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Nike owns over half of the the market when it comes to running shoes. Adidas owns a smaller, but still relatively huge — like $18.76 billion in total sales huge — five percent, according to NPD Group findings shared with Fortune. That means that more than 60 percent of people wearing sneakers in the US are blending in, dressed the same-ish in some sort of sneaker from those two mega brands. Throw in Under Armour, which carries three percent of the market, and that’s three brands dominating roughly two-thirds of the sneaker world.
And that’s just one good reason why 2017 will be the year of the under-appreciated sneaker brands. With the sameness of the Adidas Stan Smith and the Superstar and the basic-ness of the Roshe Run, people who really consider what goes on their feet will probably start looking elsewhere — maybe to brands like Reebok, Fila, New Balance, and Asics.
The proof that Reebok (which is owned by the Adidas Group) was going to be hot again emerged at the beginning of 2016, when the brand teamed up with popular streetwear designer Gosha Rubchinskiy. Evidence it’s about to explode arrived at the end of the year when it did what any brand hoping to garner hype dreams of: partner with Vetements. The two brands paired up to rework one of Reebok’s stranger models, the Pump Supreme. It’s footwear that’s more water shoe than sneaker; no laces get in the way of a sleek slippery upper and the big clunky “Pump” button up top. I can’t wait to wear them and be the flyest person at Water Country USA.
“The collaborations are really what drive energy, press, and excitement,” says Tyler Blake, owner of KicksUnderCost and special projects manager at Massachusetts sneaker retailer Concepts. However, he adds that over the past five years, a lot of those collaborations have gotten stale and predictable. “Seeing Vetements collab with Reebok is a little bit out of the typical territory that some of the other brands or sneaker stores might be collaborating with,” he adds.
The Reebok example is a great one because it’s emblematic of the way the sneaker industry works and generates hype. Sneaker brands release a collaborative version of a shoe in hopes that it brings cachet to the non-collab iteration of the model, too. This process worked for Rihanna and Puma, which brilliantly executed a strategy to keep sales flowing from the singer’s Fenty line to the mainline products. “Rihanna did a workout sneaker and then Puma did a core offering of that workout sneaker, but people were still associating it with Rihanna and buying it,” Blake explains.
And Reebok is working the crowd the same way. Just weeks after releasing the Vetements version of the Pump Supreme, Reebok sponsored a story on Highsnobiety to introduce the new in-line variant of the shoe.
What really makes Reebok the brand I can’t stop blabbering about is its Pump line — which also includes the Instapump Fury ($159.99), a shoe that looks like a children’s block tower melted together. They just look so funky and dissimilar from every other shoe. “If you go to a store and see a bunch of silhouettes that all look very similar, but Reebok is offering something no one else is, they can capture the sale just by soliciting something different to that market,” Blake says.
You don’t have to look very hard to see that there’s a clamoring for odd-looking sneakers, either. Nike’s collaboration with Acronym on a pair of “Presto Mids” was consistently ranked as the best shoe of 2016. The shoe pairs two neon colors, multiple zippers, and a cage for a shoe Blake describes as “extra.”
And it seems this desire to find something different exists on multiple levels, not just a writer with ADD. Certain designers, too, seem to get bored with reworking the same brand over and over again. It’s not surprising to see oddball Vetements partnering with Reebok while most designers and celebrities flock to Nike and Adidas. Rubchinskiy, who first favored Reeboks, also paired with the similarly under-the-radar Fila for his spring/summer 2017 collection. Meanwhile, Kith mastermind Ronnie Fieg is single-handedly trying to keep Asics alive by collaborating with the brand no less than a half dozen times in 2016.
The collabs aren’t only helpful to reinvent sneaker models and keep fresh product on the market, but they also bring the brand in front of new audiences and drive brand equity. But the truth might be that less-talked-about sneaker brands are bound to have a moment in the sun again, simply because of the way the industry works.
Despite landing in hot water over its pro-Trump comments, Blake sees New Balance as a brand that is poised to have a big year in 2017. He cites the fact that it’s been quiet, too quiet, over at New Balance headquarters. “Most product cycles take a while to implement, so they've probably been cooking some stuff up,” Blake explains. And wouldn’t you know it, New Balance is set for the first release of its brand new model, the 247. The shoe releases this weekend, January 7th.
Another good indicator sneakers might be getting weird? Kanye, designer of the very streamlined Yeezy Boosts and undeniable style influencer, was just spotted walking around in some beautifully strange sneakers that may or may not be his own. Also interesting: He recently added Steven Smith to his Yeezy design team. Smith is the designer behind the Reebok Instapump Fury pictured and mentioned above.
None of this is to say that sales at Nike and Adidas are suddenly going to crater in 2017. Those two will continue to be the giants of the industry while Under Armour plays a massive game of catch-up. But for those with discerning footwear tastes, branching out just became better and easier than ever.