The Far East

The Far East is the fastest-growing trainer market in the world. The economic situations in countries like Japan and China are becoming increasingly healthy; the general population more than ever before put luxury goods and premium product as a high priority. When economies begin to prosper the rise of exposable income as a result only boosts the retail sector further. In the context of trainers, this newfound wealth, coupled with more exposure than ever before to Western culture has led to the birth of the ‘Hypebeast’ in the Far East. Most notably with Chinese Sneakerheads grabbing headlines for there devotion to the industry, and obsession with the drip.

I’m no economist, but to explain how China in fifty years can go from poverty-stricken to global social-economic superpower you only have to look at their population. When your industrialisation workforce meets one billion workers naturally your level of production goes through the roof. China has positioned itself as one of the most influential economies in the world, and now more than ever, pretty much every industry is looking to tap into the seemingly untapped potential of the Far East. With the streetwear world already reaping the benefits of an investment in places like China and Japan.

Asian Streetwear culture

Asia has more exposure to Western culture than ever before, and there has certainly in the past 20 years been a shrinking of the space between the two. That isn’t to say Asian fashion, retail and pop culture has by any means become a carbon copy of the USA’s. In fact, the cross-pollination has only solidified the differences. With Chinese Sneakerheads, Japanese Hypebeasts and the numerous other subcategory defining their own position within the now international trainer landscape. These countries, particularly places like China and Japan are home to their own well developed and free-standing streetwear industries. Flourishing in such a way that these countries are no longer just importing brands, but exporting their own.

Covering the whole spectrum from streetwear to luxury fashion, brands like BAPE, Sacai and Undercover to name just a couple have managed to infiltrate European and American markets increasingly successfully. So much so that they have been approached for collaboration with the like of Adidas and Nike as not only an acknowledgement of their craftsmanship but also a clear identification that these big hitters are putting more emphasis than ever before on the importance of appealing to the Asian market.

From Designer to Streetwear

If you ask Chinese sneakerheads how over the past 10 years the culture has developed. Most of them would cite the access to exposable income, shifting Political stances towards a less strict communist approach, and the rise of Hip Hop culture as key factors. Allowing for a greater appreciation of individualism and materialism in their culture. Now they have money and are allowed to spend it on whatever they want, they sure as hell are going to. It wasn’t always streetwear however that had China captivated. Predating their love of Streetwear was an obsession with Designer labels.

When exploring Asian hype culture, in general, the most notable thing I noticed is just how trend-driven they are. If it is hot, they are buying it. When it came to China specifically as mentioned a few years prior to the streetwear boom they were all over Designer labels. This all changed, however, when Louis Vuitton collaborated with American streetwear label Supreme in 2017. Not only did China have its eyes opened to streetwear, but to one of the most highly regarded and mania inciting hype brands in the world.

Get the Drip

If there is one thing you cannot doubt about the Chinese sneakerheads is there devoting to getting the drip. When K Pop adopted Air Jordans, Jordans went from sitting on shelves to selling out in a matter of days. Whenever there is a high profile collaboration, or release of any kind, big or small they queue out the store, round the block and up the road to get there hands on it. It isn’t just Yeezys or Off-White moving the needle, it is every single limited release. When you look at a Chinese sneakerhead everything is branded, and they wear each label with pride.

The importance of labels and the sheer number of brands that are consumed in particularly China has led to less high profile foreign brands trying to infiltrate the Chinese market to reinvent themselves. For example United States-based construction attire brand Caterpillar (CAT). Who has started creating more lifestyle orientated products in Asia, as their reputation hasn’t translated over the Pacific they are able to redefine themselves any which way they like for a whole new market. Much the same as how the brand Champion is considered relatively coveted in the UK but can be bought cheaply at Wallmart in its native USA.

Made in China

Ask me to tell you the biggest difference between Chinese sneakerheads and sneakerheads from any other part of the world, and I would say is their relationship with customs and fakes. The stereotype that puts a lot of Westerners on edge when you see Chinese resellers on eBay etc. Is that the products are going to be fake, and you wouldn’t be misguided for thinking that. In China, fakes aren’t frowned upon by the majority of the population. In fact, the “Made in China” monicker is something they accept. Adopting it in a lot of cases as a positive trope as opposed to a criticism. After all, Yeezys are made in China so they have the facilities to produce the product, and a lot of Chinese sneakerheads argue their fakes are so good you would never be able to tell the difference.

So for a lot of people in China who can’t afford to pay out heavily to cover themselves in the brands, but still want to conform to the culture. Wearing fakes is a legitimate option for them. In China, it is more about being part of the scene in general, and the community which loves the styles more than a more Westernised notion of elitism that comes with each product. This is also the reason why customisation is much more prominent in China. The culture over there actively promotes and celebrates creativity, with no real set guidelines on what can and can’t be worn together. This is why they often mix and match brands, customise clothes, ultimately as they want there drip to be as layered as possible with products they love. For the sake of spreading the culture, you need to make it accessible

How does the Chinese trainer market differ from elsewhere?

We’ve covered cultural differences between sneakerheads. We’ve covered some of the lore that underpins the scene but what are some of the differences between the markets themselves. The Chinese market can be described as being fundamentally different from the United States in three distinct ways:

  1. The resale market is crazy in China. Trainers are traded like stocks, and everything has a value. Whereas in the States you have resellers making money off Yeezys and Off-Whites. The market in China is so huge right now with the rise of Chinese sneakerheads that you can make a profit off of every release with almost 100% success. Resellers pay homeless people to wait in line outside stores to up their odds of securing a pair. Generally going above and beyond what someone from another country would do in order to turn a profit.
  2. In China, the way they buy trainers is totally different. In the sense that they don’t use StockX or GOAT like the rest of the world do. Instead, they have their own platform called ‘Poizon’ that works much the same as most secondary marketplaces. The only difference being you can pay for authentications separately. Meaning you can pay a fee and send photos in of your product to see if they are legit. Something which obviously has a higher demand for some people as the volume of fake product is so high in China as we have already mentioned.
  3. Celebrity influencers are way more prominent in defining culture. You could argue Kanye West does that to the trainer landscape in the United States but more so with the Yeezy brand. Whereas in China, sneakerheads and Hypebeasts copy entire outfits from head to toe when they see a popular figure wearing it. This includes trainers, as noted before, whenever a K Pop star wears a pair of trainers, the next day those trainers sellout. Exposable income for a lot of people in China isn’t the problem, it is the fashion sense to make a fit. So they let someone else do it for them.

Asian Brands beginning to dominate

As it was alluded to earlier in my article, not only are Asian people buying more streetwear than ever before. They are also involved in creating more streetwear than ever before. Nike and Adidas have started acknowledging not only that Chinese Sneakerheads need to be appealed to, but actually, the whole Asian market is starting to product streetwear that is ripe for collaboration. Some of the most highly touted and impressive designs of the last five years have come from the Far East. With Asian designers making noise in every level of the fashion world.

Designers like Jun Takahashi of Undercover, Rei Kawakubo of COMMES des GARCONS and Chitose Abe from Sacai all being able to forge incredibly popular and successful partnerships with Nike. Adopting some of the brands most popular silhouettes, with increasingly creative and accolade grasping designs. No more so than the recently extended collection of Sacai x Nike LDV Waffles, and Undercover’s collaborative work on the Nike React Element 87, and their upcoming work on the Nike Daybreak.

While China has also begun to push themselves into the conversation with some of there own brands. If you asked a Chinese sneakerhead they will list Feng Chen Wang and Sankuanz but the most globally recognised at the moment without a doubt is Li-Ning. Notably breaking into the NBA by signing former Miami Heat favourite Dwyane Wade to a lucrative deal which really elevated their products onto a more universal stage through online trainers platforms. Realistically, however, the trainer space is still dominated by heavy hitters like Jordan, Adidas and Nike. That isn’t to say they haven’t begun to respect and take notice of the evidently passionate and wealthy fanbases that have spawned all across Asia. The Far East’s influence on the trainer landscape as a whole is only ever going to expand, and we are just seeing the beginning of that.