A good brand doesn’t just sell a product—it tells a story. Sure, that may sound like a line taken from a corporate Powerpoint presentation, but the underlying truth still resonates with consumers. Just ask any bonafide sneakerhead, who at some point has probably waited in line to cop a limited-edition release that pays tribute to some other aspect of pop-culture references—be it movies, musicians, or—increasingly—food.
This year’s spate of food-themed shoe releases is proof that integrating beer and ice cream into designs isn’t simply a fad amongst sole collectors. The concept dates back to the early 2000s, when Nike’s skateboarding offshoot, Nike SB, released sneakers referencing everything from Heineken bottles to lobster feasts. The brand’s logic was relatively straightforward: It’s easier to sell something when it has a relatable tale. In terms of sneakers, that means establishing backstories and creating colorways that resemble obvious inspirations. After all, a pair of shoes that looks like a hamburger is likely to get more press than a simple brown-and-yellow sneaker without the same point of reference.
Sneakers make people happy, and so does a platter of sushi or a pint of lager. Yet beyond the obvious benefits of linking food and shoes, there are deeper ties that bind the foodie and sneakerhead sectors. While belt-notching chowhounds might queue up for the latest creation from Dominique Ansel Bakery, there are also folks who brave the wind, snow, and rain for multiple days at a time to grab a rare pair of shoes.
“This year’s spate of food-themed shoe releases is proof that integrating beer and ice cream into designs isn’t simply a fad amongst sole collectors.”
It’s only right that these two worlds have converged—whether celebrity chefs such as Chuck Hughes are making “Black Crab” sneakers with Vans, or New York City’s Extra Butter (a sneaker boutique located in the Lower East Side) is collaborating with Reebok to design pairs that resemble the city’s staple street food, halal chicken and rice.
That’s not to say the concepts always hit the mark. There’ve been duds in this genre, as brands try to turn out ideas around too quickly—who really wants their feet to look like a candy cane? But when done correctly, a pair of sneakers that honors someone’s favorite foodstuff can become a cherished part of his or her wardrobe. It’s no surprise, then, that many of these products have ended up accruing value over time, due to the demand that they create and the small batches they’re produced in.
From Steel Reserve Nikes to sushi-inspired Sauconys, here we recap the highs and lows of 2015’s food-related sneaker releases.
Solebox x Puma XS-850 “Adventurer Pack”
Solebox, a sneaker boutique located in Berlin, Germany, has had some of the coolest partnerships over its 16 years in business—the shop once designed a camo baby stroller—and it spared no detail for its”Adventurer Pack” collaboration with Puma. The collection included two sneakers inspired by the shop’s now-former co-owner/founder Hikmet Sugoer’s love for Jelly Belly jelly beans. While the shoes themselves were a creative play on the candy, the sneakers that were released in-store at Solebox came in wrapped in custom Jelly Belly packaging, complete with Solebox x Puma jelly beans, too. That’s sweet.
Nike SB Dunk High Steel Reserve
Malt liquor has always been a choice drink amongst skateboard circles. Drinking a 40-ounce bottle is a right of passage for many, and few brands pack more punch than Steel Reserve, commonly referred to as 211. Besides the alcohol content, the most distinctive about “211” is that it comes in a 24-ounce silver can with red and black lettering. Nike SB has made several shoes in the past that pay tribute to beer, but this Dunk is one that sort of fell flat. It’s awesome to see something as degenerative and seminal as Steel Reserve get immortalized on a sneaker, but who wants a shoe that’s silver, red, and black in 2015?
Saucony Sushi Pack
Saucony has been relatively steady with its food-themed kicks, and the brand continues to push the genre forward with this year’s “Sushi” pack. The three shoes in the ensemble take cues from raw fish, seaweed, and wasabi—but there was something missing in the execution of this shoes. They weren’t bad on their own merits, but sushi and its accoutrement may have been a little too abstract to clearly build upon with three separate pieces of footwear.
Saucony Shadow 6000 “Irish Coffee”
A food-meets-sneakers combination won’t work unless the sneakers look great themselves, and few brands have taken this truth to heart as seriously as Saucony. The company recently reimagined footwear through the three ingredients of an Irish coffee: whisky, coffee, and whipped cream. To encapsulate this trifecta, Saucony made three of its Shadow 6000 sneakers, a running shoe from the early ’90s, in tan, black, and white suede. Each pair was complemented with a white midsole and gum sole. Foodie-ness aside, each of these three sneakers is strong on its own aesthetic merits.
Saucony Scoops Pack
Ice cream’s appeal is universal, and Saucony leveraged our collective love of frozen treats with two pairs of its Grid 9000 sneaker. Honoring two all-time classic flavors—mint chocolate chip and strawberry—the brand took rich suede and placed winning color combinations on these runners: mint and black, and pink and red. The result was two sneakers that looked as refreshing as, well, ice cream.
Nike SB Dunk High “Brown Bag”
Where Nike may have had a miss with its “Steel Reserve” pair, it had a minor win with its “Brown Bag” Dunk sneaker, which pulls inspiration from incognito public drinking. The sneaker had a unique crumpled texture to it, much like a brown bag holding a cold can of $2 brew.
New Balance “Real Ale” Pack
Pub culture is a critical part of British life, and New Balance’s UK factory, located in Flimby, England, channeled this idea for its “Real Ale” pack. It featured three sneakers— the brand’s 1500, 576, and CT300 models—whose color schemes were pulled from three beers: a red ale, a stout, and a pale ale. The sneakers on their own were strong, but as New Balance Senior Footwear Developer Chris Hodgson says, “This is real ale, rather than manufactured ale, and it’s much more of a craftsman-oriented art. It’s an artisan art, and we like to think that what we do is an artisan art, too.”
Reebok Classic Leathers “Oktoberfest”
Oktoberfest, held yearly in Munich, Germany, is a beer-drinker’s paradise. Massive mugs are filled with German beer and friends gather around to celebrate the occasion with food, drink, and music. Reebok took this holiday and translated it on three pairs of the Classic Leather, a proper drinking shoe if there ever was one. Each shoe has a suede, split-tone upper with a gum sole on the bottom. If that wasn’t enough, there were also pretzels and beer mugs featured on the inside of the tongues.
Extra Butter x Reebok Ventilator “Street Meat”
Grabbing street meat in the early hours of the morning is an essential part of New York City, and one of the best carts, Halal Guys, is located just a few blocks from First We Feast’s office. People line up around the corner just to get a taste of the halal plate with chicken or lamb, and rice doused with white sauce. The guys over at Extra Butter, a sneaker boutique located in NYC’s Lower East Side, are known for its on-point storytelling when it comes to sneaker collaborations, and the “Street Meat” shoe with Reebok looked exactly like a serving of this dish. The in-store party for the shoe’s release even featured a truck to serve the dish outside. To top it off, the extra laces came packed in sauce cups, just like at the stands in the city.