Sneakers at ComplexCon 2018.

At ComplexCon, sneaker vendors doubled down on heritage, storytelling for one or two new silhouettes and using influencers to relay brand messages.

“It’s less and less marketing from the brand and more people marketing for us,” said Allison Giorgio, the vice president of brand marketing at Puma North America. “We want others to direct our brand message.”

Puma RS-X

Puma RS-X 

Puma debuted the RS-X silhouette, which is a new version of its older Running System technology and its booth was inspired by the mall in the Nineties. The brand worked with the Shoe Surgeon, Mache, Alexander John and JBF to customize sneakers for attendees to purchase. Giorgio added that with a glut of information out there, it was important for Puma to release one silhouette this year at ComplexCon as opposed to storytelling around multiple styles, which it did last season.

Adidas had a big presence with its beacons that were situated throughout the show floor. To prevent lines and make the distribution process egalitarian, attendees could use the ComplexCon app and point their phones toward the beacons each hour to reveal a new shoe being released that was streamed on an augmented reality platform. If they wanted the shoe, they could purchase it within the app and then retrieve them from lockers on the second floor. Adidas dropped Pusha T’s EQT x Cushion 2, the PW Hu POD System, the newest N*E*R*D NMD Hu and the Adidas Dragon Ball Z collection.

Adidas ComplexCon 2018

Adidas Augmented Reality beacons at ComplexCon 2018. 

While nothing from Kanye West’s Yeezy line, which is rumored to have a slowdown in sales, was released, different styles were ubiquitous on the show floor. During the ComplexCon Sneaker of the Year panel, audience members booed when the Yeezy 500s showed up in the number-nine spot, which was the only Adidas sneaker on the Nike-dominated list.

“Politics aside, if you are talking about the product, it’s a beautiful product,” said Kith’s Ronnie Fieg.

Reebok also looked to its archives and released the Aztrek R58, which was exclusive to ComplexCon, and a follow-up to Allen Iverson’s Answer XIV called the Iverson Legacy that featured a new design and a collaboration with sneaker influencer Russ Bengtson. Fila dedicated day one to the Grant Hill 2 Hall of Fame basketball sneaker and day two honored marathon runner German Silva with an updated Silva trainer. Fila also introduced a collaboration with Footpatrol, a London sneaker boutique that designed three different limited-edition Silva Trainer sneakers.

Sneakersnstuff’s Erik Fagerlind said sneaker sales continue to grow and he’s not seeing a slowdown in Yeezy sales — the retailer still only fulfills 5 to 10 percent of the raffle sign-ups — but he is noticing demand start to plateau. He also noted the comeback of the Jordan as a key theme for 2018 and he attributed that to the brand focusing on storytelling around one sneaker at a time.



Zen, a new online sneaker store with a backend powered by Zappos, raffled off rare sneakers inspired by four different cities — Paris, New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo. Zen partnered with Complex on a multipart online series called “Sole Origins” that highlights sneaker influencers and collectors in different regions. Karim Wazani, the founder of the site, said he’s attempting to elevate the online sneaker shopping experience with immersive storytelling and he’s attempting to curb reselling. At ComplexCon, raffle winners had to wear the shoes they won out of the show in exchange for their own, which Zen would ship to them later.

“The sneaker business is growing, there’s just a split between online and brick-and-mortar,” said Wazani. “People said the bubble burst in the Nineties with Jordan retired, but nothing changed. I think vendors are doing a better job of telling stories and we want to bring that to our site.”

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