We’ve all experienced the pain of an indie favorite going mainstream. Whether it’s a band, a local restaurant, or a shoe, you were there “before it was cool.” And while you won’t admit it, for fear of being labeled a pretentious hipster, you selfishly wish your indie fave was still underground, despite its mainstream success. After all, hype revolves around exclusivity. Unique, limited pieces have kept brands like Supreme and Nike in business for years.
There’s a satisfaction in copping something so desirable, and exclusivity rockets a product’s value way higher than retail price. But in a world where trends come and go within months, or even weeks, it’s hard to keep a product so limited — and brands are happy to trade in exclusivity for profit, as demonstrated by Nike’s reselling scandal.
Although not quite as defamatory as the latter, upping a sneaker silhouette’s production is pretty standard for a company like Nike; it’s actually part of the brand’s marketing strategy. As seen with the Air Jordan 1 High, the sneaker will be seeded off to top names — Virgil Abloh, Travis Scott, and other artists — carefully and “naturally” putting the silhouette on the radar. After initial hype begins, exclusive collaborations make the model even more desirable, selling for hundreds (or thousands) on resale sites. By then, those outside the sneaker space have caught wind of the trending silhouette and Nike ramps up production to keep up with the demand it planned.
That’s the sneaker cycle in a nutshell.
Drunk on Dunks
Hype for Nike’s Dunk silhouette began building in 2019, and is arguably at its peak now, two years later. To keep up with demand, the brand has lined up hundreds of Dunk drops on its loathed SNKRS app, and even subjected the model to a limited lottery-based draw. Still, consumers are hungry for more, and Nike is willing to serve up Dunks until the market is satiated — or perhaps, overfed.
Since June of 2020, the brand has dropped 35 pairs of Dunks on SNKRS, 18 of which dropped in 2021. Already, Nike has slated more of the silhouette for spring and summer, with new designs seemingly launching on a weekly basis.
The Dunk was once a sneaker for the people.
On one hand, it’s nice to see Nike giving consumers what they want — but one could also see it as a billion-dollar corporation simply keeping up with supply and demand. And by cashing in on the Dunk silhouette, the Swoosh is actively killing the silhouette’s exclusivity and the hype that comes with it. Which do you think Nike cares more about, though — hype, or profits? Both?
It should also be noted that the Dunk was once a sneaker for the people, and really, still should be. In the early 2000s, arguably when some of the top Dunk models were released, the sneaker could be found at local footwear stores sitting on shelves untouched, unwanted. The silhouette always tended to be accessible to those eyeing it at the time, generally skaters or genuine fans of the Dunk, not hypebeasts who only know about it because of Travis Scott.
Now, even with Nike’s constant releases, it’s nearly impossible to buy a pair, unless you’re willing to cough up hundreds — or, again, thousands — for a shoe that typically runs around $100 to $120.
Regular Nike Dunks, like the simple black and white pair that dropped only a few weeks ago, can run for up to $500 on resale apps like GOAT and StockX. Nike SB Dunks, though, have always been notorious for their cool collaborations and colorful designs — making them all that more coveted. Last year’s SB Dunk Low “Grateful Dead Bears” sneaker is priced up to $13,000 on StockX, while Travis Scott’s collaborative SB Dunk, originally $150, is selling for up to $4,000 — $5,000 if you want the limited edition box, too. That’s a whopping 3,233 percent markup.
Hype culture, in general, has marked up plenty of previously accessible pieces.
Your best bet at scoring a Dunk is through Nike, but with draws and small stock, even trying to cop straight from the source can be a challenging feat. The brand started off the year by making the model more “available” to consumers, bringing it to its Nike By You customization platform. But even that turned out to be limited — and a total mess. After selling out in minutes, users flooded social media with complaints, citing error messages, disappearing pre-saved designs, and loading screens. Despite rumors suggesting 130,000 pairs of Dunks were set aside for the By You drop, it appeared as if only a select few actually got a sneaker, and some who did listed their designs for resale in a bid to cash in on the demand.
Nike isn’t necessarily concerned with doing good by its customers. With constant drops, the brand gives off the impression that it is catering to people who love its product — but the reality is that each sneaker drop, be it a Dunk or a Jordan, looks to be more limited than the one that came before. And with the perception that Nike puts out less and less product, the more money and hype it’s seemingly rewarded with.
Flunking the Dunk
People loved the Dunk because it was accessible, and they could buy whichever design they liked. But with Nike limiting the silhouette so much, buyers are now desperately trying to get their hands on any Dunk, appreciating surrounding hype more than the actual sneaker. And when the Swoosh eventually moves on to slaughter another silhouette for profit, clout-chasers might just trade in their Dunks for the newest, hottest sneaker, rather than admire the shoes for what they are.
Circling back to being the pretentious hipster, sneakers are really meant to be appreciated. No one’s going to hate on you for not wearing your kicks out in the rain, or trying to iron out creases — but if you’re buying shoes just for the hype, instead of an actual desire for the sneaker, you’re part of the problem. Nike and resellers alike limit the silhouette through small stock and insane costs because they know someone is willing to pay the price and make them a profit.
This goes deeper than the Dunk. Hype culture, in general, has marked up plenty of previously accessible pieces — Oreos, Crocs, and even Gap hoodies have fallen victim. And while it’s fun to partake in the constant cycle of drops, collabs, pop-ups, and shows, the problem with hype culture is that the more people tune in, the faster it deteriorates products, deeming once cool items “worthless” after running up the price.
So, what’s the solution? Is there even a solution? The market isn’t just oversaturated with products, but with people trying to buy the products. Demand won’t cease overnight, but we can try our best to make our voices heard: Consumers matter over money, and brands need to realize that before they start losing both in the process. That said, of course there will always be a hypebeast waiting next in line.