped that approach. Instead multiple emails and push notifications for limited releases grab the attention of resellers and dreaded hypebeasts. Not wanting to be outdone, Adidas has followed suit. This has made for a hellish year of releases. Most exclusive releases seem to be overtaken by resellers, something that makes many hardcore sneaker enthusiasts less passionate about the culture. Resell prices and exclusivity, at least at some level, seem to drive how each brand markets, produces, and releases each shoe. It’s not enough to release a quality product that can be widely available, every collaborative release has to sell out and have astronomical resell prices in order to be considered a success. Appeasing the initial consumer has ultimately become secondary, while the fervor for the next/last release is the primary goal.
As the fashion industry and sneaker culture has evolved, a global market is the new reality for many retailers. While attracting buyers in-store for a release may seem preferable for many sneaker boutiques, cutting off enthusiasts in the global market by offering in-person, limited stock, or other exclusive releases has done many small shops a disservice by unintentionally alienating small groups of fans. In order for small boutique collaborations to continue and prosper wider and more varied releases need to be consistently offered. Staving off bots and resellers unfortunately will only be a side-effect if more stock is produced (supply) or hype is eliminated (demand), which seems to be the farthest thing from sneaker boutiques and collaborators now. One thing is for certain, if 2017 collaborations and releases are any indicator of things to come, 2018 is certainly looking like another rough year for sneaker enthusiasts.