Byzantine Ramblings

As I sit here trying to think about something interesting to write I struggle to find anything I really feel motivated about. Is it possible that I’m getting sick of footwear? Well judging by the fact that the pile in my house keeps growing and I spend an embarrassing amount of time talking, reading and writing about them I suppose not. We’ve seen footwear collaborations go from something that was reserved for the ultra elite friends of brands and top-tier stores, to the secret of shoe collectors worldwide and to a point now where it seems that there are more “collaborations” around than general releases. Whilst this is obviously a bit of an exaggeration, the amount of shoes going around with someone’s named attached to it is overwhelming.

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Back when adidas’ Consortium range actually meant that; a collaborative project joining two entities. The 35th Anniversary of the Superstar was only 8 years ago and yet it seems like a lifetime now. Remember when Nike dropped shoes with Stash, Futura, Espo and others? Limited to 1000 pairs at the time was pretty low numbers and they all disappeared into oblivion it seems. Probably something to do with how difficult it was to get stuff that wasn’t driving distance at the time and having to actually appreciate them to bother.

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At some point things started getting crazy, shoes weren’t really limited unless you had to know someone who was down with the crew. Nike had Hyperstrike on lock down; if you weren’t one of those 24 Friends and Family (F&F) then you’re out of luck less you wanted to front the cash for the size 8s on a forum sale section from some weird dude who can’t speak English and wants a Western Union transfer.

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When someone did somehow manage to snag a collaboration it was a big deal. That’s not to say these days it’s easy (if anything it’s harder) but if someone was getting their own shoe you took notice and frankly you probably knew it was overdue. The shoes seemed to reflect this feeling as well, things weren’t as tacky as they seem to be now. Themes still existed, thinking up a shoe is one of the hardest things to do, if you think opposite go jump on Nike iD and try to make an original colourway. Look at Footpatrol’s Air Epic, Solebox’s first 1500, the Futura Blazer (or Stash BW) and you see a simplicity and respect for the shoe. These guys are just like us, they know the shoe and they know what works. When given the freedom they choose not to give the shoe a nickname and theme it on a lolly wrapper, instead they chose to make a shoe that’s wearable and going to stand the test of time. Why? Because that’s what we want!

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Today there isn’t much risk of anything going down without the whole world knowing about it and unless you’re one of the top 20 stores people probably don’t give two shits about your idea anyway. Instead you get to take a shoe you probably don’t like, use a theme that yourself think is a bit tacky (because that’s what the suits liked) and put out 10,000 of them to stores and countries you’ve never heard of. After all of that the brand then decides to use your shoe as “inspiration” for a plethora of in-line colourways in the coming years, including your first round sample that they said wasn’t “feasible”.

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Why not instead, limit them to 50 pairs and charge double, or even triple normal retail? People are going to pay it anyway once they hit Ebay, instead why not cut out the pre-pubescent middleman. It seems that the notion of having to scrimp and save for a pair of shoes ala $400 basketball sneakers of the 90s has been lost forever aside from rare whale skinned moccasins made in a hut out in the boonies by a guy named Flavio. The “golden era” of sports footwear all came at a time where the only people that could afford the shit you wanted were drug dealers or rich kid’s parents (who were then rolled thus completing restoring balance). When did it become that the newest, most groundbreaking shoe that a brand has is worth less than a shoe they’ve been making for some 20-odd years?

It seems that as the popularity of retro sneakers rises, the spotlight has moved to the mass market. This isn’t really anything new for a business or retail front, but from the cultural perspective it’s not really what we’re all about. Sure hype sells, but when you’re having a huge push for a pack of shoes that all look exactly the same except for the accent colour what makes it special? There’s nothing new going on but now all of a sudden everyone’s spewing atypical lines about how they “must cop” and it all starts to turn a bit lame. If something works companies will keep repeating it until it doesn’t. Why else do you think there’s a “new” Infrared 90 every months, substituted in between by hybrids and other models in the same colours.

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At the end of the day it’s about the damn shoes! The shoes can’t survive without the people, but this has never been about wearing the same thing as everyone else… Well at least it wasn’t. Nowadays it seems that everyone’s more concerned about what the tumblr/twitter/instagram world has to say about their newest “UN-DS”. Unfortunately you can’t get props if your homies don’t know the model or the nickname of your latest purchase any more. I pine for the time where I’d cross the path of someone and ask “what the hell are those!?” or think to myself “cool to see someone wearing those”. Is it possible that I’ve hit my critical mass of shoes? I’ve succumbed to the old-man syndrome of “seen it all before”.

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It seems like only yesterday we were all debating  grabbing a pair of those weird looking dad shoes or some million dollar Visvim shaman boots. Within the blink of an eye everyone was wearing Nike’s “game changing” techno runners in fluorescent green and pairing them with tailored suits… Wait what? It seems like we’re all scrambling to catch up with ourselves and the brands are doing the same. How’s it possible to stay cool with all these niches now? Nike blew our minds with the simplistic yet fantastic Flyknit, preached the environmental gains and then went and shut down adidas when they released the Primeknit (wouldn’t that be bad for the environment guys?). What it proved though is that even without all the bullshit a good shoe will rise to the top regardless of the hype (excluding the HTM version which elevated the shoes higher both in execution and price).

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In a conversation with one of the Nike running directors it was amazing to find out that runners are quite opposed to change, something that many probably don’t expect but may explain the amount of “game changing innovation” that disappears after a season. It also speaks volumes of Lunar foam’s effectiveness. It’ll be interesting to see if adidas’ Boost is as well received and lives on. It also helps to explain the existence of the 998 continuously since it’s inception with no better example of runner stubbornness than the constant debate between Kayano fans over their favourite model.

What Ronnie Fieg has done with giving a general release a “nickname”, taking a good photo and having it sell out whilst it sits on sale shelves around the rest of the world is admirable if not a sign of the times. The man has made rope laces an acceptable thing in runners for some (I still thing they’re an abomination aside from anything with a loop lacing system ala 95’s, DMX Runs etc). The lifestyle footwear world is a different beast to before, it’s marketed differently and kids are less inclined to trust or even consider the guys running their local store know anything about the product. Instead they’ll get their fix from a store in NY and then complain that they don’t fit and shipping was too expensive. Little did they know a pair was just minutes away.

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The issue becomes that a shoe that doesn’t garner this type of crazy response sits in the deserts of sale-rackdom with and within a month it’s long forgotten. Between store collaborations, PEs, capsule collections and brand-made special editions every weekend has what seems like at least a dozen ‘launches’ of what seem to be thinly disguised in-line colourways.

It’s easy to get put off by the fast-moving release schedules and a recurring theme I’ve noticed is older heads reverting to simply saying “there’s nothing good any more”. This isn’t true though, it’s simply that with the amount of stuff around your brain can’t keep up. Instead you’re working on a delayed reaction time. The internet is perfect for hyper critical reactions and tough economic times mean that we all have to be a bit more picky (tell that to the people paying $1000 for shoes on the regular though). This often manifests itself as excuses as to why this release is crap or boring, rather than the truth: I can’t afford it and I wont be able to resell it for a profit after I wear them once and get 1000 likes on Insta.

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The problem is, in the next 6-12 months you start to look back over what just happened and you realise that there was a bout 7 great greats that released and make what’s around now look like crap. A good example might be something like the New Balance 1500s from 5 or so years ago. At the time they sat on the shelves for $100 and nobody wanted them, fast-forward and you’ll be hard pressed to find a pair for under $300 (if you’re lucky). Most of them ended up on the feet of dads across the world and as such they’ll only be getting more expensive as they disappear into obscurity until one day they pop up in the “look what I saw this homeless dude wearing” thread. The same can be said for the AZX project adidas did not long ago, some of those shoes have become mythical!

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There’s still good shoes out there, and there’s potential for more it’s just with the haystack getting so damn big the needles are getting harder and harder to find. Footwear is big business and the designer footwear is bigger than ever. With money comes accountability and it means that now there’s a lot more people paying attention to the lifestyle section of brands. Before what might have been some grubby teens selling silly shoes it’s now a multi-person operation where you need to have had previous sales experience (preferably in something completely unrelated to sportswear it seems) to get a foot in the door and then you’ve got the higher-ups to please. It’s always been like that but when you’re selling hundreds of thousands more shoes than 5 years ago all of a sudden the smaller shops that buy 20 pairs of shoes a season don’t seem very important.

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