May 24

Classically Conditioned

Over the past year or so, I’ve grown to have a consistent frustration with the current state of the sneaker industry. Everywhere I look, I recognize releases that leave me confused and having a strong case of deja vu. Back in middle school science, I learned of famed physiologist, Ivan Pavlov and his experiment on dogs. For those who are unfamiliar, Pavlov conducted an experiment on a group of dogs and their feeding habits. The dogs involved were known to have a consistent reaction of salivation at the sight of the trainers who usually fed them. From this observation, Pavlov concluded that a stimulus could be tied to specific actions and cause a conditioned reaction. In this case, he decided to connect the ring of a bell to the dog’s feeding time. In result, the dogs ended up drooling every time they heard the ringing, as opposed to seeing their usual human food provider. It’s sad to say, but this kind of conditioning parallels the present relationship between the sneaker powerhouses we have all grown to love and the average consumer. Whether people are copping the latest release to rock for themselves or to get that resale bread off eBay, it’s still obvious that specific triggers, like the sneaker name, redundantly used materials and technology that getting a overdosed amount of marketing, etc., are the subconscious reason why a lot of people decide to buy.

When you take your usual stroll down your social timelines, it’s impossible to avoid the colorful Instagram layouts, buzzwords, and overbearing marketing campaigns that producers basically trying to brainwash people with. When visit your usual clothing sites, you see the same ol’ footwear offerings of the past in the same form or some animorph like hybrid. It’s disappointing looking back on what once was an organic and simple process of seeing a new shoe hit the market and having an organic interest for it to represent you and specific style taste. But, the blame doesn’t solely lie with the producers, it’s our fault as the consumer as well. The majority keeps supporting this behavior by emptying their pockets, which in turn signals to these brands that they can be successful recycling the same shit, and minimally change their business model. But, the endless cycle will roll on if the sneakers continue to sell out.

“It’s disappointing looking back on what once was an organic and simple process of seeing a new shoe hit the market and having organic interest for it to represent you and your style taste.”

Looking at your typical sneaker connoisseur today seems to be satisfied, or to enjoy riding this merry-go-round of sneaker releases. You got the “Boost” technology with endless variations, the 16 different Jordans that have been retro’d more than four times each and still have people wrapped around the block to buy, the five year big brother-little brother slapbox over “knit” technologies and lightweight runners that has resulted in a cult-like complex between buyers via Instagram, that all back up the notion that footwear brands have been repeatedly producing the same general archetype of sneakers, even in some cases a literal clone of the history, in response to the demand of your average joe. I mean, if the shots falling, keep shooting, right? But the mainstream audience isn’t hip to what it really wants. The brands that are known to have been innovative in the past have hit a creative standstill. They are taking to the social media world to push their products and feeding the masses with sneakers that require minimum effort. These trusted brands have abused the consumer’s faith and pockets in order to turn a profit. But, on the flip side, no matter how much companies try to drill colorful Instagram layouts, buzzwords, and overbearing marketing campaigns into the consumer’s brain, the decision to buy ultimately lies with consumer.

At the end of the day, in order for trends to die or to grow and transform naturally, consumers have to stop backing up the companies and give them the honest feedback. Whether this kind of change comes from the producer side due to inevitable oversaturation, or from “influencers” taking charge to force a shift in the trends, who knows, but there is one constant. It all starts and ends with the buyer refusing to be satisfied with style conformity. So, will consumers step back from the same tired concepts put in front of us, or will the producers put the team on their back, push innovation and leave the classics as they should be: classic. Who will turn off the repeat button that controls the current sneaker market: Producer or Consumer?

“Who will turn off the repeat button that controls the current sneaker market: Producer or Consumer?”

Innovation and creativity should never take the backseat to sales, which unfortunately, is what is in control at the moment. In a perfect world, we eventually won’t need to ask whether producers or consumers will be the catalyst for progress. If a third party came out of left field to produce the new grails in footwear or a new system were in place that prioritized innovation with universal acceptance on both sides, there would be no need for this discussion. But until anything happens, I’ll keep it moving by satisfying my love for well-designed Vans collabs and hi-tech sandals.

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Words: Cam Hicks
Illustrations: Jacob Rochester