In the age of the reseller, retail sneaker restocks may be as important as ever in 2022 and beyond. (Maja Hitij/Getty Images)
SNEAKERS & FASHION

Creatives, Collabs, & Cobblers: 5 Expert Footwear Forecasts for 2022

A new year is upon us.

Following a 2021 that was comically referred to as ‘the deluxe edition of 2020,’ a fresh set of 365 days provides a clean slate for all and a revised rubric for each industry.

When it comes to footwear, the lessons learned the last two years will shape the selection of sneakers that hit stores in 2022. However, just which trends will define the year ahead?

To find the answers, we spoke to a selection of experts in the industry to outline the narratives, issues, and storylines to watch for in 2022.

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1. Year of the Restock

In many ways, 2021 was defined by the ongoing struggles that began in 2020.

COVID has continued to vex companies looking to produce pairs internationally and distribute them domestically. Even a giant like Nike has been subject to losing 130 million units of product in 2021, with many manufacturing and shipping issues set to afflict allotment even in 2022.

“We were probably headed toward releases being on time by Summer ’22, but Omnicron could mess everything up next year,” SoleSavy CEO and co-founder Dejan Pralica said. “The first six months of the year are guaranteed to be like the last year: Everything is late, delayed, inventory is missing, and resale is too high.”

Because of this, retailers remain on tilt as to precisely when release-dated products will actually arrive.

Just the same, brands will be in limbo in regards to product getting manufactured in the first place.

“China put a city of 13 million people in COVID lockdown over 127 cases,” Pralica said. “That region is very hypersensitive to potential outbreaks and Nike produces generally in South Asia. They are going to be a lot more cautious than North America, in my opinion, and that could really have an impact on Nike. In their earnings report they said they were short 130 million units this last fiscal year and I don’t expect it to get any better.”

A shortage of production plays tough for all links in the supply chain. The initial issue is models being made, with the next issue being when wholesale pairs are delivered.

However, this uncertainty does provide sneakerheads with a staggered chase surrounding sought-after product.

“Restocks are going to be frequent,” Pralica said. “We just saw Shoe Palace restock 400 pairs of ‘Lightning’ Air Jordan 4s three and a half months after the release date. That’s not stuff you find in the back of a warehouse, that’s fresh off the boat and just delivered.”

Historically, January is slow as molasses where retail is concerned, coming on the heels of holiday shopping and depleted bank accounts.

The early weeks of 2022 may prove much different for kick collectors who missed out on the crown jewel of Holiday ’21 in relation to retro release Air Jordans.

“When I look at stock levels and releases, I point to the ‘Cool Grey’ 11s,” Pralica said. “A lot of stores did not get their whole allocations. I say to SoleSavy members that I wouldn’t pay resale for anything right now mostly because I believe all the prices are inflated without proper inventory out. Cool Grey 11s will probably release into [the] All-Star break. It’s going to drag out another 60 days from when they dropped at least.”

In 2022, a rise in restocks will extend an element of uncertainty for both brands and retailers.

Conversely, it provides the opportunity for pairs to be parceled out to consumers not just on launch date but over the course of many months. This has the power to reignite interest in frequenting local sneaker shops and adding energy to big box and big brand online sales.

Perhaps more importantly, it could change consumer psychology in regard to the urgency associated with paying a premium immediately on the aftermarket.

2. Entering the Metaverse

While physical pairs of shoes are subject to shipping delays and production issues, the virtual variety operates on an entirely different supply chain.

“Creating products? You need manufacturers and materials,” said Franchesco Marchello, creator of SneakerPunkz NFT. “With NFTs, all of that is out that window. It’s you, what you want to produce, and the time you put into it. All you need is a phone or a laptop, and if you have both that’s great. It’s all in your hands and it can be done solo.”

For decades, Marchello, who is commonly known as Franalations, chased physical product ranging from limited launch Nike SB Dunks to designer drops from Raf Simons.

While Marchello was a pioneer in the sneaker space to new media such as YouTube, he was initially hesitant to take his talents to the metaverse.

“RTFKT reached out to me two years about doing a collab NFT,” Marchello said. “The idea was an AR filter for $3,000 and to be honest I kind of ignored it because it seemed like a scam to me. I didn’t understand the concept two years ago. Fast forward to the beginning of this year and I very much got into NFTs and the first thing I went back to was RTFKT.”

In 2021, Nike acquired RTFKT which stood as the ultimate stamp for sneakers in the world of Web3.

In 2022, the energy surrounding this acquisition and this space should only surge.

“To put out an NFT that has the physical and AR component? They really have the whole package there,” Marchello said of RTFKT. “The acquisition makes total sense. Nike needs those guys. I get calls all the time from brands and people just don’t get it. The idea of digital ownership is a leap most people can’t make, but I think we’re going to see more of it in sneakers and fashion.”

While Nike made a major splash in Web3 by bringing RTFKT under its umbrella, it was not the only brand to dive into the metaverse.

Famously, Adidas announced a partnership with Bored Ape Yacht Club. Their NFT launch not only made noise online, it made major money for The Three Stripes as a whole.

“Adidas x Bored Ape sold out and made up for .05% of their quarterly sales,” Marchello said. “That one release made a magnitude of difference. We’re going to see a lot more releases a lot more frequently. The potential is there for it to be a top pillar of their sales.”

To those like Marchello, who are well indoctrinated in the world of sneaker hype and all in on the metaverse, Adidas and others may be hitting a home run by getting in early on the Bored Ape boat.

“It’s basically Web3’s Supreme and it’s just starting out,” Marchello says of Bored Ape. “With owning the Bored Apes you have the licensing rights so I’m going to release a sneaker based on my ape. It will be released as an NFT first and then people will be able to claim the sneaker once they hold the NFT. That should be coming first or second quarter of 2022.”

This past week, Marchello previewed and seeded that coveted collaboration: a Bored Ape-branded basketball shoe crafted by independent designer Kool Kiy.

Not only will the metaverse make new lanes for the big brands that have long ran footwear, it will create new opportunities for the individual collectors and creators set to rise even higher in 2022.

3. The Rise of the Independents

Because of the internet, the ability to build a personal brand has never been easier to expedite.

From college athletes to DIY designers, individuals have the ability to cash in on their image and imagination in a multitude of manners.

This proves particularly true in the world of footwear.

“People are getting more interested in new brands and new styles,” Pralica said. “From bespoke shoes to your Jordan 1 knockoffs, people want to feel unique. I could definitely see more boutique-type projects with 600 pair runs from creators that sell out. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for the independent creator to make a wave in 2022.”

For years, creatives like Marchello and Kiy have carved out a lane by making their own content and product in manners reliant on big brands by unboxing coveted releases or customizing product already released at retail.

Headed into 2022, more individuals will continue to expand their reach by not just working with brands but being the brand themsevles.

Mache is a great example,” said Pralica of the famed footwear painter who now produces his own bespoke signature model. “He’s got a nice brand and he sells them out. I believe brands like SoleSavy can release a sneaker if the story is right and the product is good. I’m looking forward to seeing people stepping out and diversifying their collection.”

Though still subject to heavy costs and trial and error, the roadmap for making one’s own footwear brand from scratch has never been more maintainable.

Even so, big brands offering their own online customization programs may be decades old at this point, but could prove even more popular headed into 2022.

“It’s easier to create something for myself that nobody is going to have,” said Tyjaun Mathis, founder of All Things Regular and a longtime sneaker buyer in the boutique space.

For years, Mathis has made his own 1-of-1 pairs of sneakers by using platforms like NikeiD, now branded as Nike By You.

In 2021, Nike By You started to catch on in new ways as the hysteria surrounding limited launches pushed many to make their own as a way to stand out and avoid lines.

“It’s fun for me,” Mathis said. “It’s being able to make something that nobody else is being able to give to me. I got a gift card from New Balance and from there I never stopped. DJ Clark Kent had made me a pair and then I made a pair for myself. It’s been 15 years now and the #NikeByYou hashtag is always active.”

Whether using brand-based platforms or supporting independent artists like Kool Kiy or Mache, sneaker culture has always been rooted in individuality and it’s easier than ever to create or consume shoes that speak to that sentiment.

“I’d rather invest $500 in a bespoke project than pay resale for something,” Pralica said.

While this notion rings true for longtime lovers of footwear such as Marchello, Pralica and Mathis, there’s still reason to believe that hyped up retail releases from big brands will move the needle in 2022.

The question remains: Who will design them?

4. Collaborators & Categories

In recent years, sneaker collaborations have been the toast of the footwear world, despite leaving plenty of consumers feeling burnt.

The scarcity model associated with collaborative products and the heightened storytelling surrounding them have built a race to purchase. In turn, this leads to a beyond retail perceived value for such shoes that makes many launches impossibly unattainable and eventually exorbitantly expensive.

There is no denying that Nike, Inc has been at the forefront of this fever.

By working with high-level fashion houses and popular performing artists, the Swoosh umbrella has turned the SNKRS App into a luxury lottery for anyone looking to gain quick clout or cash.

However, with the passing of noted collaborator Virgil Abloh and the pause on releasing product tied to Travis Scott in the wake of the Astroworld tragedy, one has to wonder just which third-party peer will rise in the ranks of the top collaborators in 2022.

“That’s a tough one,” said Drew Hammell, the scribe behind @NikeStories and an author for Eastbay. “You see how desperate brands are to collaborate from the outside looking in, they are so hungry to find the next Virgil. They seem to care a lot about hype and connecting with the kid in the next generation.”

Just as Michael Jordan and Penny Hardaway made sneakers a status symbol in the 1990s, creatives possess that juice for 2022.

However, just which creative and which brand moves the needle in 2022 remains a mystery.

“A Ma Maniere and James Whitner are killing it,” Pralica said. “But who will get knighted next? I’m super curious. Who’s next I think is the biggest question.”

Apart from highly regarded Swoosh stamped sneakers, designers such as Salehe Bembury and Joe Fresh Goods impressed in 2021 via collaborations with the likes of New Balance, Converse, and Crocs.

After Abloh’s unexpected death, one has to wonder if those two will take the torch in the space of style the same way Jay Z ascended in memory of his mentor The Notorious BIG’s passing.

“There’s probably going to be more Salehe stuff coming,” Mathis said. “He probably has plenty of things coming that we don’t even know about. Joe Fresh Goods has good New Balance stuff coming out.”

The energy both Bemburry and JFG created with New Balance in 2021 was enough to catch mention in meetings at Nike last year when execs were discussing their polarizing SNKRS App.

While Abloh and Scott spearheaded some of the most sought-after work from Nike in recent years, a potential void could open for an on-the-rise artist to truly takeover.

“No one was really giving Joe anything and now he’s got two of the hottest shoes in back-to-back years,” Pralica said.

Salehe and JFG aside, Hammell sees labels like AMBUSH and Comme des Garcons continuing to put out product with Nike that will create chase and turn heads. He’s also hopeful that Off-White collaborations will continue to release.

Where Nike, Inc is concerned, one could imagine Billie Eilish’s ascent in the world of sneakers and streetwear hitting another level in 2022. It’s also possible previous umbrella talent such as Tyler the Creator, Don C or G-DRAGON will make more noise.

Additionally, Pyer Moss’s Kerby Jean-Raymond ‘s appointment at Reebok as Vice President of Creative Direction also excites.

“I would love to see some new energy come up,” Mathis said. “A lot of the brands have been using the same people and I’d love to see some new faces get a chance to create new stuff.”

While creation of new product typically begins 18 months ahead of its actual release, what dictates which models are being collaborated on tends to rely on trends tied to calendar anniversary years and categories of interest for big brands.

For 2022, Mathis sees the chunky sneaker trend dying down with retro basketball continuing to boom. Pralica notes Nike taking cues from the secondary market on which retro runners to return, citing the Air Max 97 coming back again as it turns 25.

Also important: Nike is set to celebrate 40 years of the Air Force 1 and 50 years of the company itself.

5. The Return of the Cobbler?

While Nike and other power players are well known for reissuing models from their rich past, a recent movement toward more environmentally friendly product proves the chance for old shoes to live new lives in the most medieval of manners.

“Something interesting to me is repurposing shoes,” Hammell said. “Resoling them and the whole sustainability realm I’m fascinated by. 200 years ago, that’s what people did. They mended the shoes they had and that’s kind of a lost art now.”

The idea of resoling and revising old shoes has caught traction among the creator community online, making for some of the most head-turning hybrids around.

It’s also inspired big brands to do more with what was once considered trash as a way to protect the planet and play into trends.

“Sustainability is huge on Nike’s radar and it’s huge on every footwear and apparel company’s radar,” Hammell said. “I work in the retail industry and every town hall call I’m on discusses sustainability and I know Nike is talking about that a lot, too. That’s going to be a huge trend and a category worth looking into.”

Fittingly, all these principles are epitomized in a leaked look at the AMBUSH x Nike Air Adjust Force: a retro basketball relic brought back to life by AMBUSH founder Yoon, with the help of recycled materials in the sole.

If all goes as planned, this pair will release in 2022 to solid fanfare if the story is told right.

If shipping delays and production issues prevent it, count on the individuals who have long bought Nike sneakers to make their own exclusives.

Whether that happens by way of DIY cobblers or online NFTs, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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