Designer shoes, designer price

March 2, 2006, midnight | By Robert Feasley | 14 years, 10 months ago

Blazers' budgets stretched thin by designer athletic shoes

When junior Danny Min goes to Wheaton Mall, he has only one thing on his mind: new shoes. But Min doesn't want just any new pair of Jordans or Nikes. Min, a self-declared collector of shoes, is searching for the ever—elusive "First Game Lebron James Zoom Air Generations." With a tip-off from a friend that two pairs may arrive soon at Foot Locker, Min is within striking distance of a pair of dream shoes.

Approaching the counter, Min nonchalantly asks the cashier whether the Zoom Airs had arrived. Suppressing a laugh, the cashier tells him that the shoes had been sold out within five minutes of the store's opening. Disappointed but not defeated, Min retreats back home to the sanctuary of his home, where, displayed in a customized case, rest his collector's edition Nike SB Pusheads.

Min drove two and a half hours round trip to Hagerstown to purchase these $210 shoes but has never worn them outside of the confines of his room for fear of dirtying them and forsaking their collector's value.

Min's fixation with high-end athletic footwear is not all that unusual. According to an article published Dec. 20, 2005 on, entitled "Nike sprints to bigger profits in 2Q," Nike, the world's largest athletic shoe company, reported a 15 percent increase in profits for the second fiscal quarter of 2005, an unprecedented 15-fold improvement on prior predictions. For a company that receives 71 percent of its revenue from customers ranging in age from 12 to 25, a spike of this magnitude can only signify one thing about the teen populace: luxury athletic shoes rule.

Lookin' fresh

As every social movement has its Gandhi, this current wave of consumerism radiates from its own pop icons.

Athletic stars like Michael Jordan have transitioned themselves from athletic superstars to cultural icons. This evolution carries with it a huge cache. Michael Jordan's legendary basketball career has transformed him into a one—man—marketing conglomerate. The cornerstone of the Michael Jordan brand, however, remains his footwear. Quality shoes aren't the only things in an "Air Jordan" shoebox; buyers will dish out hundreds of dollars for the attitude, status and vintage street credibility that contribute to the shoes' prohibitive price tags.

For freshman Jennifer Williams, an owner of seven pairs of Jordans, it's all about the style. A fan of the more uncommon colors, she likes to stand out. "I strive to get the shoes nobody has," she says. On this day, she sports blue and white Jordan 12s, worn to complement her matching t-shirt and pants. Taking full advantage of the almost infinite color combinations in the Jordan pallet, Williams is able to tailor her footwear to her moods.

Budget busters

The uninitiated voyager into the land of Jordan 12s and their ilk must be forewarned: this is an expensive proposition.

"Collecting shoes isn't hard work, but it just drains your wallet," says Williams.

Many students have significant amounts of disposable income, due to the largesse of their parents or their part-time jobs. Many, like junior Tracy Anne Grannell, who earns $7,000 a year working as a photo technician at CVS, spend the lion's share of it on shoes.

Grannell claims to own nearly 70 pairs of athletic shoes. This is largely due to her spending patterns. After receiving her weekly paycheck, she goes to the mall to buy a new pair of shoes. "By the end of the year, I don't have much in the bank, but I do have a lot of nice shoes," she says. Grannell estimates that in 2005 alone, she spent close to $3,500 on athletic footwear.

In many ways, Grannell is a typical teenager. According to recently retired Business editor for Time Magazine, Charles Alexander, "It's about prestige. Teenagers view shoes not as an item to protect their feet, but something to enhance their image, and because of that, there's no limit to what they'll spend." In a phone interview, he emphasized the important role that corporation's advertising dollars play in this scenario.

Old school

The phenomenon of shoe infatuation is not a new one.

History teacher Lansing Freeman used to play competitive soccer in his younger years for teams sponsored by these big name corporations. Freeman soon became accustomed to the look and feel of cutting-edge footwear and felt reluctant to leave this aspect of his athletic career.

Despite the budgetary confines of his teacher's salary, Freeman still purchases shoes such as the original Air Jordan Jumpman Team Masterpieces, which sell for $175. "Although I no longer get free stuff, I try to continue my shoe interest in a more limited scale in terms of number and price," he says. Living only blocks away from a local shoe store, he peruses the aisles weekly, constantly on the lookout for a pair of fresh new kicks.

The style conundrum

As for Min, by the time he works up the nerve to actually wear his Pusheads outside of his room, it may already be too late — a shoe more elusive, more desirable and maybe even more expensive will have come along. To delay this, Min plans on visiting Wheaton Mall again several times this week to see if the new, collector's edition Lebrons have come in yet.

Robert Feasley. Robert is a llamahead. More »

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