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The Sneaker Industry Is Slowing Down Fast in 2023

Is the sneaker market cooldown another stop on its new cyclical course...or is it the new norm?

nike hit by supply chain shortages struggles to keep up with demand ahead of holiday season
Justin SullivanGetty Images

After an insane 2021, wherein regular pairs were fetching five, sometimes 10, times their retail price, sneakers collectively cooled down in 2022. While there were still plenty of peaks — Panda Dunks, the Air Jordan 1 'Lost & Found,' New Balance's bounce-back — last year didn't continue the trend set in 2021, a significant stint of steady growth. In fact, the sneaker industry was up 19.5 percent that year. Now, it's only up 2.7 percent, a 3 percentage point drop from pre-pandemic numbers (2019: 5.7 percent). It will keep a similar pace over the next five years, experts say, a cooling period that comes on the heels of unheralded growth.

"It’s the cyclical nature of fashion," fashion journalist Tim Newcomb told Business of Fashion, the publication that provided the above data. "Sneakers have certainly enjoyed a steady stream of success over the recent years, so history would tell us we may now see a shift away from the product."

Now, no one is truly "shifting away" from sneakers. They're a mainstay — but the bigger brands have lost their grip on the market, which has in turn lowered the resale price of many of the most popular silhouettes: Panda Dunks, for example, which often sold for as much as $350 on resale sites in 2021, are now only going for an average of $183, a 48 percent decline even as it remains one of the most talked about shoes on social media.

Expect Nike — and Adidas, too — to be aggressive, though. These behemoth sportswear brands are sitting on a lot of unsold merchandise, and they're eager to offload it, even if it takes an aggressive ad campaign to do it. Meanwhile, though, brands like New Balance, Salomon, Asics and On are eating at both Nike and Adidas' audiences. They're luring one-time loyalists with in-stock styles and the clout that comes with being cutting-edge.

Forthcoming financial reports might buoy the big brands — they'll show year-over-year growth and it'll be all good again — but there's something to be said of the newfound popularity of brands sneakerheads collectively viewed as unquestionably ugly: Asics, New Balance, Salomon.

Is this enough to swing the momentum in the direction of these mid-level players? Maybe not, but the diversification of what people feel willing to wear should strike fear in the few brands that have monopolized sneakers up until this point. On StockX, Salomon was 2022's fastest-growing sneaker brand, fetching 2,000 percent more year-over-year, according to a year-end report from the resale site. Perhaps there will be less interest in intentionally scarce Nike collabs, or less fawning over ultra-rare Jordans. There will definitely be less attention paid to Adidas, who is struggling to overcome its recently cancelled Ye collab.

But the Gazelle had a good 2022, and sneakers still make up over half of SKUs sold by luxury brands. (Adidas pushed both the Gazelle and Samba back into the fold using collabs with Balenciaga and Gucci.) So, is the sneaker market cooldown another stop in its new cyclical nature, or, is it the new norm? Only time will tell.

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