These are just some of the sneaker collaborations releasing this weekend: Bait x Saucony, Solebox x adidas, Solefly x ASICS, Highs & Lows x adidas, Burn Rubber x British Knights, Hanon x Reebok and Sneakersnstuff x Nike—which has probably already sold out. There are no doubt others that I’ve missed. This weekend isn’t anything special or anything, there’s no particular holiday or anniversary being celebrated. This is just how it is now nearly every week. And honestly, it’s insane.
There is no way a shop—or the owners thereof—can have a personal connection to the dozens of silhouettes they collaborate on annually.
Collaborations were once earned, not given. And they were earned sparingly. Go back to our list of the 50 best collaborations of all-time (which could probably use a re-vamp), and only two—a Supreme x Vans and a Junya Watanabe x Nike—predate 2000. Collaborations before the turn of the millennium were rare, and more often than not had a purpose beyond simply selling more sneakers. They were something of a reward to a shop or a designer or an artist who had a connection to a particular brand or silhouette, a conclusion to an ongoing story. There was no need to build any sort of backstory, it was all already there.
The best sneaker designers have always been storytellers, and the best sneakers always seem to have the best stories. A great design can sell itself, but it always seems to work better when there’s a story behind it. Collaborations shift some of that storytelling responsibility to the collaborator, whether it be a shop or an artist, and to a degree take responsibility from the brand. Sometimes collaborators got the chance to intro a new silhouette, but mostly they worked on retro models—some which were specifically brought back for them—that had significance for them. The stories came easily because they were logical.
Now? Not so much. It’s impossible what with the sheer number of collabs releasing every year. There is no way a shop—or the owners thereof—can have a personal connection to the dozens of silhouettes they collaborate on annually. And to that same point from the other direction, there’s no way that 20 or 30 different collaborators can have a unique, must-tell take on one particular silhouette. It’s seemingly reached the point where no one is willing to turn down a collab—and brands continue to look to them as an easy way to build hype around a particular silhouette—so they tumble out one after another, each more dubious than the last. When every release is “special,” none of them are.
This is not to say there aren’t any good collaborations any more. Far from it. There’s no doubt that many year-end best-of lists (including yours truly’s) will feature plenty of collabs. Concepts, for one, always seem to knock theirs out of the park, from the Rosé New Balances to the completely reworked Stan Smith EM. A good collab should provide some degree of extra value, whether it’s allowing the consumer/collector to feel like a part of something larger, or just presenting an old sneaker in a fresh new way. What they shouldn’t be is part of a collect-’em-all sort of thing where they just get sought out and tossed in the stash. And they shouldn’t be forced, because when they are, it’s painfully obvious to everyone. The only thing worse than a sneaker with no backstory is a sneaker with a bad one.v
What to do? For consumers and collectors, it’s just what you should always be doing—buy what you like, wear what you buy. If you buy collabs just because you think they’re going to be “valuable,” well, you’re likely to wind up with a closet full of pairs you never even wanted in the first place. For brands and would-be collaborators, just remember why there are collaborations in the first place, and what they’re supposed to do. And maybe, every once in a while, just say no.
Russ Bengtson is a senior staff writer at Complex who would totally do a collab if asked. Follow him on Twitter here.