I read this and thought about it then thought some more and moreâ€¦.to make any head or tails of it I looked at through my own eyes and came up with the ramble below…remember i am UK based and not US so my influences may be very different. I found more questions than answers but there you have it…
My relationship with trainers started at an early age on the school playground. The code was simple, have the right trainers and you were socially acceptable. My influence was the powerful brand iconography communicated by the productâ€™s association and identification with global sporting and media celebrities. Having to wear school uniform added to the value of my trainers, providing me with some individuality from the others. Then it was about who won Wimbledon or the World Cup in what brand and model of trainer. Could the shoe provide me with the same sporting capability?
Growing up in Britain in the Eighties entailed life under a nuclear cloud, US cruise missiles, Greenham Common protests, Top of the Pops (a shitty music program that me and my mates all use to watch) filled with apocalyptic songs, nuclear power stations, Z for Zaccaria on the GCSE English Literature reading list, the threat of the then â€˜unfriendlyâ€™ Soviet Union. The generation of that time had anti-establishment tendencies and used trainers to demonstrate this, against the impending threats. What was then the chosen poison of certain sub pockets has now crossed over to become the chosen flavour of the majority of society in the nineties.
Leisure as opposed to work was the primary driving force of the Ninetees (when I was really consumer driven for footwear). Spiritual reward and peace is more important than the more, more, more, â€˜help-yourself-and-take-it-allâ€™ culture of the Eighties and as such, the pursuit of leisure has displaced many age old paradigms. We now have a prime minister who used to play lead guitar in a rock band (still a wanker), and have shifted from a decade of Conservative rule to Labour. Within that period there have been great leaps in technology, such as the internet and mobile communications. There has been a noticeable change in attitudes and society over the period of the two decades, in 1988 Acid House was almost banned by the government (or at least they tried), now it is played on Match of the Day. (a uk soccer show on Saturday night)
Within the decade there have been massive shifts in dress codes, buying patterns and life globally. It can be argued that essentially the formality of dress codes has broken down or blurred to a level where it is no longer possible to denote age or social class. â€˜A thirty five year old ad executive probably shares several things in common with an eighteen year old student; a Playstation, a mountain bike, edwin denim and a pair of Air Max 95 for instance, why wear the suit, buy the house and be called Mr XYZ in the workplace.â€™ Thirty somethings are one of Nike’s biggest markets, but why?
The identity of a person can be discovered by analysing certain forms of signification or symbolism that their trainer carries in itâ€™s own value system, for instance, the graphics on the shoe, the iconography of the manufacturing label, how the trainer is worn in terms of laces tied or untied, tongues in or out.
Many brands state that their products are â€˜designed for sportsmen and women and their primary function is to enhance athletic performance. Trend is not important in the design process, form follows function.â€™ Is this true, do these international corporations really just design their products purely for the athlete, acknowledging any other interpretation as a lucky spin off? Does form really follow function, relegating style to a â€˜skin appliedâ€™ feature?
I believe that trainers now live a â€˜double lifeâ€™ within society. They are, on one hand perceived to be functionally designed pieces of sporting equipment, incorporating the latest, most technologically advanced materials and scientific experiment. And on the other, they are definitions of our cultural background, clearly indicating something about ourselves. By this I mean, and believe, that a personal profile could be drawn from what type of trainers an individual chooses to wear and how they are worn. An athleteâ€™s performance may be enhanced by the trainer he/she is wearing, enabling more foot support and faster running times, yet somebody walking to the shops in that same shoe symbolises something about what he/she is like or wants to be like. The trainer is able to demonstrate â€˜a complex set of codes relating to notions of individuality and exclusivity, fitness, fashion and anti-fashion, peer group pressure, whatever. And amid this milky consumerist soup trainers have taken on more meanings than sliced bread.â€™ It is these expressions and the need to belong that converts the trainer into not just an object of sporting enhancement, but a label of who we are and where we stand within contemporary culture. The product has acquired new meanings.
Now my perceptions of trainers and reasons for purchasing them have altered. I still look for brand sign value, however it is no longer about the endorser, now it is to do with style. My purchase is influenced by how I can wear the trainer and how I am perceived to be wearing it. I want to be able to wear them to Stamford Bridge on Saturday, yet still be able to walk along the Kingâ€™s Road. I feel that they associate myself with certain dress codes and forms of culture, conveying and introducing myself to the outer world.
That is kinda of where I have come from and the thing that intersets me in footwear, all be it I come from a very heavy biomechanical approach now when designing, the skin application of aesthtics is a very powerful, exciting hand in hand step. As for the re-runs, 300 releases etc…it is getting a little worn especially as it so common now. As a world we have shrunk, Mc Donalds is on every corner and I can buy at Foot Patrol what someone can buy at A-Life in New york or what you can buy on the top of mount everest via the www.
If we could get back to the 80’s that would be great, but the past always looks better. Which reminds me of what really intrigued me as a kid- Football fans of the Eighties would wear different styles of brand symbolising their belonging too and support of a certain club. On matchday this would lead to travelling fans being identified, even if they were not wearing football colours. The trainer took on an iconic role in this period, forming a very distinct language that expressed membership without the use of a team badge. â€˜You could spot us a mile off when down in London on matchdays - indeed my mateâ€™s non scallying brother (scally is someone from LIverpool in England) was amazed when they were sussed out on the tube by Chelsea lads while on their way to Stamford Bridge. â€œHow did they know we were Everton?â€ - â€œAdidas Samba,â€ was a simple two word answer.â€™ (Shawn Smith, Sneakers, Size isnâ€™t Everything) The trainers branded the individual with their own form of iconography and graphic languages which identified and promoted an overall belonging to the team. The shoes were also used as a form of intimidation and warning at the time when football violence was at its most prolific. Supporters of one club could be identified and broken down into subpockets of organised coteries of violence. Trainers became such a part of of football fan uniform, that people would travel abroad in search of rarer styles of the designated team brand. This was true of the Eighties yet is no longer the case today, now it is hard to denote a specific club supporter purely by footwear. They are still worn in stadia, yet the team association through particular styles and brand has dramatically blurred. Relationship to other sub circles is illustrated instead, mainly because the violence on terraces in the Eighties has been dramatically restrained, (more due to ecstacy tablets than the police) making it safer to wear club colours and replica shirts.
I think the clear way forwards now is customisation, yet customistaion needs to be able to make money. At the moment it is a made to stock, non profit marketting exercise that creates some consumer confusion. The scary thing is that when you talk to so called industry leaders in footwear culture, they all say errr…there will be more re runs, colour ways, collabs etc etc. Maybe I will start buying tan Italian shoes to wear with Japanese Denim instead to revert back to what was the inspiring thing about footwear in the 80’s. Maybe we should all go back to the school playground to see what the buzz is and become the next agents of social change