by John Brilliant / @CounterKicks
When the first issue of KICKS—the first all-sneaker based print magazine in the United States—hit stands 15 years ago, it felt like just the beginning of something. And it was.
Sneakers became national. Became cultural. Became worldwide across the web. A once underground, schoolyard fancied sub-culture became a public interconnected spectacle. KICKS became a new barometer for how popular kicks were.
Even in the shadow of our current Great Recession, athletic footwear is as hot as it’s ever been. Look at how kicks and the culture and the industry surrounding it have changed in the last decade and a half.
The new Air Jordan was something you purchased on a Wednesday. It’s historically the slowest retail day of the week. Then kids started skipping school. I did, too. Toward the end of the ’90s, under public pressure, Nike moved their fresh MJ signature merch from mid-week to the weekend. The kids followed. I did, too.
In 2012, Nike switched up their retail game plan again in a major way. If you want new Js now, it’s 8 a.m. No earlier. No over-the-counter product pre-sold days or weeks in advance either. You buy your shoes with sunshine or in the shade, online. If you want to cop from a handful of Nike-owned stores across the country, you’ll need a Twitter account, too.
When the first issue of KICKS hit, in ’98, Jordan Brand was pretty much a new subsidiary underneath the Nike umbrella. Today, the Jumpman is a $1 billion business division and growing, with a dominant market share in the basketball footwear category.
What’s old is new again, too. Forget spanning decades, try centuries. Some of the latest biomechanical research harks back to our hunter-gatherer ancestors who were shod in nothing more than the calloused skin on the bottoms of their feet, giving us pause on years of extravagant shoe industry marketing that championed the benefits of increasingly bigger and heavier cushioning along with thicker and foamier soles. Now, lowtops are trendy. Lightweight is in. Getting your foot closer to the ground is just as important in some circles as reaching for the rim or running the distance.
Adidas has made it a company-wide mission to own the lightest footwear in each sporting category. We’ve witnessed the first sub-10 ounce hoops shoe brought to market in the Crazy Light, and are seeing the adizero platform dominate the idea of minimalism.
Immensely ambitious new brands like Under Armour continue to make strides into the business, while familiar names like Reebok zig back into the picture again. Same goes for a bevy of fresh startups and revival brands all competing for the almighty dollar.
We’re in the opening stages of ushering in a new era in footwear where product is still king, but so too are the endlessly revolving brand relationships and experiences that are tightly woven into this new, 21st century footwear fabric.
Phil Knight’s company is leading the way with not just Nike+ for running shoes, but now digital sensors tracking your every move in basketball, training and more sports to come. There’s FuelBand. There’s miCoach by adidas. There’s dedicated apps and whole websites looking to immerse you—the consumer—in not only the brands but your own personal training habits.
Everyone from large media corporations to small social networks are magnifying, objectifying and intensifying what’s not just leather and rubber anymore but next-generation composites, space-age technologies and 1-to-1 customized fits for every pair of feet. Kicks are melding to your foot, to how you play, to how you style, to how you live, and the companies are spinning spools of fabrics and textiles into a constant stream of imaginative creations we haven’t even seen yet.
Matt Powell, retail analyst for SportsOneSource and essentially the go-to guy for athletic footwear industry sales data, told us that in the time that elapsed between KICKS 1 and now, the market size for sneakers has doubled. Online sales of shoes currently make up 11 percent. Powell projects that figure will jump to a giant 25 percent in just five years.
So if you think kicks are popular now…