Dear consumer, please enlighten me.
As the news of the Lebron X price-point broke last week that was then simultaneously followed by the price-point of the Hyperdunk Supreme message boards and comment sections around the world were filled with responses that ranged from mostly negative to positive. Most were focusing on the cost of the products and how they were too high for what you are getting but a few were directed at the material use of the products, saying “they were all plastic” or “that I don’t need a system to track my game.” Those quotes are tame paraphrases of what was said but you get the idea.
To add to those gems of comments, I saw a design friend write a very long paragraph about how a new design has completely disgusted them and how they wish the product were still like the versions from the 80’s, that were genuine and had real materials. These instances have more than confused as me as a designer so I am reaching out to my internet community to help enlighten me.
When you say you don’t like “plastic” materials on your shoes and that they should be full grain leather so you can perform better, please tell me exactly what shoe you are speaking of? Because it is not an athletic shoe.
Most products in the mass produced market used what is called protein leather, basically some sort of animal that is almost always a cow. The hide is generally a by-product of the meat industry, hence the name protein. The hide is cut from the stomach, legs and neck to create a very large piece that when laid out looks like an outstretched version of that animal. That animal has generally been branded that leaves a scar, bit by bugs that leave many scars, rubbed up against fences that leaves more scars, transported to the slaughter house that leaves even more scars and these are not just one instance on one hide, this is on every hide. Your leather is then tanned and dyed and then a resin, a version of plastic, is coated over the top of the material to fill in all of these scarred blemishes.
This resin isn’t thin either; it generally adds a millimeter in height to the now synthetically blended material, which in return alters its texture and looses its grain. So we now have a synthetic material that is stiff and ungrained in appearance. So we use huge rollers, similar to a printing press; that have any type of grain you want etched into them and then is embossed on to the synthetically blended material. You want pebbled leather? It can be embossed. You want ostrich skin? It can be embossed. You want lizard skin? It can be embossed. Literally any appearance you want can be created through this process.
Damn near every consumer product for the past forty years has used this approach to create your “genuine” leather goods. So please tell me again where you are receiving your full grained, soft and supple leather basketball shoe from? Because unless you are paying thousands of dollars to have a handmade Italian shoe maker create you a one off product, you are not getting a fully grained genuine leather shoe because it doesn’t really exist.
So, why all the hate for synthetic materials that actually improve the construction of a shoe?
Hyperfuse and other welding techniques have been able to shed wait, reduce material usage, minimize foam packages and improve fit for each individual foot. If you have opportunities where you can genuinely improve the performance of the athlete should we as designers not try it? Or would rather us still be creating shoes similar to the Weapon that you so dearly love from the 80’s? That, again, was not genuine leather and had an atrocious fit from consumer to consumer.
I am not meaning to sound angry, I am more confused than anything because I believe that product creation is about constant improvement but from what I read it seems like people are scared of change. I have always been told that the consumer doesn’t know what it wants and that they have to be told what they want. Otherwise, we would be making the same product over and over again because that is what they are happy with. I have always seen that as a little insulting as in some ways I am still a consumer and I don’t want people telling me what I want.
But I am slowly beginning to think it is true.
Tell me what you think in the comments below and constructively help enlighten me on how to create better products for you. Because if you still want “genuine” leather products from the 80’s then you should buy the retro’s that you so dearly hate as well.