The year in sneakers: The trends and stories that filled our timelines
From a new deal for Kobes to the end of the line for Ye, it was a crazy year for footwear
In 2022, the world of sneakers felt like one big blur. Every week was filled with so many new releases that it was hard to keep up. New creators and corporate contenders emerged, trends continued shifting, and new consumers entered a world where hype ruled alongside niche interests.
Each brand experienced wins and losses. Sneaker lovers did, too. One of the better aspects of footwear has to be the diverse number of offerings. But buying shoes remains as painful as ever as bots, resellers, and raffles created headaches for consumers.
To put it all in perspective, we pulled together some of the top stories that kept our group chats and social feeds active throughout the year.
The Panda Dunk was everywhere
Making shoes people want available for them to purchase. A novel concept, right? With timelines stacked from top to bottom with screenshots of losses every week, Nike’s “Panda” Dunks were among the few models where desirability and relative attainability converged. Dunks, particularly the Lows, have roared back into prominence since the model’s previous peak in the mid-2000s, SB era. And since 2021, the simple black and white colorway has been a favorite.
Secondary sneaker marketplace StockX deemed the Panda one of its bestselling sneakers of all time. According to its annual Big Facts Report, from Nov. 1, 2021, to Oct. 31, StockX said there were more than 400,000 trades of the Low and High models of the two-toned kicks combined. Pandas were also among the Dunk silhouette’s most popular women’s and children’s colorways.
Because of the frequent restocking of shoes, interested sneakerheads had many more chances to add this colorway to their respective collections than SBs or even some of the more popular general releases. For that reason, you could find them worn at day parties and cookouts, offices and weddings, on public transportation and in luxury cars. These sneakers were made to be worn, not collected, and that is refreshing in and of itself. — Greg Whitt
The sneaker community has a Virgil Abloh-sized hole to fill
Fashion designer Virgil Abloh’s unexpected death in November 2021 shook the creative world, including high fashion, streetwear, visual design, and sneakers, to its core. 2022 was the year when we all reckoned with this massive loss, but none more than his family and partners. So what does the future look like without one of the most forward-thinking people in fashion? Abloh’s widow, Shannon, is ready to ensure that her husband’s vision endures.
She is the CEO and managing director of Virgil Abloh Securities, the umbrella company she created to house her husband’s creative endeavors, including his London design studio, Alaska Alaska, and Architecture, a collaboration with Nike. In an interview with The New York Times, Shannon Abloh said there is at least a year’s supply of Nike x Off-White products that haven’t yet hit the streets and many other projects that her husband had percolating. — Greg Whitt
Nike and Kobe Bryant estate reconcile
One of the most disappointing storylines of last year turned for the better this year. After initially failing to agree to terms on a new extension in April 2021, Nike and Kobe Bryant’s estate were out of contract for nearly a full year – meaning there were no new Kobe releases on deck for the foreseeable future.
Kobe’s shoes were the most-worn series in the NBA since his death, which led to a sudden rush of players stockpiling any pairs they could get their hands on.
In March, Bryant’s widow Vanessa and his estate locked in a new long-term deal and released the “Mambacita”-themed Kobe 6 Protros on what would’ve been Gianna Bryant’s 16th birthday in May. With more Kobe 6 Protro editions and the return of the Kobe 8 in Protro form coming in 2023, fans and players alike were hyped to know that the series is back on.
Nike recently hired a general manager to work on all Kobe Bryant-related efforts, and there’s a commitment to open a new “Mamba Academy” in Southern California, where his legacy will continue to impact a future generation through skills camps and programming. — Nick DePaula
New Balance is no longer just your dad’s sneaker
New Balance’s 2022 omnipresence can be traced to the streets of Washington, in the early 1980s, when hustlers began wearing the brand for its cachet (the 990 was the first $100 sneaker) and comfort. New Balance’s popularity eventually traveled up Interstate 95 to Baltimore and Philadelphia, but the company remained a niche brand for avid runners and dads with sore feet.
Fast-forward to 2022, and New Balance had one of its best years ever. With an expanding roster of NBA and celebrity endorsers, including LA Clippers guard Kawhi Leonard and rapper Jack Harlow, New Balance has graduated from “if you know, you know” status to inescapable.
You cannot discuss New Balance in 2022 without mentioning Aimé Leon Dore. Teddy Santis’ New York City-based brand blew the dust off of the New Balance archives and revived forgotten late-1980s basketball models such as the 550 and 650 a couple of years ago. The clean designs of the era were a perfect fit for Aimé Leon Dore’s heritage inspiration and subdued luxe aesthetic.
Joe Freshgoods had two sneaker of the year candidates in the “Inside Voices” 9060 (the “Penny Cookie Pink” colorway being a clear standout) and the “Performance Art” 993s, which were released in the fall. The depth of storytelling associated with each Joe Freshgoods collaboration and the attention to detail in materials and color are always top-notch.
The same was true of New Balance’s other collaborations with folks such as Salehe Bembury and Canadian design studio JJJJound. The former has his own sneaker of the year entry in a hairy suede 990v2, and the JJJJound collaborations are so sought-after that resale values have skyrocketed into the thousands of dollars. — Greg Whitt
The ‘Lost and Found’ Air Jordan 1 was a lost cause
The “Lost and Found” Air Jordan 1 Retro should’ve been an easy win for Nike and consumers. Any Chicago-themed colorway for the Air Jordan 1 could be equated to printing money for the Swoosh. It’s a classic color scheme that appeals to sneaker purists and draws in casual fans and retired sneakerheads looking to fill a hole in the collection. However, when a release generates too much attention, the hype creates demand that exceeds supply. In this case, the demand crippled Nike’s SNKRS app and left buyers empty-handed.
Somewhere between actual users and the work of bots, SNKRS experienced a rare string of outages and glitches on release day. The app crashed, and users couldn’t join the raffle. Those who did make it through experienced frozen screens and long load times. Some found their addresses deleted from their profile or were logged out.
Nike wasn’t the only retailer to experience problems. Users reported major issues with the online process for Finish Line, Hibbett, and many boutiques.
Before the release, Nike tried to be transparent about which SNKRS users would have the scales tipped to their advantage. The company announced it would grant exclusive access to “a selection of Members who have entered and lost at least 20 different Air Jordan 1 High releases on SNKRS,” which is wild. How much does someone have to enjoy rejection to try 20 times for one type of shoe before their sanity should be called into question?
For anyone unable to cop, don’t stress it. The bright side is that the loss should count toward the accumulated total, increasing your odds on the next hot release. — John Gotty
Nike suspends, then terminates Kyrie Irving’s contract
It’s extremely rare that a signature athlete’s endorsement deal abruptly ends. Since the turn of the millennium, only four instances come to mind, with Kyrie Irving joining Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant, and Gilbert Arenas as players who exited their high-profile signature shoe deals early.
In Irving’s case, Nike first opted to suspend his signature shoe deal on Nov. 4 after Irving posted a link on social media to a film and book that had antisemitic messaging. At the start of December, after discussing the dynamics of the suspended deal, the two sides agreed to terminate it now, ahead of its scheduled October 2023 expiration.
With the Brooklyn Nets suddenly surging, Irving back to his top-tier level of play, and a terminated shoe deal now making him a true sneaker free agent, the 30-year-old’s next step is shaping up to be a top story to watch in 2023.
During his 11-year run with Nike, his signature series was often one of the bestselling athlete lines in the industry. Most recently, it was second only to Los Angeles Laker LeBron James’ signature products in annual revenue. Whether Irving opts for yet another traditional brand-meets-endorser shoe deal format or looks, launches his own brand, or goes without a sponsor, the new year ahead will yet again follow Irving’s next move. — Nick DePaula
Buying remains a pain
Bots and resellers continue to have a huge influence over sneaker culture. Casual enthusiasts and sneakerheads alike have to decide between paying exorbitant premiums on top of rising retail prices or missing out on drop after drop. This is an industrywide problem, and it’s not new. For years, customers have dealt with flawed releases from big retailers and buggy launches from small boutiques. However, Nike and its SNKRS app remain the biggest players in the market, so consumers have been looking to them to provide leadership and solutions.
Nike made some significant steps in the right direction in 2022. The Wall Street Journal reported that the company updated its terms of sale to say it will cancel online orders made using bots. It also threatened to suspend accounts, charge restocking fees, and refuse refunds to suspected resellers or others exceeding prescribed spending limits.
Besides bots and resellers, the average consumer experienced confusion about release dates and inventory due to brands dealing with delays in production and shipping. That confusion prevailed as release dates fluctuated and stores sometimes received fewer sneakers than usual, driving buyers to track down sneakers on their wish lists by any means necessary. There was a time when buying sneakers was, for the most part, as simple as having enough money. Those days are long gone. Commerce responded to sneaker culture’s obsession with hype and manufactured scarcity. Now, actual scarcity is an industrywide problem.
Despite all of the technological and policy solutions the biggest brands have put in place, bots and resellers will likely still run the game for the foreseeable future, and pandemic-era supply chain issues will continue to have ripple effects. The only thing left to change is consumer behavior. Our relationship to consumption must evolve to avoid constant frustration and fear of missing out. — Greg Whitt
The Ye-Adidas partnership comes to a crashing end
The artist formerly known as Kanye West, now known as Ye, experienced a year of self-inflicted casualties that dismantled an empire he worked for years to build. In a matter of weeks, he lost deals with Gap, Balenciaga, and Adidas. The Adidas endorsement cost Ye an estimated $1.5 billion from his net worth, and Fortune reported that Adidas “expects to lose $246 million in profits by canceling the line.”
For Ye, this scenario differs from his earlier split with Nike, where even if he mishandled his complaints, fans could at least support the idea of a brand partner being paid royalties for the fruits of the relationship. There’s no redeemable argument for anyone who goes on national television shows espousing hate — or behaves even worse behind closed doors.
Could he bounce back with another brand? When Skechers doesn’t want you even coming in the door, that speaks volumes. Whatever money he has left may not be enough to relaunch independently with the scale Adidas offered.
The path forward appears equally rocky for Adidas. CEO Kasper Rørsted recently stepped down, an earnings hit looms, and the company sounds like it’s experiencing a spat with Jerry Lorenzo, owner of luxury streetwear label Fear of God, as the two parties attempt to launch the Fear of God collaboration after nearly two years of inactivity. The lost revenue could be hard to replace, no matter how many Stan Smiths or Superstars the German company sells. And while they may still hold all of the rights to footwear created by Ye, pushing those products without his stamp could prove difficult. — John Gotty
Smaller brands are gaining on industry leaders
Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour are the big three of the sneaker world by a wide margin, but some new players entered the conversation this year. Sneakerheads are frequently front of mind when thinking about who is driving the culture and the bottom lines of billion-dollar corporations. But do you know who else buys sneakers? Middle-aged dads. Runners. Outdoor enthusiasts. These consumers and an in-the-know fashion contingent have helped bring brands such as Hoka One One, Salomon, and On Running into the spotlight.
As chunkier silhouettes became more en vogue over the past couple of years, these brands found their opening. Salomon is a 75-year-old company that originally made ski equipment. Two former Salomon employees started Hoka with one goal — running downhill faster. On Running was created with triathletes and Ironman competitors in mind. With origins in the French (Hoka and Salomon) and Swiss Alps (On Running), each brand prioritized high performance in extreme conditions. These design priorities were reflected in maximalist outsoles and ultralight materials.
In 2022 we learned that consumers liked futuristic, technical materials and outsized outsoles as much for how they look as for their ability to help them run faster and climb higher. Collaborations with streetwear and fashion brands such as Bodega, Opening Ceremony, Outdoor Voices, Hidden NY, Comme des Garçons, Beams, and Loewe have helped solidify their fashion bona fides, resulting in huge leaps in sales numbers and market share. — Greg Whitt
A Ma Maniere’s Jordan Retro run
A cap tip goes to James Whitner and A Ma Maniere for putting together a solid run of Jordan retros. Many collaborations feel haphazard and lack connecting tissue. That wasn’t the case with A Ma Maniere’s releases.
What started in 2021 with the Air Jordan 1 and 3 collaborations carried over into 2022 with the “Airness” Air Jordan 2 and “Violet Ore” Air Jordan 4 retros by the Atlanta boutique. The “Airness” AJ2 captured the luxury of the original by opting for an off-white cracked leather and black snakeskin accents. The “Violet Ore” AJ4 used an elegant shade of purple on nubuck plus subtle accents — a quilted lining, a polished emblemed bearing an “A” — to create an upscale look. The pairs managed to honor the legacy of the shoes and the athlete who inspired the line while pushing the boutique into the short list of shops whose identity stands out where others get lost in the shadow of a larger collaborator.
A Ma Maniere even made people care about the less-heralded Air Ship, which is technically a Nike model but associated with Jordan since the company’s namesake, Michael Jordan, wore the shoe early in his career. Having people scrambling to purchase Ships isn’t an easy task, but it’s one Whitner and company appear adept at handling. — John Gotty
The injection foam trend takes off
In a post-coronavirus pandemic setting, comfort reigned supreme. Sweatpants were the norm, and Crocs became one of the few footwear brands that enjoyed growth during a stretch that saw many companies struggle mightily.
Led by the wavy and uniquely sloping Yeezy Foamrunner design, injection footwear became ever-present in 2022. Designer Salehe Bembury’s ongoing thumbprint-inspired collaboration with Crocs sold in more than a handful of colorways. At the same time, brands such as Fear of God rode the momentum of their successful California injection foam mules.
We even saw Jordan Brand dip its toes into the injection game with a hybrid silhouette dubbed the System.23, which also sports a removable inner bootie. Adidas, much to West’s annoyance, dropped its own version in the form of the laceable or removable lined adiFOM Q.
While the impact on injection-based design that the demise of the Adidas and Yeezy partnership may bring remains to be seen, the willingness of the everyday consumer to wear what were once dubbed “hospital shoes” should make for an even more expanded market for injection sneakers. — Nick DePaula
WNBA signature shoes are back
For most basketball players, the signature shoe deal is the holy grail of endorsement deals. Last year, 22 NBA players rocked their namesake models. In the WNBA, only nine players have enjoyed that distinction during the league’s first 25 years, with the last signature model coming a decade ago for Candace Parker.
This year, Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart became the 10th player in league history to launch her own sneaker with her vivid neon Puma Stewie 1. With a rooftop activation area at WNBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago, along with a marketing rollout on par with the sport’s biggest signature launches, Stewart’s entry into the signature game was off to a strong start, with the former MVP hoping for “a domino effect” that would lead to more signature sneakers for female athletes. — Nick DePaula
Where’s Fear of God Athletics?
When Lorenzo announced his partnership with Adidas in December 2020, after successful sneaker launches with Nike, Converse, and Vans, the industry’s radar was up for just how transformative his eventual product with the brand would be.
According to Adidas, the deal specified that Lorenzo and his Fear of God team would “drive the creative and business strategy for Adidas Basketball globally,” essentially running the entire category.
As a result, the whole Adidas Basketball team moved to LA, where Lorenzo’s company is based. Fear of God announced the formation of its “third pillar,” Fear of God Athletics, to stand alongside the namesake brand and lower-priced basics brand Essentials. Lorenzo posted a photo of freshly inked three stripes along the back of his neck.
Exactly two years later, we’re still waiting.
In the time since, Lorenzo’s company has clarified that the partnership has “evolved over the past two years” and will now just entail the release of Fear of God Athletics collaborative products without the initial business and creative direction over the entire hoops category.
With lofty statements from both sides up front and a potential launch finally arriving during “the first half of 2023,” according to Lorenzo, the brand’s punting of its billion-dollar Yeezy partnership will add even more internal pressure. At the turn of the new year, all eyes will be on Fear of God Athletics and its long, long-awaited unveiling. — Nick DePaula