What We'd Like To See From Sneaker Colabs

What We'd Like To See From Sneaker Colabs

A not-so-long time ago in a galaxy not far away, sneaker colabs were the stuff of legend – rare link-ups between the world's biggest footwear brands and the most influential labels, artists and designers across the globe. What they lacked in frequency, they made up for in impact. Think back to the 2000's Stüssy x Nike Air Huarache (widely regarded as Nike's first true sneaker colab), 2005's UNDEFEATED x Air Jordan 4 (the first-ever Air Jordan colab) or even further to 1998 when the partnership between Jill Sander and PUMA marked the first-ever linkup between a high fashion house and a sportswear brand on sneakers. They were more scarce and much more special, an introduction to a new way of thinking and a new possibility for what a product can be.

These days it seems like there are dozens of colabs a week, many of which feel like they were spat out by a soulless sneaker algorithm. Truly great collaborative efforts aren't always given the room to breathe that they deserve, and it's hard to not feel fatigue with all the drops! Therefore, the merry band of misfits at SF have come together and provided our suggestions on how footwear collaboration can be made great again. Brands, take heed!

A Ma Maniere x Air Jordan 2

Ross: More Curation

The Oxford Dictionary defines curation as 'the action or process of selecting, organising, and looking after the items in a collection or exhibition.' When sneaker brands curate colabs, they don't seem to have a problem selecting them – but they could use some work on the 'organising' and 'looking after' bits! Can you imagine if a museum curator at MoMA was tasked with putting together a Jean-Michel Basquiat retrospective and simply threw every single piece of Basquiat-adjacent pop art they had on the walls in the museum's largest gallery? Sure, there'd be more than a few gems in there, but they'd be lost in a thick quicksand of directionless-ness.

Many people who love sneakers, myself included, view a good sneaker as a work of art; one that requires a tremendous amount of thought, design and craftsmanship to create. If so much artistry goes into making a shoe, then the same amount of effort should go into picking who reworks them and how they're reinterpreted. Brands should ensure that their collaborative slate is connected by some sort of common thread that pulls the consumer through the brand and their partner's ,narratives instead of jerking them to and fro with a wide swath of drops that don't fit into an overarching vision.

I'm not even necessarily saying that there need to be less colabs for them to be better – I just want to see them work together to tell an overarching story. Give me that rich, detailed narrative like A Ma Maniére always does!

Seb: More Creative Freedom

There have only been a few recent collaborations that have excited me to the point where I had to have ‘em there and then. A similar theme I noticed across all of them is that the collaborator had full creative freedom and the ability to choose the silhouette they wanted to work on. The perfect and most recent examples of this are Kiko Kostadinov’s long-running ASICS partnership and Teddy Santis’ love affair with New Balance. Yes, I stan Kiko, but whether you love him or hate him, you can’t look past the creative freedom ASICS allowed him. Teddy Santis, another example, pushed NB to resurrect the 550 and look how that turned out!

Giving individuals who have taste and an eye for design creative freedom to express themselves using footwear can bring a breath of fresh air to sneaker brands. Look at ASICS and New Balance: thanks to two designers allowed to do as they please, they’ve circled back into many rotations. I believe collaborations can be great again, but collaborators need more freedom!

Salehe Bembury x Crocs Pollex Clog

Anthony: More Original Models

Unique models created by a brand and a creative partner are a recipe for greatness in my book. Look no further than the cult success of the new silhouettes that Kiko Kostadinov created in collaboration with ASICS, and more recently the Crocs Pollex Clog by Salehe Bembury that is currently taking the sneaker world by storm (even making the cover of Sneaker Freaker #46). When the majority of collaborative projects released are simple colourway switch-ups (which don't get me wrong, I love too), it's not hard to see that as collectors we hunger for something a little more special. I want new forms, new shapes! Bring 'em on, brands!

Pharrell x adidas Superstar 'Supercolour'

Minh: Less Volume

As Sneaker Freaker's resident General Release advocate, my proposed solution to improve sneaker collaborations is to simply make less of them. It seems like there are as many colabs as there are GRs in the market today – does that mean they are one and the same?

Colabs have become a poisoned chalice for all involved parties. The external partner, perhaps a cool lifestyle brand or boutique store, needs a colab to grow their profile; the footwear brand relies on them to tap into new market segments. This self-serving symbiosis appears to be operating in perpetuity, but at a cost to product hierarchy. Do colabs cannibalise market share? From the footwear brand side, the purpose of making them is generally as a ‘hero’ colourway of a specific model, in the hope ‘trickle down’ consumers buy the GR versions. This strategy has invariably worked over the years, but brands have gotten greedy by pumping as many colabs as GRs. The concept of ‘limited edition’ only works when the shoes don’t come out that often – Pharrell and adidas' 50-pair ‘Supercolor’ pack is a somewhat recent example of when colabs jumped the shark.

The democratisation of footwear access should be a right, but colabs should be a privilege. Saturation leads to consumer fatigue and also dilutes the prestige of having a collaboration in the first place. Let’s reel it in and be more selective about it. But don’t mind me, I’m buying and wearing GRs anyway.

Aleali May x Air Jordan 14 Low

Gabe: More Women's Colabs

Female designers have been making huge moves in a historically male-centric industry in recent years. Aleali May, Charlotte Lee, Melody Eshani, Cynthia Lu and Chitose Abe are just some of the superlative designers dropping high-end collaborations, and we’re seeing plenty of stellar female-owned sneaker stores and brands popping up across the globe. Still, there’s a long way to go! Let’s see more female voices and resolve this sizing disparity issue once and for all.

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