“Last year in this room, 90 percent of ya’ll were screaming Adidas,” said Wale, the animated rapper who participated in the ComplexCon’s controversial Sneaker of the Year Panel on Saturday. “People had Adidas tear drops on their face.”
Wale, whose real name is Olubowale Victor Akintimehin, highlighted what a difference a year makes, and in 2016 Adidas seemed to own the spotlight at the shopping festival. This year, Virgil Abloh’s take on the Air Jordan 1s as part of his The Ten project with Nike won the top spot — last year Kanye West’s Yeezy 350 V2s were a top contender — and out of the 10 sneakers discussed, only one style came from Adidas, which was the Yeezy Boost 700 Wave Runner that’s yet to be released.
In September, The NPD Group confirmed that Adidas beat out Jordan as the number-two sports footwear brand behind Nike in the United States. Despite that, the panelists, which included NBA player Lonzo Ball, DJ Clark Kent, singer J Balvin, Victor Cruz and others, all seemed to agree that the effort Nike put behind its collaborations, specifically The Ten project by Virgil Abloh, helped shift customers’ attitudes in its favor.
“I’ve never seen that much energy put behind a release,” Kent said about Abloh’s partnership, which won’t be out officially until Nov. 9, but was seeded to friends and family starting in September. In another panel on collaboration that took place on Sunday, Hiroshi Fujiwara of Fragment revealed he was slated to do a similar project with Nike, but it fell through.
“I was supposed to do 10, but he won the game, I lost it,” said Fujiwara. “But the things he made were beautiful.”
Nike dominated the ComplexCon show floor with a sizable booth that commemorated the 35th anniversary of the Air Force 1s. The space featured a center court speaking area, retail store and separate section where attendees could customize Air Force 1s. Other activations included Master Classes from brand partners including Abloh and Errolson Hugh, a surprise performance from Rich the Kid, and a talk between Kobe Bryant and Kendrick Lamar.
Adidas, a few aisles away, had its own mega buildout with an area dedicated to a collaboration with N.E.R.D., special-edition styles of the EQT and NMD sneakers (both of which sold out), its Bodega-themed product with Pusha T, and shoe archives, among other elements.
“I think in terms of shifting markets, it’s a very interesting new, fresh moment for us where our consumer is here and they celebrate and we celebrate this event and want to be here and have a conversation,” said Torben Schumacher, general manager of Adidas Originals. “Of course there’s product, but there’s our brand collaborations talking about who they are and their relationship to our brand, so it’s more than just products.”
Puma took a similar approach by celebrating the 50th anniversary of the The Suede and allowing customers to meet with ambassadors such as Emory Jones of Roc Nation and influencer Yes Julz to get advice about their music or sneaker designs. According to Allison Giorgio, vice president of marketing for Puma North America, the goal was to not only sell sneakers, but make people a part of the brand.
“We’re in a new era where sneakers are beyond trainers to walk in,” Abloh told a group of attendees assembled at Nike’s booth. “They also mean huge cultural value.”