It can be quite frustrating not being able to access some of your favourite Netflix shows because of pesky geo-blocking. That can be easily overcome with VPNs, but it’s a bit more challenging when it comes to sneakers. However, it’s all part of the fun.
The practice of certain stores, countries and areas selling product that can’t be bought anywhere else has existed pretty much ever since the retail industry existed. We’re talking ancient times, where regions would be renowned for a particular industry or product. And it’s the same with sneakers.
Let’s face it: everyone’s sneaker collections would look pretty boring if they consisted of all the same styles and colourways. The same applies to market regions and tastes. As just one example, trends in America are completely different to trends in Japan, so it makes sense that sneakers are catered to specific regions.
In Australia, the Nike Air Max Plus was Foot Locker’s bread-and-butter as an exclusive silhouette. In recent years, the model’s resurgence has resulted in broader distribution into other regions, but there are still colourways that can only be obtained by going Down Under.
Kanye West’s Yeezy exploits with adidas have also dabbled in region-exclusive drops. June’s Yeezy BOOST 350 V2 saw the Americas dropping the ‘Lundmark’, Europe and Russia receiving the ‘Antlia’, and the ‘Synth’ in Africa, Asia and Australia. Given sneaker collecting is both a blessing and curse for ‘heads, imagine the fun of trying to source each Yeezy from each region.
It also gives certain retailers a point of distinction. For example, in the UK, JD Sports and size? have had exclusive colourways and SMUs since the early 2000s. Exclusive releases are a drawcard to not only cities and stores, but events. Much like band tour merch, some items can only be bought at certain stopovers.
ComplexCon – not that it needed any more hype – carved out more appeal with releases only obtainable during the multi-day, world-touring event. Following suit was atmoscon, marking the occasion with colab NMDs. One of the originators was the now defunct Bread&&Butter trade show in Berlin, which had some of the rarest sneakers ever pass its vendors.
There’s something mythical about making the trip to specific sneaker stores or cities to obtain a particular product. One such location is Japan. There are dozens – if not hundreds – of sneakers that can only be found there. A prominent example from the early-2000s golden era is Nike’s co.jp program. 2001’s Nike Air Force 1 ‘Linen’ was only sold in Japan. 15 years later, the retro was a global exclusive from Kith’s Miami store, mirroring the region-specificity of the original drop.
Back in the days of Internet forums, and even now with Facebook groups, it was possible to make online pen friends. These overseas connections suddenly unlocked access to product never before seen, and vice versa for them with your own local offerings. This symbiosis was not only beneficial in copping sneaker heat, but it actually formed meaningful friendships. Of course, proxy resellers and mail-forwarding services exist now to overcome the bamboo curtain. But, unless one is dealing with expatriates, using Google Translate while cobbling together broken Japanese to request a super-rare drop adds to the challenge, and fun, of buying it. After all, it can be argued Japan is where the ‘plug’ originated.