Sneaker marketing expert Philip Boyle takes a look at the latest innovations from Adidas and Nike, and looks at how changing technology has revolutionised a global, multi-billion dollar industry.
Philip Boyle is a Technologist, SportsTech Ireland Mentor and Sneaker Collector.
In a world where a single Instagram picture can start or kill a fashion trend, the hype cycle of what’s hot and what’s not has never been so volatile. For sneaker companies, whose products can take as long as 2 years to go from concept art to arriving on stores’ shelves, this ever shortening time in the spotlight for new products represents a significant risk to the success of their R&D investments.
Given the value of what’s at stake – the Nike groups’ sales alone for 2017 were reported as being worth $34.4 billion by the Financial Times – it’s no wonder that the companies involved are keen to tackle this problem head-on, and some of the solutions they have come up with wouldn’t sound out of place in an episode of Star Trek.
Adidas Speed Factory
In order to be able to react to trends more quickly, manufacturers realised they needed to shorten that long product lead time, and that meant they needed to completely rethink their existing supply chain model.
Using new techniques including heat bonding as opposed to glueing, and robot controlled laser cutting of their sneaker designs, Adidas have attempted to solve the problem at their Speed Factory in Germany. This facility will allow their designers to go from sketch to prototype to manufacture in a much shorter time, giving them a chance to produce small runs of high-end sneakers perfectly tailored to specific niches.
The innovation doesn’t come cheap though, with a pair of their recently launched Speed Factory AM4LDN, designed for users in London, costing €220 compared to the usual price tag of €180 for their comparable Ultra Boost sneaker. The target consumer for the product though is most likely tuned into the latest trends and willing to pay a premium for the latest release.
Nike SNEAKRS App
While Nike has also quietly been making their own investments in automation via companies with suitably apt names including Flex and Grabbit, they are also experimenting with how to influence the hype cycle using direct marketing to registered users of their mobile app SNEAKRS (or SNKRS if you’re in the US).
Their incredibly sought after release in collaboration with the Off-White brand in late 2017 included an activation where app users had to track down a branded truck parked somewhere in Berlin. When they logged into the app and their GPS coordinates matched the location of the truck they were given the chance to purchase the extremely limited shoes.
With no warning that the activation was due to happen, Nike managed to make headlines around the world with the surprise drop, further fueling the hype cycle for the upcoming release.
Parley For The Oceans
We are all hopefully aware of the growing problem of plastic waste ending up in our oceans, and the potential ecological disaster it represents. One of the reasons that sneaker fans around the world have heard so much about this problem is thanks to a group called Parley, a group of innovators who have been working away for years now with different partners to highlight the issue.
With Adidas, they teamed up to provide a yarn made out of reclaimed ocean plastic that was then used in the fabrication of a limited edition sneaker. As a proof of concept, their first release was restricted to just 50 handmade pairs, featuring a white upper made of the recycled plastic which was then accented with a vibrant blue thread taken from recycled fishing nets.
The collaboration was a massive PR hit, and spawned a series of sneakers from the two companies that continues to this day, and is still one of Adidas’s most talked about annual releases.
Carbon Digital Light Synthesis
By far the most Star Trek-like innovation comes from a Silicon Valley 3D printing company called Carbon, that has teamed up with Adidas to make a midsole for sneakers that looks out of this world.
The intricate lattice structures that make up the sole of the $300 Adidas Futurecraft 4D sneaker have entirely different patterns in the front, middle and rear of the sole to allow different performance driven responses for each part of the foot during a run.
Not only that, for future releases there is the possibility of taking a scan of each individual customer’s feet and tailoring the shape of their soles to their exact fit. Combine the speed of automated upper manufacturing with the 3D printed midsole and suddenly you could be buying your own uniquely designed and perfectly tailored sneaker from a “factory” on your local high street.
The age of hyper-personalised locally manufactured sneakers may not be that far off, but for now, it will remain a niche aimed at purchasers willing to pay a premium for exclusivity and the kudos of being an early adopter.
But think about this: what will the hype cycle look like in a decade when consumers themselves have access to the tools to be their own sneaker designers, and the manufacturers simply provide the production systems? The brands are going to have to be careful not to innovate themselves out of existence.
Philip Boyle is a sneaker marketing expert who runs a regular meetup in Dublin for sneaker aficionados called Coffee and Kicks. Follow the trends over Instagram, or peruse his personal collection on his website https://ghostboy.ie. Philip is just one of our fantastic SportsTech Ireland Startup Mentors, where he advises on marketing and SEO.