Travis Scott’s Nike collaborations have become so enormously popular that selling them is hazardous to stores. I’m not kidding! For his latest sneaker, a take on the iconic Nike Dunk, Scott gave local skate shops first dibs on sales. This would seem to be a golden opportunity: all of Scott’s collaborative shoes attract a massive amount of attention and sell out instantly. And yet some retailers literally won’t bring the shoes into their stores. Labor, a New York City skate shop the size of a well-to-do Upper Westsider’s walk-in closet, was so overcome with interest it announced the shoes would never be in the store. “PLEASE stop the calls, dm’s, emails, etc., we are not going to respond,” the shop’s Instagram pleaded. The owner of Crushed Skateshop in D.C. told Mic that it was impossible to get work done in the lead up to the release because so many people were calling about the shoe. With hyped clothing and shoe drops, we’ve grown accustomed to fans lining up in massive numbers, incensed empty-handed buyers, and resale prices in the thousands. Businesses so overwhelmed with interest they beg customers to stop calling? That feels like a new Scott-created phenomenon. Somehow, he has become one of the most powerful collaborators in sneakers.
“I've been privy to quite a few drops in my time where you think, ‘Yo, is the fever at the maximum level?’” says sneaker influencer, DJ, and consultant Kish Kash. “ This one is beyond anything I've seen.” Even if you’re not a fan of Scott or his shoes, you’re probably going to try to buy them—they sell for many, many multiples of their retail price on the secondary market. The collaborative Jordan 1s with the reversed Nike Swoosh, for example, are reselling for nearly $1,500, a 748% premium compared to the shoe’s original price, according to StockX.
Scott, of course, is only a single name on a long list of musicians and entertainers who have teamed up with the world’s biggest sneaker brands. What differentiates Scott’s shoes from ones designed by Pharrell? Or from those bearing names like Kendrick Lamar, Pusha T, Tyler, the Creator, or Beyoncé, names who are arguably just as, if not more, well known? Pharrell is better known as a fashion icon, Beyoncé is the more beloved global icon, Kendrick Lamar is likely the more-respected rapper. (Kanye West, who has cultivated his Yeezy sneakers into a humming sub-brand is, obviously, the exception.) Scott’s shoes, though, are the ones driving unequaled levels of hysteria. So what makes the difference?
“Travis Scott is arguably the biggest sneaker collaborator,” says Yu-Ming Wu, Stadium Goods’ chief marketing officer. “The only other name that is driving the same level of hype and sales is Virgil Abloh and the Off-White Nike collection.” Scott’s shoes and merch have done so well that Stadium Goods brought a pop-up dedicated to the rapper to Fred Segal in Los Angeles. But the qualities that separate Scott from other collaborators are often described in vague terms. “There’s been a vibe around Travis the last few years,” says Wu, “and people really gravitate towards his music and anything about him.”
Scott’s growing influence in the world of sneakers is usually described with words reserved for inevitable, unstoppable acts of nature: the gravity he commands or, as Kash puts it, the “perfect storm” that explains his huge success.
The most important element to Scott’s storm is the lineup of sneakers he’s been allowed to remix. “A lot of rappers and entertainers like to think of themselves as sneakerheads, but Travis Scott is a rare breed with a deep appreciation of the culture,” says Wu. “He often brings back older, hyped sneakers which helps educate new heads and remind the old heads. His love and respect for the industry is a big part of his sneaker cult following.” Accordingly, Scott has redesigned some of the most iconic shoes in Nike’s history: the Air Force 1, the Jordan 1, the Jordan 4, the Jordan 6, and now the Dunk. (Consider that someone like Lamar worked with less-heralded models like the React 55 and Cortez.)
These are models that would be desirable whether or not they were designed by Scott. The already-established history of some of these shoes also changes the design calculus. Where some might see lazy design in Scott’s small tweak of the Air Jordan 1, others see a collaborator respecting an all-time classic shoe. “[He] executed the design to a wonderful degree without it overpowering the shoe and the legacy of the shoe,” says Kash.
That gentle touch doesn’t apply to every shoe, though. The Dunks, releasing this Saturday, February 29th, are the “Sicko Mode” of his shoe collection: a flurry of different parts stitched together into one big hit. In this case, paisley rages with plaid while both try to get along with calmer patches of beige. Notably, the shoes are not for everyone, including one of Nike’s very own ambassadors. “Who keep letting Travis Scott do shit? Sending these back @nikeSB,” Nike SB team member Kevin Bradley wrote on his Instagram story. Then he posted a video of him punting the shoes out into the night.
Those on the other side of the taste spectrum will tell you that his shoes are a reflection of the personal style that has made Scott a beloved fashion figure. Over the years, Scott has built up his fashion bonafides by wearing archival Raf Simons—the really good stuff from, like, the fall/winter 2001 collection—in the “Antidote” music video or taking a vintage Celine blouse seemingly pilfered from Kanye West on a seaside vacation (a dream!). Past Nike press releases detail Scott’s influences: everything from lil’ military-inspired pockets and Houston-Oilers blue, to “burlap accents, a reference to farm product and a metonym for resilience and hard work.” Scott’s personal style “adds the respect,” says Kash. “It means [the shoe designs] aren’t contrived.”
To revisit the question of why Scott’s shoes are more hyped than ones from his other equally famous, equally talented, equally stylish sneaker-collaborator counterparts, it comes down to the swirl of Scott’s talents rather than a single dominant one. “This design language, his love for sneakers, his fashion choice and his character are what makes his sneakers special,” says Wu. Scott’s success in sneakers may be explained by the same quality that makes his music so popular: he’s a master synthesizer. If he can jam twelve different snippets together and emerge with a chart-topping song, he can absolutely turn a shoe with multiple patterns into a madness-inciting bestseller. Provided, of course, that stores aren’t too scared to sell them.