Industry Confessions: A recurring, open-letter series where insiders spill their guts, divulging the real but often unspoken side of a career in fashion, told from an industry perspective.
Today we hear from an anonymous, veteran sneakerhead with decades of experience in the industry.
It goes without saying, Boost has helped adidas reach a new audience. While it’s more or less common knowledge at this point, we should start with the fact that the proprietary material for Boost was not invented by adidas. German chemical company BASF (Badische Anilin & Soda-Fabrik) first created expanded thermoplastic polyurethane, which they named Infinergy and licensed to adidas as Boost. For permission to use the technology, adidas pays or paid a share to BASF, and is dependent on them.
When the product first hit the market, Boost shoes didn’t actually sell well, mostly because they were intended for performance. However, customers from the lifestyle category took notice and bought these comfortable shoes. Today you see Boost built into countless silhouettes and the streets are dominated by Boost products. It sounds crazy, but some younger customers don’t even know that the shoes are made by adidas. For some, they’re just Boost shoes.
Like any wildly successful product, the market is becoming saturated quickly, and we see more and more adidas Boost products on sale. The smart move with a hot seller is to conserve it, instead of flooding the market and losing control of supply. When the latter route is taken, you make a lot of money in the short term. In the long term, you not only kill silhouettes, but you risk irreparably damaging your brand. When the Boost hype is over, adidas will need a great substitute or invention to fill the gap.
It’s common practice for sneaker companies to revisit past silhouettes with modern technologies. That’s why we’ve even seen Boost versions of the Stan Smith and Superstar, but a classic is a classic for a reason. adidas doesn’t need to redo the Stan Smith. White leather and a green heel tab: these are the ingredients that contributed to the success of the Stan Smith. If you change it too much, you risk killing the silhouette. This approach rarely works and previous hybrids were mostly flops. If you want to remind customers of your brand DNA, generate a new silhouette inspired by your former products. Don’t just switch parts like Frankenstein.
The other issue is overseas manufacturing, which is a big problem for many companies today. Decades ago, companies closed their local factories and killed their local manufacturing structures due to upper management decisions. Yes, it’s cheaper to produce overseas, but only if certain circumstances are in place, like a strong U.S. Dollar, lower foreign wages, and absence of trade barriers.
Strategically it’s important to react fast on trends, to shorten production lead times, and care about ecological aspects like sustainability. In short, outsourcing production and technology is risky, but to their credit, adidas has been working on concepts for regional manufacturing. The future is regional.
Lastly—and it may seem obvious if you think about it—but footwear designs with soft and comfortable cushioning aren’t actually good for your feet in the long run. Naturally, humans are made for walking barefoot. Ultra-soft cushioning like Boost may degenerate your foot’s natural cushioning system, negatively influence your natural gait cycle and eventually result in over-pronation.
The biggest problem here is that adidas’ latest “innovation” is something they didn’t invent, nor do they own. We’re already seeing other shoe companies use similar technologies for their soles, and it’s only a matter of time before Boost becomes more superfluous than it already is. And when that happens, it’s unclear if adidas has another big idea cooking in the chamber, or has another licensing deal at the ready.
Keep in mind, the last big tech push for them was Primeknit, which experienced troubles at launch due to its similarities with Nike’s Flyknit technology. It calls attention to the elephant in the room—adidas didn’t bring anything new to the table with Boost, it just beat its competitors in bringing a new technology to market.
If adidas wants to continue its rise to the top, it’s going to have to come up with a proprietary invention they can fully control. When the Boost wave inevitably fades, what will be the next foundation the Three Stripes can stand on?
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- Main & Featured Image:adidas