At the Sneaker Summit, I spent more time with teenagers in one place since, well, my own teenage years.
The purpose of the Summit: Buying, selling, and trading shoes. Some people had booths. Many attendees walked the venue with sneaks hoisted or in tow, displayed for inquiries. Some folks set up shop on the concrete exhibit floor or on one of the white plastic tables near the commissary.
Now, I love kicks. (Frankly, it surprised me that, based on the Summit’s attendee demographic, few other adults do.) I went to the convention excited to see rare designs from a variety of manufacturers and creators, from the big brands to the small shops to artists plying their creativity on existing models. And I went ready to shop.
Instead, I saw a lot of Nike.
In fact, I saw almost only Nike. And most of it Air Jordan.
I have no affinity for the Air Jordan, other than admiration and astonishment that the model has stayed popular for so long. (Who knew? Do most kids these days even know anything about Michael Jordan? Or does the shoe stand completely abstract in their minds, no longer associated with the former superstar baller?) Personally I lean more toward Puma and Converse, with an occasional hat tip to Vans.
Though based on limited shoe-collecting knowledge, I assume the Summit’s nearly singular focus on the Air Jordan comes from the model’s ability to hold value. After all, shoe collectors and traders parallel any other collector-and-trader group: They invest in the best bets for maximal return on investment. Options with iffy long- or short-term value get ignored and then forgotten all too easily—especially in the shadow of huge market dominators.
What does this say about markets in general?
When you make a bet, you want the best odds. What you like doesn’t matter—the possible return trumps all. When it comes to making purchase for personal use, you go with what everyone else has. How could so many people go wrong?
After all, choosing the most positively viewed offering provides a cognitive shortcut—you don’t have to weigh all the options. Further, the unknown seems risky, whether for a consumer or an investor.
Surprising? Not really.
These facts prove the difficulty of breaking in. They show that artistry and creativity and innovation mean little when not linked to established brands. They illustrate that the best and brightest don’t necessarily rise to the top in favor of the most familiar, established, and simple. They say that we may not even know what we love or could love: After all, Solomon Asch’s conformity experiments at Swarthmore College indicate that what others think changes our answers even when faced with seemingly obvious solutions to problems.
And for those of us who say we favor forward thinking, creativity, and originality—we who profess to appreciate art and ideas for their intrinsic value—these facts remind us of the narrowness of our options and worldviews and how our global markets limit the magical creativity and varied perspectives possible in our world. These facts remind us that we need to consciously look past what the market shoves in our faces and seek what we love, damn the torpedoes. These facts remind us that we need to invest at least some of our energy, time, funds, and support in areas that stoke our passions and not just our instincts for conformity and growing our pocketbooks.
Not easy. But possible.
When did you last go for what you loved, despite the markets’ pull?