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Learning From the Bubble

Sometimes sneaker fans, myself included, can be incredibly opinionated and critical about shoes, releases, and companies that seem to be comfortable with creating a barrier to access for new shoes. I think it’s important to critique in a constructive manner, but also celebrate everything the culture is and what it brings to the table. For me, and many others, I get excited to discuss new shoes, to find out about a new colorway, and to see shoes on display in the NBA Bubble like it’s New York Fashion Week. We learn each year what people like/didn’t like, and take that forward into the next year improving on designs and creative efforts. 

One thing I’ve enjoyed seeing in the Bubble is brands incorporating the BLM movement into designs and gear, whether it be Chris Paul with his multiple HCBU colorways or the various players showcasing tributes to the late, great Nipsey with their various colorways. Seeing this has shown brands are encouraging players to showcase their personalities, and letting everyone know that they stand with them in their beliefs. There’s also been some great tributes to Kobe Bryant and victims of police violence, that have had significant impacts on the culture. These acknowledgements have been great to see, and I hope that it doesn’t become a one off thing. I want to see brands, players, and fans continue to engage in a constructive manner and be open to talk about things affecting our communities. I want to see brands continue to re-evaluate their processes. Covid-19 has changed up everything, and those who don’t adapt will lose out. It’s important that we don’t see this just as an experience, but as an opportunity to grow. 

Ultimately, this brings me to my major point: listen to the people. There’s no excuse to have poor designs or bad colorways if you’re listening to your consumers. One of the things that NBA2k did was allow people to design their own shoes. It was a major hit among players and allowed people the opportunity to showcase their own ideas, essentially have a show and tell with prizes of virtual currency. I think an interesting idea would be if brands took feedback in a new way. For example, sending out three mockup designs for an upcoming shoe release to consumers and have people vote on their favorite. These mockups can be pre-approved by the player, and all designs can take inspiration from them. Another idea to have fans interact with the process is to have a colorway contest. Have the chosen shoe design featured on the site with the ability to drag and drop colors or patterns, save the design, then post with a hashtag. From there, brands can pick the top three based on social engagement, with the winners receiving their own personalized shoe. The signature athlete could then pick a winner out of the top three and this person would receive recognition for the first colorway of the new signature show and video-chat call with the athlete discussing the meaning behind the design. 

When it comes to Covid-19, it will be interesting to see how brands adapt to handle the fact that many people are out of work and unable to make purchases. This year has been hard on everyone’s wallets. Big brands have taken a loss in profits, and many made generous donations to important causes. One thing I don’t consider a good idea is limited releases. It doesn’t make sense, especially not now. The New Balance 4 Bounces went on sale for $160 and within an hour they were sold out. Almost immediately there were numerous sellers on third party sites up-charging by hundreds of dollars. This means many people who just want a pair are unable to purchase the shoes and only those who are able to pay top dollar can obtain them. This alienates the consumer from the product, and even more so now that so many people are struggling financially this year. Not only do fans miss out, brands also miss out on a lot of potential profits. An idea I have is to offer pre-release sale opportunities before the actual release date. Make it known when shoes are coming out on all platforms and improve automatic notifications about new products. I will often receive a notification email about a release much later, usually resulting in me missing an opportunity to purchase the shoe. There could also be code releases in advance that allow you access to purchase the shoes online. If those with codes were unable to purchase a shoe in their size, honor their codes for the next release or offer a first-access sale. If not already implemented, limit the number of shoes to two or maybe three pairs maximum. Adidas has a great idea with their newly relaunched CONFIRMED app. It allows people who sign up special access to limited release items. It’s a great way to verify purchases and ensure people aren’t stocking up on shoes just to resell at a high profit.

If 2020 has taught us anything it’s that we need to be flexible and adaptable. If we want to exist in this new way of life, it’s important for everyone to take note of what changes have been made for the better. Things like increased remote work, being better about spending and appreciating time with family, and being grateful for our first responders and essential workers. I hope as we transition into the new year, regardless of our state with Covid-19, we see brands continue to be flexible and adaptable. Brands have too often sat on the sidelines while players spoke up against injustices, and now we finally see them putting their money where their mouths are. My hope is that this isn’t a one time thing; I hope to see brands continue to show accountability for the players they represent and ensure the communities they market to be supported, represented, and respected. 

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