Nike Aims to Democratize Sneaker Culture
The General Purpose Shoe could change the way we think about kicks.
Tomorrow the global sportswear giant Nike releases the General Purpose Shoe. The third sneaker in the brand's storied collaboration with the iconic contemporary artist Tom Sachs, the GPS, according to Nike’s promotional copy, is intended to be “democratic,” a “tool for everyday life.” A “do more sneaker’; “an own-less sneaker.” A shoe for everybody. The first edition of the GPS exudes simplicity and utility: white knit upper, blue donning straps, pale grey multi-fiber framing, and a gum sole. According to Sachs it took ten years to make a shoe "as simple as can be and no simpler.” The animating idea is that this shoe is intended to be worn to death. It’s meant to be stained and scuffed and run through the washer. It is a canvas for telling the story of our lives. It is the unicorn sneaker that gets better looking with age.
I should say here, right at the top, that I love this shoe. I want a pair. The design is simple and sleek. The materials are cool. And I should say, also, that I am a fan of Tom Sachs. As an artist he is a generational talent with a superb sense of humor. His first two shoes with Nike--the Mars Yard and the Mars Yard 2.0--were the two coolest sneakers ever released. The had a story: they were designed to support the work done by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California.
Nike doesn’t answer questions about the size of their production runs. So I have no real choice other than to remain skeptical of the claim that the GPS is a “democratic" shoe, something for everybody. Nike is the single biggest beneficiary of the hype-cycle economy. Building up and sustaining demand by shorting supply. The 2017 Mars Yard release was one of the most-hyped releases in most recent memory. Unless you were a friend of Nike, the owner of a purchasing bot, or a hedge fund manager with enough cash to drop $20K for shoes on the secondary market, the Mars Yard is nothing more than a fantasy. Extending ideas like owning fewer, better things or producing something really cool that everybody can access makes us feel good about Nike and it makes us want to buy their shoes. But if the the promises made in the advertising copy are hollow, the Nike GPS is little more than an art project.
I hope I'm wrong. I hope Nike manufactures enough pairs of the General Purpose Shoe to satisfy demand. I hope this shoe represents a turn away from relentless hype. I hope the GPS truly is the beginning of a meaningful conversation about value and consumption. If it is, that’s something to celebrated.
Alex French is a contributing editor for Fatherly and has been a journalist and editor for decades with work in Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, Grantland, Wired, and many others. He’s also the co-author of Sneakers, which will tell you pretty much everything you need to know on the subject.