Before we even get into this, Complex’s State of Sneakers Week, we should probably issue something of a disclaimer. Or maybe it’s a humblebrag: This is, and will be, a considerable undertaking. Sneakers mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and even those multiple meanings are always in flux. One person’s absolute belief might not be another’s, and that single person’s unshakable truth may very well be shaken tomorrow. So perhaps the best we hope for is to freeze one moment in time. How’s that for a mission statement?
Here’s another thing: The State of the Union may be delivered by one person, but The State of Sneakers can’t be. There is no President of sneakers who oversees everything (sorry, Tinker) and can speak knowledgeably about every aspect, from every perspective. In order to get a broader picture, the reach needs to be equally expansive and all-inclusive. Even from the consumer and collector standpoint alone, young see things different from old, those in major cities have a different perspective than those in the “flyover states,” those who buy and sell at sneaker conventions differ from those who shop at Foot Locker. And there is no other way to get those perspectives than to seek them out.
The Jordan Brand did $2 billion worth of business in 2012, and even they don’t live by Bred alone.
“Sneaker culture,” or whatever your preferred term is for this thing of ours, can’t be succinctly explained in a New York Times Style piece or a five-minute Nightline segment. Maybe a part of it can, but that’s like the old tale about the blind men and the elephant — you’re only “seeing” part of the picture. And all parts are important to the whole, from the retailers to the resellers and all points in between. For that matter, all shoes are important, too. It’s easy to get caught up in all the statement releases, but it’s the mass-market $50 Air Monarch that sells year after year and gives Nike the solid footing that allows them the creative freedom to produce hyper-limited releases in the first place. The Jordan Brand did $2 billion worth of business in 2012, and even they don’t live by Bred alone. That $2 billion included a lot of team shoes and slides, too. All of those highly sought-after sneakers, from Air Jordan XIs to Ronnie Fieg’s ASICS collabs, to SNS’s Reebok collabs — those are just the visible parts. There’s a lot below the water.
Which is exactly why we couldn’t provide all the answers ourselves. Sure, we could just tell you what we think — and even back it up with numbers, like the $300 million in sales LeBron’s sneakers did in 2012. But again, that would just be part of the picture. The goal here is to have a comprehensive view of the whole, from what people spend to what people buy and collect, to their own impressions on the state of the — for lack of a better term — game. And the only way to do that is collect it piece by piece, talking to a lot of people, at sneaker stores and sneaker conventions and just on the street.
So hopefully by the end of the week you (and we) will have a better picture of where we are — and where we’re going. Are re-sellers killing the game? Is “sneakerhead” a bad word? Have we reached peak sneakers? (My answers to those, if you’re interested, are no, no, and maybe, respectively.) But the conclusions aren’t what’s most important here, it’s the attempt to come to them that matters. Enjoy the week, and try and learn something. We did.