What Makes ‘Dad Shoes’ so Damn Admirable to our Youth?
By Zak Adkins
Illustration: Mahlee D’castro
So far, 2018 is shaping up to be an eventful year, with the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games taking place, Donald Trump meeting face to face with Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and the recent death of DJ superstar Avicii. Amidst this political and cultural chaos, who would have known that the ‘dad shoe’ would become one of the biggest trends in fashion? Forget classy leather loafers, Birkenstocks or Adidas Superstars, the newest shoes to hit the block are, well, terrible.
It all began in late 2016 when fashion house Balenciaga announced the launch of its Speed Trainer, which essentially looked like a rubber sole with a black sock attached to it. People thought things could not get any worse, until the following year when Balenciaga unveiled the Triple S, a multi-coloured dad shoe which easily went in the running (pun intended) to be one of the ugliest shoes ever made. Casey Neistat, YouTube vlogger and content creator, states his disapproval of the shoe in a HYPEBEAST video saying, “I think they’re ugly, I think they’re impractical. There’s nothing redeeming about these”.
Prior to Balenciaga’s current reign in the sneaker marketplace, companies such as Adidas and Nike dominated sneaker culture. Nike, of course, is well known for its Air Max technology, a compressed air pocket positioned in the midsole of the shoe. When released in 1987, this technology became a huge success for the company and has remained a signature design feature of the brand.
Air Max 1, Air Max Zero, and Air Max 97 are all iterations of the new design which struck a chord amongst sneakerheads and are still as popular today as they were when first released. One prime example is the Air Max 95, which was designed by Sergio Lozano and was ground-breaking as the air cushioning was spread across the mid sole of the shoe from back to front for the very first time. Some called it revolutionary. Nike managed to sell hundreds of thousands of this model, and various other ugly sneakers of its time, has maintained its popularity.
Adidas, like many of the companies trying to remain competitive in the sneaker market, has had its fair share of sneaker flops as well. The Adidas x Yeezy came about through a partnership with rapper Kanye West. He previously partnered with Nike to create the first Yeezy shoe but decided to work elsewhere in order to have more creative freedom. What Kanye managed to create was arguably a true masterpiece of the footwear fashion world. As the creator himself has said in a recent interview, “Yeezy’s a unicorn. It’s a billion-dollar company. We were at $15 million — two years ago? And we’re gonna hit a billion this year. It’s never ever been heard of”.
The Yeezy 350 became one of the most sought-after sneakers, known for its ultra-comfortable Boost sole. Yet, whilst riding on the success of the 350, Kanye kept creating and later released the Yeezy 500. When it arrived in the marketplace, sneakerheads spat out their coffee. People were furious. Kanye West had managed to turn the Yeezy brand from futuristic and hip to something an 80-year-old would be proud to wear. The Yeezy 500 became the perfect shoe for a nurse to wear whilst working at a hospital. And yet despite all this, people still bought it, pledging their loyalty to the brand.
Ugly sneakers go further than just the regular everyday shoe, too. One of the most popular styles today is Nike offshoot Jordan, which has become one of the most respected basketball brands in the world. Jordan shoes have gained a cult following among sneakerheads since their first release, but even some of these shoes miss the mark in a big way. Tinker Hatfield, the man responsible for many of the Jordan models and the first Air Max’s, had much to live up to every time he released a new shoe. Following the deaths of both Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman’s father and Michael Jordan’s father, Mr Hatfield regrettably released the Air Jordan 15, which carried a design that critics to this day call ‘the ugliest Jordan ever created’.
In a segment from the show Abstract: The Art of Design, Hatfield reminisces on that time. “I was ready to be done, I was trying to extricate myself from designing any more Air Jordans. I was tired, I was worn out. I felt like I had done enough,” he said. Yet, despite the flaws of the Air Jordan, Hatfield continued to design for Nike, later releasing more Air Jordans and helping with the production and development of the Nike HyperAdapt, the world’s first self-lacing shoe.
Nike Australia Retail Manager James Purcell says that sneakers which have ugly features are more of an attraction than a setback for sneakerheads around the globe. As a result, certain shoes which would usually have a relatively low resale value may have been released in certain colours or designs to make them ‘uglier’ which could resell on the market for double or triple the regular price.
“The premium shoes with their ‘ugly’ designs are like a badge of honour to sneakerheads. Not only do you want to turn people’s heads with premium styles, but you sort of want to make them remember you and your shoes with the colourways,” says Mr Purcell. So when will we see footwear trends begin to change again? We know they come and go like a Brisbane storm, but is the ‘ugly sneaker’ uprising here to stay?