To the outside observer, sneaker culture in 2021 must be totally bizarre.
Not only are the retail prices of many popular sneakers – Jordans, Yeezys, Nike Air Maxes – rather punchy, but then they’re blown up to insane levels thanks to the speculative buying of resellers and grifters trying to make a quick buck… And it works. Beyond that, the actual aesthetic du jour at the moment seems odd to many outsiders: 90s-era, chunky ‘dad shoe’ styles, once considered the epitome of anti-fashion, are now what’s hot.
One recent controversy neatly encapsulates both these oddities: the Lidl sneaker reselling fiasco. Lidl, a German chain of budget supermarkets popular throughout Europe, recently released a ‘Lidl by Lidl’ clothing capsule in the United Kingdom featuring tote bags, shorts, socks and sneakers featuring the signature colours and multiple instances of the garish Lidl logo as a ‘Middle of Lidl’ promotion – a similar concept to rival chain Aldi’s ‘Special Buys’, which Australians are likely familiar with.
These were immediately a big hit, especially the sneakers. It didn’t take long for the £13 (~US$18 / AU$24) sneakers, which visually resemble Nike Air Huaraches, to be sold out across the country – and for listings on Depop, eBay, Facebook Marketplace and Grailed to pop up, slinging the shoes for double or triple the price, or even more. Similar dynamics were observed in other European markets where the sneakers also went on sale, such as Belgium, France, Germany and Sweden.
“Some sellers have sold dozens of pairs at £35 each while others have put together ‘packages’ of trainers, socks and board shorts… One customer complained they had visited five different stores on the day the trainers went on sale but left empty-handed as they were all sold out,” The Guardian reports.
It’s a truly bonkers yet fascinating phenomenon that raises lots of questions. Are times so tough that people will try even flipping cheapo supermarket sneakers to try and make some extra coin? Has fashion become so kitsch that such an ugly shoe is worth paying 200%+ over the retail price for? Are supermarkets now the vanguard of ~fashion~?
A significant part of what’s fuelling the whole 90s ‘dad shoe’ or ‘ugly shoe’ trend is ironic appreciation. With that in mind, a Lidl sneaker is, in many ways, the ultimate anti-fashion fashion statement: it’s so garish; so cheap; so gormless that it’s actually desirable. It’s also relatable: rich or poor, everyone shops at Lidl. It’s a brand with immense cultural cut-through and obvious ironic value – so it’s no wonder a Lidl sneaker was a sales success.
Lidl isn’t the only brand of its type to try something like this. In Switzerland, local supermarket chain Migros’ M-Budget brand – the equivalent of Australia’s Black & Gold or Home Brand – is a veritable institution, with Migros selling everything from chewing gum to condoms (which, ironically, are basically the same word in German) in its iconic green and white branding. Beyond sneakers, Lidl in Germany sells Lidl-branded kimonos, for some reason.
Closer to home, even American fast-food chain KFC sold an Australia-exclusive merch collection back in 2018, which included everything from budgie smugglers to fried chicken-fragranced surf wax. Talk about understanding the local market…
Even luxury brands have got in on this trend. Luxury fashion house Balenciaga made waves back in 2017 when it started selling calfskin versions of supermarket plastic bags, emblazoned in iconography evocative of supermarket logos, for over US$1,000. Balenciaga is a repeat offender when it comes to this sort of thing, having come out with other deliberately ironic products over the years such as luxury IKEA bags, jelly sandals and collaborations with Crocs.
In essence, modern fashion is absolutely soaked to the bone in irony, and entrepreneurial kids want to make a bit of scratch buying up desirable clothes. It’s a mad, mad world we live in.