Sneaker Culture and the Multicultural Youth Consumer

Many Gen Z and Millennial Americans are passionate about fashion. We’re providing a closer look at the shoe industry, a corner of fashion where iconic brand collaborations create a highly competitive market.

Collecting sneakers is a hobby at the intersection of fashion, sports, and brand identity. Accordingly, the market of sneaker enthusiasts, or “sneakerheads,” is predominantly young and multicultural.

Some of the most popular and well-known sneakers, like Jordans, feature sports legends, but collecting sneakers is much more than just being able to wear your favorite basketball player’s shoes when you are on the court yourself. Sneakerhead culture is also about collecting sneakers and being able to impress other collectors with your own collection. Sneakerheads are always on the lookout for the next limited-edition sneaker, and they must act quickly once it “drops” in order to improve their collection.  As a self-proclaimed sneakerhead myself, few moments rival unboxing a new, rare pair of sneakers. It’s the same feeling I had as a kid when I would find my favorite athlete’s trading card in a new deck, or a rare state quarter in spare change.

But what makes sneaker collecting different from other forms of novelty items is that brands have permission to play. A very popular type of limited-edition sneaker is a co-branded sneaker, made in partnership with a brand or influencer. These partnerships allow sneakerheads to express their love of specific brands and sneakers all at once. Shoe brands collaborate with other recognizable brands, like Gatorade, PlayStation, McDonalds, or even Ben & Jerry’s, to create limited-edition sneakers. These shoes are generally released as part of a special one-time promotion, or because a specific athlete pushed for a collaboration with one of their own favorite brands.  A personal highlight of my sneaker collection is my Nike Kyrie 5 Spongebob sneakers, a collaboration between Nickelodeon and basketball star Kyrie Irving – as well as a frequent sight around the pre-quarantine Collage Group office!

Pink and green Nike shoes
Nike Kyrie 5 x SpongeBob (Patrick Star), 2019, Resell Price $230-420

Co-branded sneakers are frequently some of the most anticipated releases for sneakerheads. Many spend hours in line waiting outside select store locations, and you’ll find even more refreshing tabs on multiple personal devices trying to secure their own pair in time. Many brands that create co-branded sneakers are usually connected to other passion points resonant with multicultural consumers, like gaming, music, and other entertainment. But one of the most sought-after sneaker drops of 2020 so far had nothing to do with entertainment media at all. Nike’s SB Dunk Low Chunky Dunky is a Ben & Jerry’s branded sneaker which released on May 26th and has become one of the most popular sneakers of 2020 so far. Sneakerheads across the globe entered raffles trying to win a right to purchase a pair. The enthusiasm for the Chunky Dunky continued even after the raffles ended, with pairs selling on StockX, a popular resell sneaker marketplace, for up to twenty times its original price!

Ben and Jerrys Nike sneakers
Nike SB Dunk Low Ben & Jerry's Chunky Dunky, 2020, Resell Price $1550-2200

So what’s the magic to creating a popular co-branded sneaker? Beyond brand name recognition, you need a unique design and an understanding of creative elements already present in popular shoes. In the Ben & Jerry’s collaboration, the cow skinned pattern and “melting” Nike swoosh symbol are unique elements that are unique to the shoe and intuitively connected to the Ben & Jerry’s brand.  Another great example is 2018’s Nike PG 2.5 x PlayStation sneaker, another personal favorite in my collection. The shoe has PlayStation buttons all over it, four Nike swooshes that match the colors of a PlayStation controller, and light-up logos on the tongue – something you just don’t see on an everyday shoe. Sneakerheads want co-branded shoes which have unique elements like these that make real the connection with the brand, almost like Easter Eggs for true brand fanatics to admire.

Blue sneakers
Nike PG 2.5 PlayStation Multi-Color, 2018, Resell Price $160-300

The best co-branded sneakers are limited, unique in their design, and the result of collaborations connecting to other passion points of young, multicultural consumers. Creating an iconic co-pair is not easy, but it can bring a lot of cultural relevance to a brand across these key consumer segments. Someone wearing a branded sneaker becomes a living, walking advertisement, openly demonstrating their love of the brand, and promoting it to all they interact with. It is essential for brands to generate this word of mouth among the most influential consumer segments. Having a good sneaker is also a great way for brands to break through with young, multicultural consumers, even before they might consider the product or service a brand offers. If you want to build lasting brand loyalty, you need to start from the ground up – and what better place than a good shoe?

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