Because nothing makes sense anymore, the most popular shoe in the world at this moment is not your typical grail-making collaboration between a high-fashion designer like Virgil Abloh. It's not a design from a Travis Scott-level entertainer. Nor is it not a super-luxe, high-design piece of footwear. Instead, for the biggest shoe of 2020, Nike partnered with a brand you’ll recognize from the freezer section of the grocery store—Ben & Jerry’s—for a take on its Dunk silhouette that looks like a souvenir from an LSD trip. Meet the Chunky Dunky.
The design is outrageous. The shoe's coloring borrows the familiar tranquil scene from a carton of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream—a cow backdropped by rolling green meadows and blue skies. The Nike Swoosh on the side is melting, like a scoop running down a cone on a sweltering summer day. The internal lining is a hippy-dippy tie dye. There are more elements on this shoe than on a toddler’s make-your-own sundae. From any angle, it is ridiculous.
And yet the Chunky Dunky, which went on sale yesterday for $100 through Nike, sold out immediately. More bracingly, it is now trading for an average sale price of $1,609 on secondary market StockX. The Friends & Family edition of the shoe, which arrived in a sneaker-sized tub of ice cream, is going for $3,828. The last collaboration with a consumer brand that did this well was a pair made with Heineken almost two decades ago.
So how is the Chunky Dunky the biggest release of the year so far?
The success of the Chunky Dunky is about much more than this single shoe—it’s a lesson in how Nike creates hits by building up its shoe models, harnessing hype, and slowly trickling our pairs. “It's just supply and demand,” says Josh Luber, the cofounder of StockX. “This is Econ 101 at its most basic. And this shoe is really limited.” So that’s the most obvious answer: the Chunky Dunky’s success is predicated on its limited nature. That can’t be the whole answer, though. If I announced I was selling a pair of sneakers limited to only five pairs in the world, would you buy one? Unlikely. Professional resellers trying to move the Chunky Dunky for close to two grand would be out of luck without anyone who legitimately wants the shoe to wear, or to hold onto as an investment.
So, another theory: the Chunky Dunky’s success is due less to its specific design or quantity than its lineage. Nike’s last eye-poppingly popular release was the Travis Scott Dunk that peaked at $1,522 on StockX. Scott’s shoe was also an SB Dunk designed without restraint—the shoe brazenly mixed plaid and bandana prints. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it shot to the top of every sneakerhead’s wishlist. Forget the design, though—what might matter most is its designation as a Dunk. Because so far, 2020 has been the year of the Dunk: beyond Scott’s and Ben & Jerry’s, to name just a few, Nike’s released the green-and-yellow “Brazils,” a collaboration with Comme des Garçons, and a pair of collegiate editions that borrow colors from Syracuse and Kentucky. “There's been this massive reemergence around the SB Dunk and particularly the SB Dunk Lows, and obviously Travis was a big part of that,” says Luber. “If it had been reversed, if [the Chunky Dunky] came out before [Scott’s] Dunk, then this one probably wouldn't be as big.” In other words: the Dunk is being groomed for success, and the Chunky Dunky is the latest and biggest beneficiary of that process.
And the Dunk’s rise is connected to a broader shift in the kinds of sneakers we love. “The reason why the Dunk has always been this canvas for great designs, and is such an iconic shoe, is the same reason the Jordan 1 is: it's just very, very wearable,” says Luber. He points out that later Jordan models, and even the Kobes that are very popular among pro basketball players today, look like athletic shoes—and basketball shoes now comprise less than 4% of athletic shoe sales, compared to 13% in 2014, according to NPD data. Dunks, on the other hand, have universal appeal—and their popularity in the early aughts makes them ripe for a comeback. “Nike is king at picking winners by selling a story, bringing back a shoe like the Dunk from the graveyard, and catering to a consumer who buys shoes based on pop culture versus athlete recognition,” explains influential sneaker reseller Corgishoe.
I’m willing to admit that the shoe’s success may be a mystery only to me, the old man screaming at Ben & Jerry’s idyllic blue skies. All those kooky colors, Corgishoe says, are carefully calibrated to work together: “Strictly in terms of design,” Corgishoe says, the shoe is “executed incredibly well.” (Still, he notes: “As an adult male of a certain age,” he adds, “I would never consider wearing them.”) Luber is a fan, too. In today’s crowded social media-driven sneaker era, no shoe travels as far as an instantly recognizable one.
But maybe the appeal of the Chunky Dunky is even simpler. I’ve pounded a carton or two of Phish Food in my day—so I guess I should understand that, when it comes Ben & Jerry’s, immoderation to the point of hedonism is kind of the whole point.