Real men don’t spend $1,000 on shoes. That’s a dominating perception out there when we speak to men who’ll rarely spend $200 on a pair of shoes let alone the maximum on designer kicks.
You’ve heard the argument: Why the hell would I pay $1,000 for sneakers when my $100 New Balances can do the same job?
It’s a redundant debate so we’re focusing on the educating part instead. Today we’re delving a bit deeper to show you guys what sets apart a pair of $100 sneakers and $1,000 sneakers.
From materials to design to manufacturing and branding, we’ve hit up Sneakerboy founder Chris Kyvetos and Eve & Kane founder Gabriel Levi to uncover every aspect that makes up the final price of today’s most recognised sneakers: Balenciaga Triple S, Yeezys, Common Projects, Nike Flyknits.
Is the price of hype really worth the cop? Let’s find out.
The Difference Between A Shoe & Sneaker
A shoe is a sneaker, right? Not quite. Those in the fashion industry have a clear distinction between these two terms and it’s understanding this difference that one can comprehend where the substantial price discrepancy between a cheap and expensive sneaker comes from.
Think dropping $1,000 on something like a pair of Balenciaga sneakers versus a pair of $100 Converse All Stars.
- Traditional shoes such as high quality oxfords or leather lace-ups that are made in small scale shoe factories or boutiques
- Basic machinery used
- Shoe construction techniques involve hand stitching and turning
- Absence of performance materials
- Performance type shoes, usually mass produced
- Advanced machinery used in construction process
- Limited use of expensive materials like leather
- Extensive use of advanced synthetic materials
“Balenciaga isn’t a sneaker brand,” explains Chris Kyvetos.
“It’s not a performance brand. It doesn’t make athletes run faster, jump higher and perform better – that’s functional footwear for athletic purposes.”
As such, Balenciaga who can charge up to $1,000 for their shoes don’t use sneaker factories to make them. They use shoe making factories to make their shoes.
And this takes us into the biggest pricing factor for luxury sneakers: production.
The Hidden Price Of Construction
Manufacturing process and location is the biggest factor that plays into a sneaker (or shoe’s) final price tag.
Making an expensive luxury shoe like the popular Italian-labelled Balenciaga Triple S involves cold cementing leather uppers onto rubber sole units.
“This in itself is a shoe making technique, not a sneaker making technique,” says Kyvetos.
Common Projects ($500 – $600) which are basic white leather sneakers made in Italy also follow this same production philosophy.
“There is no such thing as a sneaker made in Italy. Italians don’t make sneakers, they make shoes.”
Expensive Sneaker Construction Utilises:
- Use of expensive high grade leathers – pebble leather which doesn’t crack as much over time
- Thicker leather – this ensures the shoe retains its shape and looks newer for longer
- Tumbled leather – some mid-range shoe brands use this to achieve a balance between quality and affordability
Balenciaga’s Sneaker Construction:
- The margins for Balenciaga’s luxury sneakers is half of what they work on with their hand bags
- A Balenciaga handbag which can retail for $3,000 is essentially a single item piece of leather stitched together
- Their sneaker construction involves stitching, turning and cementing, and then repeating the process for the other shoe
- Balenciaga moved production of the Triple S to China because the Italians didn’t have the technology to make the shoe’s mid-sole unit
- Even with this move to China, Balenciagas aren’t being made in a sneaker factory – they’re still making them in a women’s shoe making factory in China which has the tools to create a stitched and turned upper that is applied to a sneaker midsole – a process which can’t be achieved in Italy
Converse Sneaker Construction:
- A vulcanised shoe implementing a primal construction process – “basically put it in the oven”
- Very inexpensive process with little complexity
- Most Converses are cup sole units
Facts About Cheaper Sneakers:
- Low quality EVAs in the midsole
- Cheaper materials in the upper construction
According to Kyvetos, you can get a good pair of sneakers on the market for $200 today regardless of the brand. He stresses the point though that, “at this price point consumers are getting a sneaker, not a shoe”.
Are You Paying For Quality?
Whilst the Sneakerboy founder genuinely believes that consumers are paying for what they get in a $1,000 Balenciaga sneaker, Gabriel Levi of Eve & Kane thinks that quality doesn’t necessarily translate into pricing across the entire sneaker spectrum.
“The quality of some of the shoes coming out of China now is the exact same and perhaps better in quality than shoes from Spain, Portugal and Milan,” he says.
“It depends on where you are in that manufacturing country as well. In China there’s a lot of shit, and there’s a lot of great stuff as well.”
Levi’s tips on how to spot a high quality sneaker irrespective of the price tag:
- Leathers are the easiest to determine in terms of shoe quality but for performance shoes like Flyknits it’s a bit harder
- For materials like suede and leather, see how flexible it is
- Smell is also a sign – you can smell the inside of a shoe and if it smells like glue you know it’s been made on the cheap
- A good quality shoe needs to smell like good quality leather – as long as they are new, smell away
- If they are lightweight they will be using more expensive soles which are generally better quality
- If it doesn’t look like it has a lot of manufacturing hours put in then the manufacturing costs shouldn’t be that high – think Converse
Cost Of Sneaker Design
Look at any sneaker blog and you’ll be dazzled by the array of designs on offer implementing some of the most innovative materials. Gore-Tex, Flyknit, React, Boost, Primeknit…the list goes on.
You would think that design plays a huge role in driving up costs of any sneaker, but you’d be wrong.
“Air wasn’t developed by Nike. Flyknit wasn’t developed by Nike. They’re all third party developed technologies and people bring these to the brand to pitch,” says Kyvetos.
“A couple of kids in a science lab brought Gore-Tex to Nike and said let’s give it a go.”
Even more surprising is the fact that the popular Boost sole found in most of adidas’ sneakers today like the Ultraboost, wasn’t even designed for performance shoes.
“It’s a German compound that is used in bumper bars in BMWs. Boost was never ever created for shoes. It’s the compound that sits behind the bumper bar of a BMW – BMW being the Bavarian motor company which is not far from Adidas HQ.”
“Adidas licensed the right to use Boost in their running shoe.”
So when it comes to design and innovation costs, it’s important to know where your hard earned dollars are going. This whole ideal of bespoke materials designed specifically for a sneaker simply isn’t true.
“A lot of these technologies aren’t developed by the sneaker brands for your running pleasure,” laughs Kyvetos.
Branding: The Big Bad Beast
There’s no shortage of debate on this topic when it comes to anything luxury – not just sneakers.
When you pay $1,000 for a sneaker, how much of it is for the name and how much of it is attributed to the actual product?
The answer is that it’s all relative to a brand’s broader marketing spend.
“If you look at New Balance, they don’t have any athletes signed to them, they don’t do much real marketing,” says Kyvetos.
“There isn’t high cost of marketing factored into a New Balance shoe so you’re able to get the best quality shoe for a very competitive price.”
“Asics is in the same league. They’re not a huge marketing company so they’re able to factor in a lower marketing cost in the final price for the consumer.”
Nike and Adidas are on the same playing field. As two of the biggest and most active marketing companies in the world, their volumes are so high that their marketing cost gets spread across a much bigger production run of shoes.
For luxury sneaker brands like Balenciaga, you’re not really paying for the brand’s marketing.
“They’re not doing much compared to sports brands. No endorsements and a bit of Instagram. Their marketing costs aren’t astronomical,” adds Kyvetos.
“Marketing is offset by the sheer volume of the business. In my view it’s not a huge factor in what a consumer pays at the end; it’s not a defining price factor.”
Copping The Right Idea On Kicks
- With all these factors in play, it’s near impossible to define a single scale on why sneakers cost $100 or $1,000.
- The most important thing to take away from this study is to differentiate between sneakers and shoes.
- Balenciaga Triple S’ and Common Projects are shoes on a rubber sole which is far more expensive to produce than a running shoe.
- There’s a little you’re paying for innovation for Nike, but not enough to define the final price.