Do you ever see a new sneaker and think “Hey, I’ve seen that before”? Do even the most tried and true makeups—red, black and white; suede with gum soles; all-white everything—not excite you the way they used to? Does the news of the latest collaboration make you groan before you even see what it is? When you see a brand is being revived, is your first thought “WHY?”
If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you might be suffering from sneaker fatigue.
What is sneaker fatigue? That’s hard to say—or easy maybe, seeing that I just made it up. It’s not sneaker hatred or sneaker envy or anything like that. It’s just a feeling that, for the most part, everything has been done. It’s what happens when you see the 35th variation of the same runner done up in a way that you swear was done already back in, like, the dark ages of 2009.
It’s what happens when a retro re-re-re-releases and you can’t remember whether you’ve got a pair stashed away or not. It’s when you see the latest pop-culture inspired Dunk SB and instead of lusting after them you start to retroactively hate the movie they were based on.
ONE POPULAR ALL-RED SNEAKER LEADS TO LITERALLY HUNDREDS OF THEM.
Sneaker fatigue, as so defined, is a relatively recent phenomenon, a symptom of a flooded market. And more than that, a targeted market, one where any success instantly spawns a multitude of similar releases. One popular all-red sneaker leads to literally hundreds of them, ditto floral print or lasered graphics or any number of distinctive selling points. That hyper-limited, super-original drop that sold out instantly and immediately fetched 10 times (or 100 times) the price on the resale market? Don’t sweat it. The takedowns and “inspired bys” are coming. Of this have no doubt.
This works out great for the brands of course, otherwise it wouldn’t be done. Why? Because while it might be hard to get one person to buy one pair of sneakers, it’s been relatively easy in the 2000s to get someone who’s got 50 pairs to push that to 100 or 200 or 500.
So-called “sneakerheads” represent a tiny fraction of the overall sneaker-buying market, but they buy a disproportionate number of sneakers on a per-person basis. And they’re the ones buying the super-limited, super-premium releases. Which, however much money they account for, is still tremendously important. Sure, Nike can sell a billion pairs of Air Monarchs, but that doesn’t position them as a premium brand. Limited, “exclusive” drops do that.
The question is, how much is too much? When does a saturated market become oversaturated? The good folks over at Campless might be able to put a number on that—look at sales and resales and see where things crest. I can only go by personal experience. And while there’s no doubt I look at sneakers more than the average person (and have been doing so for longer), I can’t be the only one suffering from this malaise.
I’ve seen so many design elements that were once desirable, whether it be gum bottoms, paint-spattered midsoles or (sigh) elephant print used so much on so many different silhouettes that they’re just not special anymore. It used to be that something like a gum-bottom Air Force 1 was a must-have—not so much when there’s a new version seemingly every other week. Don’t even talk to me about camo. Or “triple black.” (Why just triple? Why not quadruple or quintuple?)
Is there a cure? Thankfully, yes.
There are several, actually, some more drastic than others. One, you could stop buying sneakers entirely. I understand that hardly anyone will do this. Two, you could ignore sneaker media entirely. Please don’t do this. Or third, you could focus primarily on performance models. That’s all there used to be anyway, back in the day before retro took over. Performance isn’t just the source of all the retro stuff, it’s where design is the freshest.
If you’re going to find anything truly new, that’s where to look. And it’s the surest way to be certain you’re not buying something you already have.