Sneaker investments are the new hot play by both financial firms and established brands attempting to get a piece of the global $6 billion resale industry. Recently we saw Foot Locker spend $100 million on GOAT — marking their total raised investment to $197.6 million — buoyed by $60 million that came from Index Ventures after GOAT and Flight Club merged.
Prior to that, other splashy acquisitions/investments included Grailed's $15 million Series A investment with Index Ventures, Thrive Capital, and Simon Ventures, StockX securing $44 million in second round funding from people like Eminem and Mark Wahlberg, and Farfetch acquiring Stadium Goods for $250 million.
The infrastructure and userbase has proven to be the key ingredient for attracting investors. The supposed goal of these platforms is to provide a marketplace for buying and selling, and transparency as it relates to authenticity. But the byproduct is that it also sets the "going rate" to acquire something in-demand.
This is problematic.
Consumers should want products because they're good and represent personal style choices, not because they're expensive and hard to buy. But somewhere along the line, we've lost sight of that. While services like StockX are ripe with good information, the current system relies too heavily on the monetary importance of each product. It's simply human nature to place greater importance on a product that costs more money. If the price tag were taken suddenly taken out of the buying equation, the industry would be forced to adapt.
So I have an idea to rectify the current problem.
Although it's certainly not a perfect system, Rotten Tomatoes has created a platform for film and TV which aggregates a score for a project. What's key to note is there is a distinction between the average score compiled from official reviewers, and the audience score. Ironically, these scores are often much different, but as they say in the medical field, a second opinion never hurt anyone.
Being "certified fresh" can have a dramatic impact on a film — specifically projects without huge marketing budgets who reap the benefits of a high score. Nine films received a 100 percent rating on the platform in 2018; none of those films like Hannah Gadsby: Nanette, Leave No Trace, Minding the Gap, Night Comes On, Oh Lucy!, Paddington 2, Pick of the Litter, Shirkers, and Summer 1993 were nominated for major awards at this year's Academy Awards.
However, knowing now that they were so well-received by critics and audiences alike, one might be inclined to check them out because there's a pervasive belief that they are good products despite the acknowledgment from industry gatekeepers.
Conversely, a poor Rotten Tomatoes score can still be overcome at the box office. For example, Glass currently sits at 36 percent fresh, yet it's the highest grossing movie of 2019 after it eclipsed the $200 million mark globally. That tells us that a negative score doesn't always hold a film back from becoming a "hit."
It's impossible to ignore raw data today. In athletics, analytics can tell talent evaluators much more than the traditional and antiquated "eye test." An IBM study into retail behavior found that 62 percent of retailers report that the use of information (including big data) and analytics is creating a competitive advantage for their organizations. And of course, Netflix has mined the data from their 139 million global subscribers to understand what they want, which in turn gives them a better understanding of the creatives they should be working with. In the latter example, it's in fact the userbase making the initial impact, not the announcement of the so-called talent involved.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings once noted, “If the Starbucks secret is a smile when you get your latte, ours is that the website adapts to the individual’s taste.”
The streaming juggernaut is successful because it actually considers the user. This is different than what we're seeing in the sneaker world. Brands rely too heavily on limiting supply when there is ample demand. Highsnobiety's first-ever whitepaper — a deep dive into the “New Luxury” landscape — showed that 37 percent of people bought items because they are limited edition, while only nine percent indicated they only purchased something because they thought the exorbitant price made it more exclusive.
So, what if there were a platform — not unlike Rotten Tomatoes — which aggregated scores for sneaker releases? Highsnobiety doesn't usually take a position on a release. Rather, we're here as a source to let you know what's out there. Perhaps that's part of the problem. There should be dedicated reviews for products — not just from us — but from our competitors as well.
What would something like that look like?
Much like a well-crafted film, there must be synergy between departments. Thus, all of the various elements of a sneaker release should be considered when coming up with a score. There's of course the tactile elements of the design which should be considered. They must also answer the question, "why this product, and why now?" Finally still, brands should have to address why a collaboration makes sense, not just cents.
As Highsnobiety's Footwear Editor, Chris Danforth, put it, "Hyped collaborations are often the biggest status symbols, but if you’re only rocking collabs for the clout, that means you’re missing some of the best kicks out there."
Furthermore, consumers should be voicing their opinions too — which should be better quantified than just likes or dislikes in the comment section. Not only have user-generated reviews worked to great effect for Rotten Tomatoes, but they've also become a staple for everything sold on Amazon. You may say, "but I'm just looking to buy a good vacuum cleaner, and I don't know which one to get!" Exactly! You want what's good, and you're willing to accept the crowd-sourced review from others to achieve your goal.
I'd venture a guess that if someone was looking for a pair of run-of-the-mill running shoes from Nike, they'd gladly accept the ratings provided by both Amazon and Nike alike. In the absence of hype, consumers are willing to view things for their functional purposes. In this case, getting you from point A to point B in maximum comfort. But as the need for functionality erodes, and hype is introduced, somehow these quantifiable ratings no longer have any merit.
They should. And Highsnobiety should be giving you everything that was mentioned above. And since we're also a pipeline between brand and consumer — especially as it relates to hyped fair — our editorial role shouldn't just be regurgitating a press release. There should be deeper research into the materials that are being trumpeted, wear-testing, and the functionality of innovation. Brands provide the blueprint, we should be building the foundation on which it stands. Perhaps only then can we move away from the current system which uses exclusivity and price tag as the only measurements for interest.
Much has been said about ideology versus aesthetics in today's culture. Many argue that if you evaluate two similar things — in this case sneakers — the item that reflects and reinforces prevailing ideologies from the dominant group will most likely end up being remembered. It's the same reason why no one remembers Armond White's scathing National Review critique of Get Out. His opinion existed, but in the end, it didn't matter because others did get it right.
There is clearly precedent that hundreds of millions of dollars can be spent in the space. StockX wanted to become the stock market for shoes, and so far, they've done it. The real question is, who wants to become the Rotten Tomatoes of sneakers?