:: UPDATE ::
After speaking with the Jordan Brand this afternoon, I have learned that I misinterpreted what was told to me about there being two different retro release strategies. Going forward as of Spring 2015, so January, all retros will be Remastered. So they will receive the upgraded materials and the intense detail of making sure that they match perfectly to their original release.
I apologize for any confusion, what can I say I’m not perfect.
So the news of the Jordan Brand “Remastering” their retro product has made its way around the sneakernets since last Friday. It has had every sneakerhead screaming “I am going to cop that” and leaving emojis of fist bumps and praising hands on many of Instagram feeds.
The news is exciting to me in the sense that the Jordan Brand is taking their retro business as an opportunity for them to live forever by making perfect recreations of their iconic product. Much like a Herman Miller or anything sold at DWR. It also reminds me of my (J)ordains (W)ithin (R)each post (I am not saying they copied me by any means, my idea was pretty easy to predict if you are watching things and are aware of other industries).
What is most interesting to me about a majority of the posts and the comments and questions being raised are how little people know about the production of leather. Now, I have come to realize that the average consumer doesn’t care about details of how things are made. They just want the product. It reminds me of a story I once heard about the designer of the Ferrari Enzo, Ken Okuyama, and how he approached an Enzo owner to discuss his creation. He started the conversation off by introducing himself as a designer and saying that he created the mans car, the man arrogantly brushed Ken off and said something to the effect of “that’s cool, I bought your car.” And walked away from Ken paying him no mind.
But I know and I believe that if you follow my blog and read my posts you at least have some sort of an interest in all technical details. So now I give to you a brief summary about leather and how no leather is real and is all man made.
Something that I haven’t seen publicly displayed yet is that there are two different versions of retro product coming our way. There is the standard retro product that we have all come to know and love and for some love to hate for years and the forthcoming “Remastered” product. So to be clear, not every retro will be at the premium level some are expecting. Think of this as a better Bin23 concept. So that begs the question, what is the difference between the two products?
Well the simple answer is time.
The long answer involves understanding the leather tanning process. Instead of me writing the full process, I have found a decent video that is mad boring but highly informal. If you choose to watch the video pay attention to the 6:40 mark to roughly the 7:40 mark, especially the way it looks:
You see how the leather is brittle and thick as hell? That is how all leather is. The difference is how the product it is intended for is going to use it.
In a way leather is a bit of an oxymoron. The higher quality the leather the weaker and less durable it is. So in essence, the better the perceived feel the worst construction the leather is. The reason for that is because for leather to become softer and more “natural” (sidebar: there is nothing natural about leather. It is a completely man made product. If it were to just stay what came straight off the cow, it would rot and fall apart and degrade and smell fucking terrible) it has to go through a tumbling process and then a grain rolling process. You’re probably wondering what that means? Well the more it is tumbled and pressed the more soft the leather gets by thinning out the imperfections of the hide. Such as bug bites, cuts, brandings or any other issues the cow had before it became our food (another sidebar: all hides are a byproduct of the beef industry. So in sense all leather is recycled but that is pushing it).
Once it has been tumbled and pressed to its desired thickness, again the softer the thinner the leather is, it is then grained. So everything that you perceive as grain, like “tumbled” on the Oreo IV”s or “stippled” grain on the Air Jordan I’s, is completely man made. Leather naturally has no grain. There is no “tumbled” herd of cows that are fed special grass on the best ranches in Wyoming. And there are not any “stippled” cows that hang out in Texas just waiting for the Jordan Brand to drop another pair retro I’s. All cows have the same grain, which is no grain at all.
The closest natural grain is basically a RedWing boot. But even that has been processed so much to get its deeply saturated “natural” – and I use that term loosely – colors that it is barely leather. The thing that makes it more natural is that its thickness is pretty close to the original cowhide.
To obtain its grained appearance during the tanning process the leather goes through a giant roller that the desired grain has been laser etched onto in a very, very large repeat pattern. As it goes through the roller the leather is pressed and stretched tightly and the grain is embossed into the leather, thus giving it the desired grain. Think of it like a pasta maker.
So without actually feeling the new “Remastered” retro product, my guess is what the series is being updated to is a finer and smoother leather that is more supple. Therefore it is thinner and takes form better. That is not to say that it is of bad quality and not durable. But to obtain finer leather you have to go thinner and by going thinner that means that it takes more time. And like I have said in countless posts, the more time a product takes to make the more cost it is going to have. So hence the $15 – $25 up charge for the “Remastered” product.
Another way of looking at the up charge is luxury cars. Take Porsche for instance. You can get their standard leather that is available on the base Carrera 4S. Or for a subtle $6,175 up charge on the already $105,000 Carrera 4S you can have an all “natural” leather interior. The reason for the cost increase is because Porsche knows it is going to take a warranty hit at some point because the leather is thinner to be more supple and therefore will wear down quicker. So essentially they are charging you for the replacement of the leather you will eventually ask for.
Now shoes don’t take the wear and tear a car does. Cars’ seats are destroyed by people, shoes are not. So don’t think that because the leather is higher quality on the Remastered series that the shoes will wear quicker. They won’t. Especially since most of you keep them in the box to wear once or twice every few months.
So that to me this is the information you really need to know about this product transition from the Jordan Brand. I personally think it is an excellent move. It takes their lifestyle product that is meant for the court and makes it a luxury product. Which is what it should be.
Great move JB!