Sneaker collaborations have long existed as a way for brands to cross-pollinate and make special products that hopefully appeal to both parties’ dedicated fanbases. Whether it’s a rapper working with Nike, a sneaker boutique linking up with New Balance, or a streetwear brand connecting with adidas, they’ve all come together to make better—or at least different—shoes than the brand could by itself. And it’s become a booming business.
With so many collaborations on the market, it’s made the whole process feel a bit contrived and resulted in a lot of lackluster pairings. Let’s make things clear: A collaboration should make both partners better, not simply create buzz around a sneaker that no one cares about.
There was a time when people were genuinely excited about new collaborations. Nowadays, not so much. But, there are still great ones, even if they’re not nearly as special anymore. We still have faith, though, that brands are going to get these ventures right, and these are the ones that we co-sign in 2016. Here are The Best Sneaker Collaborations of 2016 (So Far).
10. Concepts x New Balance 997 "New York"
Concepts and New Balance share more than just the home state of Massachusetts; the two also have a number of storied collaborations to their names. To celebrate its 20-year anniversary, Concepts linked with New Balance on a baseball-inspired “Rivalry Pack.” The pack focused on teams located in the two cities that Concepts now calls home, Boston (specifically Cambridge) and New York City. While they could have easily gone with the classic blue-and-white Yankee colorway for the “NYC” 997, they went with an eye-catching teal colorway inspired by the Tiffany Medal of Valor. Topped off with a special branded box meant to look like Cracker Jacks, the baseball theme was completed. On top of the amazing colorway and packaging, New Balance came through with premium quality materials, as usual. —Marco H. Negrete
9. BAIT x adidas Stan Smith Vulc Skate
Weed-themed sneakers have been feeling burnt out for a while, but West Coast retailer Bait managed to breathe life into the concept with their adidas Stan Smith collaboration on 4/20. The medical marijuana-inspired details were executed subtly enough that you can wear these in public without feeling like a miscreant, and you don’t even need to be a smoker to appreciate the dope pattern and materials used here.
A limited supply kept demand high—no pun intended—right after the release, but it looks like the secondary market has cooled down a bit on these. Now might be the perfect time to add a pair to your stash. —Riley Jones
8. OVO x Air Jordan X "Black"
2015 was a huge year for Drake that included more than unexpectedly dropping If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, annihilating Meek Mill in a rap beef, doing a joint album with Future, and creating an insane amount of hype surrounding Views. Aside from music, the September 2015 release of the “White” OVO x Air Jordan X was extremely well received, so it was only right that Jordan Brand gave the Canadian rapper another opportunity to shine in 2016. The perfect opportunity to release the “Black” OVO x Air Jordan X presented itself earlier this year, when NBA All-Star Weekend was hosted in Drake's hometown of Toronto. Featuring black leather and stingray on the upper, a black translucent outsole, and OVO branding throughout, Drake’s second Air Jordan was the most anticipated release of the weekend. —Amir Ismael
7. Ronnie Fieg x ASICS GEL-Lyte 3.1 "Super Green"
Whenever Ronnie Fieg gets his hands on a sneaker for a collaboration they are highly sought-after, but when the Ronnie Fieg x ASICS Gel-Lyte III “Super Green” was created back in 2013 nearly nobody was able to get a pair. That’s because the limited run of 300 pairs were exclusive to a Soles for Souls charity event held for Haitian youth and attended by Fieg's close friends and family. This year’s Ronnie Fieg x ASICS “Super Green” Pack was handmade in Japan and is better quality than the original. Plus, you had a better chance of scoring a pair. In celebration KITH’s 5 year anniversary, the back of the sneakers have the KITH logo over a Roman numeral V. In addition to the Gel-Lyte III, the “Super Green” Pack introduced the all-new ASICS Gel-Lyte 3.1, a silhouette that will never been seen again after this year. Limiting both sneakers to only 700 pairs each makes them even more exclusive. —Amir Ismael
6. Highsnobiety x adidas Ultra Boost
Highsnobiety’s two-shoe adidas collaboration from April represented the best of both the retro and performance worlds with the Campus 80s and Ultra Boost in similar grey color schemes. It was the Ultra Boost that stole the show, with its heathered Primeknit, leather support cage, and the slightest tinge of lavender. Like so many of 2016’s Ultra Boost collaborations, this one was nearly impossible to cop, and although resale prices are relatively tame right now, this is the sort of sneaker that could skyrocket as pairs begin to dry up.
As great as the Ultra Boost is, the Campus 80s is a strong contender for sleeper of the year. Highsnobiety draped the retro hoops shoe in a premium glove leather that adidas had never used before and lined it with a buttery tan. If you slept, these can still be had for close-to-retail, but you’ll need to hunt a little. —Riley Jones
5. Nice Kicks x adidas NMD
This trippy take on the adidas NMD Runner PK was huge for Nice Kicks. First of all, it was the first (and thus far, the only) collaboration on the NMD, a sneaker that has been one of the year’s biggest stories in its own right. When it’s all said and done, the NMD will likely have its share of collaborations, but Nice Kicks’ pair will always be significant because it was the O.G.
These were also the second adidas Consortium Tour release of the year, following Kith’s Tubular Doom release, so the bar had already been set pretty high, and Nice Kicks delivered. Tying everything together, these psychedelic NMDs arrived right on time for Nice Kicks’ 10th anniversary, during the opening of its San Francisco store
If you need further convincing that these are one of the year’s best, just take a look at how much people are willing to pay for them. —Riley Jones
4. Just Don x Air Jordan II "Beach"
The second in the Just Don x Jordan collaboration set, this year’s Air Jordan II swapped the original’s all-over vibrant royal for a more subdued cream. As for everything else, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Building on the original’s Italian-made luxury, Don C’s rendition mixed supple lambskin and suede, quilted like a Chanel handbag. A vachetta leather ball and wings logo on the tongue set everything off. With the hat to match.
Overshadowed by the 1 and III, the Air Jordan II introduced many of the elements of sports luxury that still define the Jordan Brand 30 years later. These were the attributes that Don C sought to highlight when it came to his collaboration. Mission accomplished. —Russ Bengtson
3. Supreme x Nike Air Max 98
Any Supreme collaboration is an event, any Supreme x Nike collab doubly (maybe triply) so. And their collection of Air Max 98s were the best they’ve done in a while. Not as hyped as the Air Jordan Vs, the four colorways of the Air Max 98 were a more cohesive package, pairing Nike’s 1998 technology with silver mesh and patent leather Prada Sport styling from the same era. (The all-black pair was a Prada nod, too; the snakeskin was just cool.) The best Supreme products not only pay homage to something, they look cool as hell whether you’re aware of the original source material or not. By that standard, these Air Max 98s are classics. Get them while you can still afford them. —Russ Bengtson
2. atmos x Nike Air Max 1 "Safari"
Back in 2002, atmos teamed up with Nike to create the first Air Max collaboration ever—the “Safari” Air Max 1. Over the past 14 years, the “Safari” Air Max 1 has become one of the most desirable Air Max colorways. Subsequently, they fetch a pretty penny, too. Just in time for this year’s Air Max Day, Nike issued a re-release that many Air Max fans have longed for. Despite several changes that include swapping out the gum outsole for an icy translucent one and adding a furry suede material to the orange toe cap, the 2016 “Safari” Air Max 1 was embraced. Some collectors even resorted to shaving off the extra fur to give the sneakers a closer-to-original look. —Amir Ismael
1. Solebox x adidas Ultra Boost
The adidas Ultra Boost topped our the Best Sneakers of 2015 list, and its momentum has continued into 2016. With sneakerheads cutting the cages off their Ultra Boosts and Hypebeast creating the first official cageless Ultra Boost, German retailer Solebox offered up its own rendition of the silhouette Uncaged as part of the adidas “Consortium World Tour” Series. Inspired by Berlin's coat of arms, the Solebox x adidas Ultra Boost features a combination of grey Primeknit on the upper, suede on the heel cup, and red accents. Stripping the sneaker of plastic commonly found on the cage and heel cup of Ultra Boosts gives the Solebox collaboration a more premium look. It was also one of the final Solebox projects designed by the store's former owner and co-founder, Hikmet Sugoer, who recently left for greener pastures. And if you didn’t purchase these at retail, expect a premium price tag attached, too. Several pairs have been sold on eBay for more than $1,000. —Amir Ismael