Written by Pete Forester (@pete_forester)
When it comes to parting ourselves with our cash, almost every decision is met with careful evaluation. We do everything we can to educate ourselves to avoid spending money where we shouldn’t.
Every other consumer industry, from film, to restaurants, to software, has an in-depth and well-maintained review system. The sneaker industry does not. Instead, we’ve created a system of empty content.
We have performance reviews from dudes like Nightwing2303 who will tell you everything you need to know about how a new shoe wears and plays. And we have dudes like GTFan712 who will give you a full 360-degree look at the shoe you’re thinking about copping. But when it comes to how the shoe fits into our culture, we only have fake “reviews.” Emphasis on the quotation marks.
A review holds the brand accountable for its shortcomings.
If you press play on a “Sneaker Review”: The video starts and the box is described. We are told the color and shown the size sticker. Then the shoes are removed from the box, and they are described. Half the time they’re described inaccurately, and then we’re told that they’re “nice”—which makes sense, because our intrepid guide spent money on them. And if we’re super lucky, we’ll get to hear what outfits he’s going to wear them with. Then a few more shout outs, a desperate plea to subscribe, like, and comment (gotta make some money off these things). Then the blaring of whatever is the hip-hop hit of the weekend is.
The problem is this isn’t a review.
A review tells us how this shoe compares to similar shoes in construction, size, style, and quality. A review gives us history and context, so that we might better appreciate the story of the shoe. A review might fit the sneaker into the larger trends that are across all the brands or show what’s unique. A review holds the brand accountable for its shortcomings, praises it for the strengths, and gives the consumer an idea of what to expect beyond a glossy press release.
The sneaker industry is a huge market. Mostly because everyone needs a pair of sneakers. Sneakerheads are an elective market—one that is much smaller. There are a few people making a lot of money off sneakers, but almost everyone else isn’t. Unlike entertainment and the arts, almost no one can make a decent living being a sneaker reviewer. There are voices out there who review shoes based on performance, but almost no one is reviewing based on merit. And those who do don’t have the following to make their voice financially sustainable. The consumer is then left with the lowest common denominator: watching an uninformed amateur looking for social media clout.
We’re left with kids who don’t care about context.
For examples, anyone who reviewed the 3/26 Air Max 1 had better mention the O.G. Red Air Max 1 as a part of the 2012 vintage pack and know what Hatfield’s inspiration was behind the shoe. Material breakdowns have to be on point. Anyone who cannot tell the difference between pigskin, suede, and nubuck by sight has no business doing “reviews.” That would be like reviewing Furious 6 without ever seeing The Fast and the Furious.
Reviews are not for the casual consumer. Most moviegoers don’t read reviews: They see a trailer and carve out a few hours on the weekend. But whoever is taking the time to read a review of the latest Tarantino wants to know how it compares to Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs, and if the residue of The Hateful Eight is palatable. We need the same in sneaker reviews to allow the conversation to move forward. Until then, we’re just hoping for the best.
This is a noble and important function, and if it isn't being performed we all suffer.
It is not the critic’s job to sway opinions, but it is the critic’s job to construct cogent arguments based on the maximum amount of information available. To have the most informed opinion. To tell us what we’re getting into when we open our wallets. And if they have a pair in their hands, they have all the info. If people are getting pairs early, those getting them on release day should not have to face surprises. This is a noble and important function. If it isn't being performed, we all suffer.
These non-reviews have inherent value. We get to see the shoe in 3D motion. We get to see how they’re boxed, and sometimes get an accurate detailed description. Sometimes we get to see them on foot. But these are not reviews. These are walkthroughs. These are unboxings. These are video diaries of a recent pick-up. Call them what they are.
We need real reviews. We need educated reviewers who aren’t afraid to tell the truth. We need the educated to bless us with information so we can all be better consumers. And then spend our dollars on better products and hold the manufacturers accountable for cutting corners.
Big brands will always be in control of their products, and focus on making their shareholders happy. That’s capitalistic reality, and it’s OK. But that doesn’t mean that the consumers need to be electively uninformed.