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Sneaker Markets' Dystopian Utopia: Travis Scott Stretches Sneakerheads' Suspension of Disbelief

Sneaker Markets' Dystopian Utopia: Travis Scott Stretches Sneakerheads' Suspension of Disbelief
September 7, 2023
Dylan Dittrich

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Over the last 18 months, the unraveling of sneaker markets has been well documented. What seemed so unlikely a couple years ago is now reality: huge declines in price, pairs not selling out, and pairs flipping for discounts to retail price. The sneaker market frenzy, escalated into hyperdrive by pandemic-related supply chain issues in 2020 and 2021, has cooled and continues to do so.

You might think: Good. Finally, sneakerheads are acting more rationally.

Ah ah ah, not so fast, my friends. Because like collectors in other categories, it turns out sneakerheads will still go absolutely nuts for the most minute differences in product, as long as they're co-signed by their influencer of choice.

The white Nike Air Force 1 Low '07 is one of the most ubiquitous sneakers of the past few years. They're absolutely everywhere. In the last 12 months, StockX has sold nearly 79,000 men's pairs and over 10,000 women's pairs. Those are just secondary market sales of a shoe that's an absolute retail monster.

The volume is so significant that resellers will utilize the white AF1 as a vehicle to exploit market inefficiencies in a practice known as brick-flipping. They'll see the shoe for sale at a low price in one venue, and they'll sell it in another at a higher mark. The margins aren't enormous, but at times, there's enough volume to do it at scale and accumulate profits.

The white Air Force 1 is not hard to find, nor is it particularly expensive relative to other popular, less available Nike silhouettes. It retails for $110 and can be commonly found for resale prices ranging from $70-90. If you want a pair, you can have 'em, and you won't be gouged.

A popular and readily available sneaker?! In this market?! That cannot stand!

Travis Scott would not simply sit idle and let this relatively pure trend go unexploited.

This summer, Scott released a "Cactus Jack Utopia Edition" of the Air Force 1 Low '07. The shoe retailed for $150, 36% higher than the price of the original. The only difference? It features the Cactus Jack insignia and "Utopia" printed on the rear of the shoe. That's it.

In fact, once the sneakers were delivered to customers, they noticed the SKU of the sneaker actually precisely matched the SKU of the original Air Force 1 '07. The public perhaps assumed that because Scott is a prolific Nike collaborator, this shoe was a special collaboration with the brand. Nope. The matching SKUs indicate that this was instead a custom, with alterations made to existing shoes which were then released via Scott's own channels.

Laughably, the StockX description calls the sneaker "the embodiment of Travis' creative genius." That shoe? That's the embodiment? Okay, good to know. His creative genius is embodied by printing the word "Utopia" on a white sneaker. While Scott has received backlash for this "finesse," the market speaks for itself, and what it's voicing is...confusion. Some popular sizes are reselling for $300 or more, while others resell narrowly above the $150 retail price. The latter activity seems a bit more in-tune with what feels more like the embodiment of weak-market desperation than creative genius.

It's not always enough to tweak some details and slap an endorsement on a sneaker. A brand's efforts to create a successful collaboration are significant and often resonate as a result of myriad strategic decisions. Scott's actual Air Force 1 collaborations with the Swoosh have held value well and even gained value in some cases over the last 12 months, with some remaining four-figure sneakers. Consumers ascribe value to collaborations with people of influence, but that support isn't unconditional. Printing a word on one of the most ubiquitous sneakers in existence and charging $150 is asking a lot of a fanbase, basically imploring them to suspend disbelief and see this shoe as something more than what it is.

That's a loopy utopia even many of the most diehard sneakers aren't willing to visit.

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