Biologists and politicians agree: inclusion makes us stronger. However, not every combination of diverse parts is necessarily a good thing.
Case in point: the sneakerboot.
These dysmorphic hybrids represent both opportunity and desperation for those who pursue them. On the surface, sneakerboots let brands capture additional sales from existing shoe molds when snow and slush make breathable low-tops less than desired. In reality, the only extremities most pairs warm is the clearance rack.
Yet, despite years of straight-to-sale bricks, the allure of a textbook value-add keeps established brands churning out more and more new models when the temperature dips – with, it would appear, no end in sight. However, within the depths of this supermassive brick hole lies a silver lining: every winter this cycle repeats, we’re reminded that sneakerboots shouldn’t be a thing.
That’s not to suggest that these evolutionary mishaps just pulled themselves from the ooze.
Originally, sneaker companies making boots was simple business growth: Nike made shoes, boots were shoes, ergo, Nike could make boots. Starting in the early 1980s, the Swoosh did just that. The first shoe in the “Nike Hiking” line was the Lava Dome, a low-top Duramesh trek shoe that bore passing resemblance to the track shoes of the day. Not long after came the Approach, a lightweight GORE-TEX hiker that mountaineer Rick Ridgeway famously wore to Everest Base Camp. adidas hikers (including Reinhold Messner’s famous Super Trekking boots, which he used for the first oxygen-free ascent of Mount Everset) also appeared around this time. Somewhere between the Nike Hiking line and that first winterized Roshe Run, however, everything got jumbled up.
In 1989, Nike launched “Nike ACG,” a line of “All Conditions Gear” designed for outdoors performance which has since been re-booted with the help of ACRONYM’s Errolson Hugh. Early ACG sneakers retained their boot DNA, but by 1991, the line between light hiker and restyled sneaker was blurring – aesthetically, at least. That year’s Tinker-designed Air Mowabb was a half-boot, half-Huarache “outdoor cross trainer” that looked like a million bucks but lacked the cushion and stability of comparable light hikers. Among seasoned outdoorsmen, it was an easy pass. Among urbanites who liked some of the aesthetic cues of those season outdoorsmen, it became a classic.
Nike now had a formula: take mainline shoe, choose outdoorsy materials, design around inclusion. This simple process would spawn the Air Pegasus ACG (1988), Wildwood (1990), and Air Rivaderchi (1992), each a sneaker classic in their own right. What they weren’t, truly, were great outdoors shoes. Before long, market pressure from brands like Timberland (plus a healthy dose of internal politics) would shatter this formula, forcing Nike designers to lean into that “existing molds-additional sales” value proposition in an attempt to create visibly Nike-branded boots.
With the launch of the Air Max Goadome in 2007, the modern “sneakerboot” lurched into life.
An undifferentiated “black leather boot” hemmed to a Visible Air sole unit, the Goadome was a turning point for the category – and not for the better.
The story of the modern sneakerboot, then, begins like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: with a spare parts bin and some wayward stitching. In the wake of Goadome came a specialized microcosm of the very reason sneaker companies made Everest-scaling hikers in the first place. Unfortunately, unlike their predecessors, this new generation of athletic-inspired boot is controlled by that growth objective all the way down to the work bench.
On one hand, shoes like the Nike Air Max 90 Sneakerboot, adidas Stan Smith Winter Mid, and Vans Sk8-Hi Del Pato are just plain tacky. There’s not much to roast here because, frankly, there’s not much there, period. These are the “console ports” of the sneaker world: hamhanded brand extensions brought to life by a market share graph, not a designer. Yes, it’s easier to average fixed costs per pair if you make more pairs – but if the result is the Converse All Star PC Boot Hi (a “winterized” cotton canvas sneaker with *gasp* a water-repellant coating), why even bother? Sneakers of all kinds are an emotional purchase. If you create with apathy, don’t be surprised with an apathetic reception.
On the other hand, shoes like the Nike Roshe Mid Winter, Reebok Zig Cliffhanger, and PUMA’s “The Ren” do a great job with stoking emotion. Laughter; revulsion; pity. All are emotions.
Whether the result of more visits to the parts bin, on-the-nose attempts at messaging just how “winterized” a sneakerboot can be, or (fingers crossed) nuclear runoff, these hybridized mutants are bricks so formidable they’re used in industry. Taste is deeply personal, but when the focus of three successive years’ worth of Nike Sneakerboot messaging still sits at clearance, perhaps it’s just not a great looking shoe.
At the end of the day, my main frustration with sneakerboots is that they just feel so forced. Regardless of their design merits, whatever can be (or, perhaps, shouldn’t have been) made that season is then push-marketed to the point of revulsion – not because the products are even comparable to properly-made winter boots, but because tooling is expensive and making slight changes to summer shoe molds.
In theory, this makes better use of the original investment put into expensive equipment while also putting a few more Swooshes on feet. In reality, it produces straight-to-sale bricks no more “winterized” than snow chains on an F1 car.
The craziest part? The spare parts bins, the Futurama-style mutants – they’re all unnecessary! Nike and adidas have already proved they can make great boot-sneaker hybrids that don’t just perform as boots, but look great in the process. Shoes like the Nike SFB, adidas GSG 9.3, and Nike Lunarterra Arktos Boot SP (which, FYI, was one of our Editor’s Choice footwear picks in 2014) are fashionable, functional, and – here’s the kicker – designed from the ground up as something other than lightweight, breathable low-tops. They even look great in the right wardrobe!
Instead of making sneakers worse, these boots incorporate selected sneaker technology to help make tough, climate-proof footwear more wearable yet just as rugged and handsome. A sneaker-boot hybrid that actually what it says on the package? Sneakerboots, get in step.
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