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10th June 2024 EDT RELEASES

Old Is Gold: Why Are Retro Sneakers So Popular?

They may be inferior in technology, but definitely superior in style.

Old Is Gold: Why Are Retro Sneakers So Popular?
Old Is Gold: Why Are Retro Sneakers So Popular?

Retro sneakers continue to proliferate the upper echelons of today’s footwear market, decades since their debut. While archetypal Nike silhouettes like the Air Force 1, Dunk, and early Air Jordans—particularly the AJ1, AJ3, and AJ4 (all from the 1980s)—remain bestsellers to this day, the trend extends beyond the Swoosh. New Balance boasts their own success with the 574 (1988) and 550 (1989); but adidas takes the crown for longevity with their Gazelle (1968) and Samba (1950).

Case in point: all the aforementioned have been of some the status quo’s biggest releases.

Aimé Leon Dore × New Balance 550 "Yellow/Green"

Aimé Leon Dore x New Balance 550 “Yellow/Green”

This phenomenon contradicts the fashion industry’s usual focus on the “next big thing”. Experts point to a confluence of factors: risk-averse business strategies, a broader cultural obsession with revisiting past intellectual property, nostalgia, the rise of hip-hop culture, and the plethora of options in the internet age.

For industry giants with rich archives, revivals have proven to be a lucrative MO. Nike doubled their sales to US$51.2 billion over the last decade, and adidas increased theirs by over 50% between 2012 and 2022.

Words that encapsulate the spirit of the retro rennaissance

Risk-Averse Business Strategies

The recent pandemic too further solidified this retro rennaissance. According to veteran sneaker analyst Matt Powell (now a consultant with Spurwink River and BCE Consulting), with supply chain disruptions limiting production, businesses opted for safer bets. Thus, across retail sectors, the introduction of new products declined.

“They said, ‘What are our top sellers? Make a lot of those and don’t take any risks on anything new and innovative because we have limited production,’” Powell expounds. “Really, every brand was guilty of this.”

2023’s Barbie and Tetris represent the collective nostalgia of the entertainment industry


Beyond supply chain constraints, Powell identifies a broader cultural phenomenon: a fascination with revisiting the past. Movies based on classic toys like Barbie and Tetris, alongside TV show reboots, exemplify this trend. In the entertainment industry at large, this strategy has proven lucrative, with the highest-grossing films of the past decade often being sequels and remakes of established IPs.

Moreover, certain heritage products have transcended its epoch to become timeless hallmarks, offering a safe bet for brands and retailers. It’s no coincidence that Nike’s collaborations with Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Tiffany all centered around the Air Jordan 1 and Air Force 1, while Gucci and adidas revisited the Gazelles for their partnership. These iconic styles offer a familiar comfort for consumers and a foundation for high-fashion reinterpretations.

Ye and Travis Scott, two of hip-hop’s most influential figures

The Rise of Hip-Hop Culture

Nevertheless, refreshing old designs isn’t a guaranteed sales tactic, but it often proves less risky than venturing into entirely uncharted territory.

This strategy has fueled a gold rush in sneakers and streetwear. Retro basketball shoes and classic logo hoodies hold a special place in the aesthetic codes of hip-hop. As the culture melded with surf and skate in the ensuing decades, a shared appreciation for Dunks and other silhouettes from the era solidified the foundation of streetwear, a movement that has itself significantly reshaped fashion.

Furthermore, the genre has spread its fire from an underground party in the Bronx to being one of the most popular music consumed globally. In turn, the artists at the vanguard become de facto tastemakers. Some of the most influential being Ye and Travis Scott.

The adidas YEEZY Foam Runner, one of the collaboration’s most polarizing footwear designs

Plethora of Options

The internet’s explosion of products and information has disrupted the traditional fashion cycle, making it harder for new designs to achieve the same cultural impact as established classics.

Consumers, overwhelmed by choices, turn to retro styles with established cultural significance to express their identity. This trend explains Gen-Z’s embrace of ’90s and Y2K fashion, or the enduring popularity of Dr. Martens boots and Birkenstock sandals.

New designs can gain traction but achieving iconic status is a whole different beast. Moreover, an untested design carries the risk of being perceived as a novelty. This can be attested to by the adidas YEEZY brand. Its polarizing designs may not have survived without Ye’s star power and cult following.

Faced with endless options, both consumers and brands often choose the safer route of retros. These classic styles tend to be simpler, more wearable designs. Meanwhile, brand innovations often focus on athletic performance, a feature less relevant for everyday wear. After all, the average person is more likely to run errands in their sneakers than a marathon.

Source: The Business of Fashion, Hypebeast, IMDb

Looking ahead, brands will likely continue to leverage their archives, strategically increasing or decreasing production of heritage styles to maintain demand.

Similar to how running and trail shoes are currently heating up while basketball silhouettes cool, different models will take turns in the spotlight. This doesn’t mean innovation is dead. Brands will still introduce new designs, hoping to capture the hearts of shoppers and potentially become future classics themselves.

Before concluding, the “retro remix” has produced a cornucopia of fresh releases, and here are some recent highlights you can find on the SNKRDUNK App:

For the latest releases, breaking news, and exclusive interviews, stay tuned to the SNKRDUNK Magazine and @snkrdunk on Instagram. Explore the SNKRDUNK App too and don’t forget to use our welcome code from the banner below before making your first purchase. Additionally, if you would like to try a pair out, visit our stores in Singapore and Japan!

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