Are Sneaker Brands Abandoning The Sneaker?


Over the last week, I’ve noticed more and more sneaker brands exploring new territories in their respective footwear field. From sneaker loafers to Chelsea sneakers boots, I couldn’t help but wonder if sneaker brands are going through an identity crisis.

During Paris Men’s Fashion Week earlier this year, New Balance unveiled a collaboration with Japanese designer Junya Watanabe. While the side of the shoes displayed “1906L,” which is derived from a popular sneaker style of the brand, the shoes worn by the model were not the typical classic New Balance running sneakers. Instead, they were black leather penny loafers with a sneaker sole attached, creating a unique hybrid style.  

With this reveal of the loafer-sneaker, fashion enthusiasts on Twitter were set ablaze with opinions. Some expressed covetousness, while others showed absolute disdain. Particularly, the black iteration garnered attention from those embracing sartorial innovation. After the Fall/Winter 2024 show, Junya Watanabe and New Balance introduced more colorways, cementing the shoe’s status as a seasonal trend. Alongside the original black leather version, they introduced a white leather variant and a mesh iteration reminiscent of the classic “1906” New Balance sneaker design. Not stopping there, they offered a lively green and understated gray option to cater to a variety of tastes. 

Are Sneaker Brands Abandoning The Sneaker?
Essence/Asics/Takahiro Miyashita

Twitter once again became the arena for buzzing discussions as the latest New Balance penny loafers debuted in fresh hues. With loafers solidifying their place in contemporary wardrobes, this collaboration resonates with the creative curiosity of the true fashion lover. Another bizarre sneaker style that’s re-emerged is with Asics except the shoe in question is a Chelsea boot. The sneaker boots are in collaboration with Japanese designer Takahiro Miyashita. While they originally debuted in 2022, they were released through Asics again only to sell out quickly. The black leather sneaker boot featured the same soles as an Asics Gel-Quantum sneaker, a subtle nod to its derivative. 

Are Sneaker Brands Abandoning The Sneaker?
Calm Nike mules. Photo Credit: Kerane Marcelus/Nike

Nike, a leading brand in the sneaker realm, made waves in 2023 with its “Calm” mules–a departure from its classic silhouette, echoing the comfort of Crocs with a refined upper and subtle branding. Similarly, Martine Rose’s collaboration with Nike in the same year saw the Lower East Side of New York ablaze with sunset-toned sneaker mules, quickly becoming a summer staple (I even got a pair). While doing more research into these sneakers with a twist, I stumbled upon Onitsuka Tiger’s “Mexico 66 Sabot” mules, drawing inspiration from the original “Mexico 66” silhouette popularized by Kill Bill. This departure from the norm sneaker silhouette underscores a shifting tide in footwear preferences.  

Are Sneaker Brands Abandoning The Sneaker?

These unconventional collaborations and drops beg the question: what’s next? In this era of fashion, designers and brands are embracing risk-taking and innovation, transcending conventional boundaries. While the motives behind these shifts remain enigmatic, one can’t deny the desire for novelty. Imagine the turned heads a pair of New Balance loafers would incite. Fashion’s main priority was never to fit into a box. While it may be an exclusive industry, its purpose is to sell fantasy and the way it does such through the sneaker game is not to sell sneakers—how cheeky. Gimmicks in fashion tend to lean toward the cringe side, in my humble opinion, however, I wouldn’t call these new endeavors cringy. Honestly, I find each pair mentioned worth of donning.

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