Although rumors have been hovering for some time that the sneaker is dying, Ubaldo Malvestiti and Marco Macellari, two of the four founders of Search N Design, believe it will never disappear from storefronts.
While there are attempts to move the market toward alternatives, these alternatives have a long and difficult road ahead of them to make their way into the market.
By now, the sneaker is so ingrained in consumer culture that it will never leave the horizon of their purchases. If in the 1970s this type of shoe represented the flag of a subculture, today it is part of everyone’s experience
So, are those who give sneakers a death sentence getting the wrong end of the stick?
“The sneaker will not disappear. It will follow a path similar to that of denim, which exploded as a costume phenomenon and then settled and stabilized on market shares that were nonetheless important.
The current situation, which registers a decline in sneaker purchases, is not actually proposing any credible alternative to this style. One would think that the decline seen is due to a general market downturn. A slowdown that has hit sneakers in particular for the simple fact that statistically they are the ones that register the largest numbers.
The other product categories, such as formal, have figures that are already so low that the impact of the consumer crisis is less noticeable”.
Who has been most affected by the decline in sneaker orders?
“The most visible decline is at the top end of the sneaker market. The mid-range, that of products around 150 euros, has not seen any particular decline. On the contrary, it has seen the entry into the field of many new competitors that have gone to fill the spaces left empty by the most prestigious players that direct their commercial strategy toward their own online and physical channels”.
What would you focus on to try to weaken sneaker dominance?
“We are working on a new brand that proposes a hybrid shoe model that can act as a bridge between the world of sneakers and formal wear. It is designed for those who want to land formal while still retaining the eye-catching sides of a sneaker.
We are also working on another brand that, instead, envisions a post-sneaker world in which formal will take over again. Based on our current experience, we can report how much the world of the classic and traditional shoe is still relegated to the bottom ranks of consumer preference.
We believe that the hybrid may carve out an interesting space in consumers’ purchasing decisions, but it will almost certainly not be the main trend in vogue. It can only aspire to carve out a small but interesting space.
We believe what has already happened in hybrid clothing may happen, which has been able to convince with products that look formal but have content and technical, aesthetic and comfort details worthy of the sports world”.
Why do you not believe the hybrid product capable of breaking through?
“The difficulty that this type of product encounters in the market today is due to the unwillingness of distribution, of those who have to sell it, to explain it. We could put it this way: there is a desire for change, but the courage to change is lacking. Also because, as Munari said, ‘the public likes to recognize more than to dicover“.
What characteristics must a hybrid product have?
“It must marry the traditional aesthetics of the formal with the ease of wearing a sneaker. The last must echo a formal tone, though without excess, but the foot experience must retain the connotations of comfort and functionality”.
What do you think of the various experiments to bring the ‘luxury’ sneaker to success?
“On some occasions, outside the high-end brands that can afford to ‘dare’, there have been several attempts to make sneakers ‘rich’ by choosing fine materials. Attempts failed because of price issues. If on the formal the contribution of quality materials is understood and accepted, on the sneaker the need for added value is not perceived.
The consumer, after all, has been accustomed to fast use of a certain type of product, such as sneakers, and certainly does not look for elements of extraordinary quality, durability and reliability in the casual/sports segment. For this reason, even the brands today propose a luxury in the sneaker world that is certainly not comparable to the idea of luxury in the past”.
Materials and production processes. What has impressed you recently?
“Dyneema. A synthetic fiber particularly suitable for the production of very strong traction cables, used for sports applications such as kitesurfing, flying giant kites, paragliding, mountaineering, archery, both sport and professional fishing, and the production of bulletproof vests. A high-performance material, very thin, very strong, but very light. To date it has been used in a trail running shoe from a Canadian brand, which manufactures in China, to make high-performance uppers.
Another interesting material is graphene used and incorporated in some sole compounds – a very lightweight material that should allow for excellent grip and longer bottom durability.
In terms of process innovations, I would mention a patent-pending technology that we are developing. It allows for injection onto uppers that do not look like injected uppers and have a cushion inside that greatly increases comfort.
Also related to this topic is the huge success that the new high rebound foams are having. Much research on this component is being conducted in Asia. The new foams go far beyond the limits of EVA while retaining its unique characteristics and keeping the price in line with current costs”.
At the design level, what trends should we expect?
“It will continue the one that is most influential at the moment: going to investigate and revitalize archives. Almost everyone is looking to the past to recover the style and balance that reached its peak in the early 1990s. The canons of those years suggest a return to a technicality of footwear that harmonizes well with an aesthetically beautiful design that is not necessarily exaggerated or that focuses only on the astonishing effect. Pursuing excess in an exaggerated way makes it difficult to recreate what we might call a beauty destined to remain in time”.
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