Sneakers are a billion dollar industry, and no footwear has dominated the market quite like high-tops. Beginning in the 1980’s, this style became so popular they transcended sports. From the blacktop to the runway, everyone is wearing them, and there’s an endless supply to choose from.
Today, every single NBA player has some form of brand allegiance, and at least ten of them have their own signature shoes. Promising rookies or star-level players can make millions on endorsements, and even the benchwarmers earn $5,000-$10,000 each season they showcase their brand loyalty.
The problem is, when over 300 players are wearing whatever generic Nike’s the company gives, everything starts to looks bland. In a modern market flooded with choices, only great design will stand the test of time.
Air Jordan’s first came out in 1985 and they’re still some of the best selling shoes on the market. While the style has changed with each generation, the Jordan retro looks are still the most popular. This past Christmas, the highest selling sneaker was the Air Jordan 11 from 1995.
There’s just something about the retro sneakers that isn’t quite matched by today’s designs. That’s why, if you look around the market, you might notice that “Old School” sneakers are back with a vengeance.
In 2014, New Balance brought back their signature Worthy 740 model. James Worthy first signed a deal with New Balance in 1982, after leaving the Tar Heels to go pro in Hollywood. These kicks would become his signature look as he helped define the “Showtime” brand of basketball alongside Magic Johnson.
The 80’s throwback shoes have simpler designs from a simpler time. Worthy says he signed with New Balance because he liked the owner, Jim Davis. “He was extremely family oriented and really did a lot in the community,” Worthy told viewers of SneakerWatchTV. “And I also liked the product. The product was extremely well built and it really catered to everything I needed to perform on the floor.”
The shoes are both iconic and utilitarian, two qualities that are also present in the Adidas Top Ten Hi. This retro sneaker came back on the market in 2014. These are the shoes that Rick Barry used to wear.
So why all this nostalgia? Well, by the time the late 1990’s rolled around, sneaker companies were already competing to see who could launch the next big design. Year after year, there were new companies and new designs. Eventually, there were just too many styles and too many names; while the new models still sold well, it wasn’t the same, they weren’t iconic. And that’s when the retro-era hit hard.
In 2010, PONY re-released their 1981 “Slam Dunk” model, the brand made famous by David Thompson, Spud Webb and Darryl Dawkins. The re-release proved profitable and, in 2015, Iconix bought the “Product of New York” brand for $37 million.
In 2012, GPF Footwear LLC brought back Patrick Ewing’s signature shoes. Ewing Athletics which were originally in production from 1988-1996, but became a discount brand before eventually shutting down. But the new line has been successful and they’ve expanded production steadily over the past few years.
When Bird and Magic appeared in an ad for Converse Weapons, it caused quite the stir. That shoe went on to become one of the most popular models of the mid-80’s, so it was no surprise when the ’86 Mid model got a re-release in 2014. While the 2003 “Loaded Weapon” remix was deemed tasteless by critics, the retro style seems to have done well.
With standard sneakers ranging from $20-$200, this is big business, and everyone wants in on the retro game.
- Reebok Pumps celebrated their 25th anniversary
- LA Gear is currently working on their third comeback attempt.
- Stephon Marbury’s “Starbury” sneakers are making a return.
It hasn’t been a full ten years since Starbury launched their brand and quickly went out of business, but the retro-thirst is very real.
And it’s not just basketball – in October, Nike went to market with the shoes from “Back to the Future“. Reebok re-released the sneakers from “Aliens“. Last year, The Brooklyn Museum had a whole exhibit dedicated to sneaker culture, elevating it to an art form. And, while there are only so many sneakers that can be re-released, there’s no expiration date for classic cool.
For now, it looks like the high-tops are here to stay.
[Photos from New Balance, Adidas and PONY.]