Every weekend we’re assailed by a multitude of partner project footwear from a global cast of brands and retailers. Keeping on top of it is a job in itself and it’s an established business model that’s almost mandatory. While it’s tough to lock down the true originators of that particular strain of hype, adidas Consortium is the pioneering ongoing project that everyone else at least took some tips from.
Launched on January 1st 2005, with the dedicated few waiting to grab their limited edition Superstars at the stroke of midnight, this project has been a work in progress that’s prolific in its output. Over nearly 12 years, the Herzo-based top-tier project has constantly shape shifted from straight up collaborations, to conceptual collectibles, to a monotone return to basics.
One of the few constants has been that familiar handshake logo and, echoing the tagline from the original adidas BAPE project (2003’s proto-Consortium pinnacle), the respect is mutual. Whereas Consortium’s early incarnations focused on single silhouettes, adidas’s recent boom time has built a set of new franchises that have channeled and upgraded the same energy that created those New Year campouts all those years ago.
2017’s Sneaker Exchange project partners stores worldwide for some yearlong creative tag teaming. Launched last week with UNDFTD and colette’s Campus and EQT reworkings arriving in time for Paris’s fashion week, the fruits of this meeting of minds are as comprehensive, detailed and competitive as a modern collaboration needs to be.
Having seen the collection in its entirety, we can report that it certainly sets a standard again, displaying an unparalleled level of care. Hidden details and statement applications of material and colour, plus some unexpected silhouettes, are all in the mix, but loose lips sink flagships, so our lips are sealed.
While some figureheads of stores are celebrities in their own right and many of those doors are trusted brands, what about the actual minds behind Consortium? After all, bringing those 22 shoes and everything else around them to life alongside several other non-collab pieces — while setting things up for 2018 to maintain that momentum — is a significant challenge.
Veteran adidas collaboration man Daniel Bauer has been with the brand almost as long as Consortium has existed and currently works as senior director of the brand’s statement output, while Consortium’s senior product manager Jimmy Manley is a relatively new addition to the team. They kindly took time out of a very busy Paris showroom schedule to talk about the mechanics of creating a memorable collaboration in the current marketplace.
TDD: What was the intention behind the Sneaker Exchange project?
DANIEL: Consortium itself has always been open source and I think as a brand we have invested to build these partnerships. I think right now we’ve peaked it and brought it to the next level and given it a new dimension about what collaboration means — not just between partners but also with each other.
JIMMY: We have the ability to go into different categories and we have these partners who respect what it is that Consortium stands for, so we bring two accounts from different territories and regions to amplify those things. We wanted that to have the purpose and authenticity and be more than just slapping on a colour or material. We wanted to see cultural ideas come together, juxtaposed with our history, heritage and innovation.
How was the order of the releases assigned?
J: We looked at the year from a brand perspective and knew that this is fashion week in Paris. It would be remiss not to celebrate that. We thought about who else we could put with Colette at this time and how far we could push it. So we came up with Undefeated.
They’ve worked with each other a few times before haven’t they?
J: Exactly. They have this relationship before. We didn’t necessarily want to expose that but speak to it and be authentic. Sarah [Andelman, colette’s creative director] and James [Bond, Undefeated’s co-founder] have this legacy with our icons, whether it be Superstar or Stans — now it’s Campus. It feels natural and organic. When you see that project together you see that Campus and you think that it feels like a colette shoe, then you see that embossed camouflage pattern and you get that Undefeated feel. It’s the element of discovery.
Then you see Asian and European stores in the mix later down the line — was it like a draw in sports to pick sides?
J: We pride ourselves on knowing these accounts. Everyone who comes through our door we can speak to for hours on end. So we think about how if we put these two together they’ll come up with something interesting. It was interesting that with people who hadn’t worked together or had a relationship, we could figure out independently what that was going to be like. There are new accounts like Invincible in Taiwan who are doing some really, really good stuff, so putting them with a store they might not have known before brings something really unexpected. With some it was total competition!
How do you make sure they work together and make the most of a creative chemistry?
J: In terms of parameters, one of the only things that we were paramount on was that you have to do this together — you can’t be like, “You do this shoe and I’ll do the other!” So whether you get in the same room, whether you get on the phone or whether you Skype it, it has to be done together.
How were models assigned for this project?
J: Again, knowing the accounts and knowing their tastes, we put a couple of models in there. We aligned it so that whatever model they chose, we were going to be all right. They gravitated to what they gravitated toward and it turned out well.
If I were a retailer right now, I’d probably want either Ultra Boost or NMD. Did you have to minimise the offerings there? There’s always a commercial and hype aspect at play.
J: Given the level of accounts — these are archetype accounts —you tend to get them thinking “Man, I bet they’re all going to do an NMD, so I’m not going to do that!” They challenge themselves, which allows us to tell a variety of different stories. That competition means that they dare to be different.
Back in the day there wasn’t necessarily a commercial model that was vastly popular over others in a project like aZX, but in 2017 you have these white-hot models.
J: Our franchises are so strong. The team has done a great job of defining franchises — from Stan Smith in 2014 to NMD now. There’s six or seven legitimate franchises that have been built so it makes it easier for an account to get behind it and it makes it easier for us to propose something, because these products have an equal billing.
D: The biggest change from 10 years ago to where we are now is that back then, there were always Stans and Superstars, and with Consortium we were trying to put out things that are unique. Now I feel that as our franchises are trading, we are much more considered when it comes to our life cycles. We have a bigger variety and range of options. We can be progressive but we know that the Stan and the Superstar were given cycles and the Gazelle and the Campus can be our next ones. We want to reestablish it and bring it to a new audience with new context. We have the accounts that don’t want to go with the easy shoe — they want to explore.
Has the lifting of some red tape between performance and trefoil branded products really helped you? The boundaries have really blurred.
D: Absolutely. It’s made it so we have access to the whole portfolio and we have the consumer in mind. Obviously our partners help us work out what is the right model. It goes beyond boundaries of something being made for sport or lifestyle. It’s also part of the growth and evolution that the brand went though to say that, yeah, we design shoes for sports, but they have relevance in lifestyle and culture. We can embrace that within Consortium.
Is there a dedicated Consortium team at adidas now? I remember the team being far smaller in the project’s early days.
D: Yes. We always had one guy who conceptualised the line, but we had to borrow internal designers and developers. We started to build that four years ago and two years ago we brought in Jimmy who has his eye on the US market — to connect the sneaker world, it used to be very European driven. So now we have a team in place to design, market, develop and market. We can operate on our own within this brand, which I think is also what we needed to become. Jimmy is thinking about this 24/7.
When you develop these projects are you kept in the loop throughout? Do you ever advise the designers regarding any similar looking colours or ideas?
J: Absolutely. That’s part of the whole process. That process has been a year and some change of pulling things together — that whole experience and relationship is authentic and the respect is mutual so to speak. So you don’t have to spend the time dancing around certain things. You cultivate these relationships to the point where you can straight shoot — we’re just on the phone kicking it together. Everybody has their lanes. We don’t have these long back and forths, and the more we channel into this group of retailers, the more we get back. The less time we spend with them, the more difficult it is to build.
When Superstar35 launched 12 years ago, it created a monster. I’m not taking shots here, but there’s a lot of grand scale multi-retail collaborations now. How do you create collaborations that are memorable?
J: It’s art and science. One simple thing is that whatever one shoe we’re working with for a partner, we’re going to provide certain things. First of all, we’ll provide the inline rollout. So they know what we’ve covered from a brand perspective — so let’s not even go there. For this project specifically, we went in modules. The first module was concepts. Before the accounts even saw tech packs, we wanted to see concepts. So if we look at a concept, we can review it as a team and say “Okay, this is what the direction is gonna be,” and we ask for a colour palette and material palette. Right there, we’re pretty much laying the foundation.
Some of the stores are like marketing companies in themselves — how is marketing being assigned with stores? Are they getting some direction, guidelines and budgets? A store like KITH can sell product through its own channels with ease…whereas when Consortium began, social media wasn’t a thing.
J: This was a concept where we want consumers to know exactly what it is. With KITH it’s a Sneaker Exchange KITH project. We brought in an agency to tell a consistent story, so it’s not about taking out a partner’s creative input or specialties — we’re just providing a platform of consistency. From the colette and Undefeated project to the final release at the end of the year, there will be a consistency in storytelling — it won’t be Consortium series: it’ll be Sneaker Exchange.
How is Consortium membership assigned? Is there a criterion?
D: Obviously we watch how they perform and how they act in selling our inline business, but essentially it’s about how participate in this industry, how they are connected and how strong they are conceptually to become a partner and contribute. Obviously, they are the ambitions of any good store nowadays — it’s not just about having a good space and how much they sell, but it’s also about how they communicate, interact and build their audience. We’re also very mindful of how that mutual respect is there in the network — it has to be a really good fit for us.
I’m really interested by stores who build this vast presence online, even if their physical space is small. I know that nobody can talk numbers specifically, but how are numbers controlled here to ensure both availability and a total sell-through? The current boutique buyer mentality is that if it’s still there on Monday, it’s going to sit, barring some lucky co-sign online. Is there a thin line between making a shoe available and making it exclusive?
D: Managing that fine line is exactly what Jimmy and the guys are doing. What I like is that partners know that they drive the revenues with the inline product. The beauty is how it intertwines with the limited product — that’s the fine line. We try to be not only limited, but ask, what are the main KPIs [Key Performance Indicators] for this? Is it driving hype and traffic to the store? Will it remain hot?
Now those KPIs can be analysed. Explaining limited product to shareholders must have been hard when it couldn’t be measured with qualitative data — now we can supply data on reach and awareness as well as sales across platforms. Somewhere between all of that, there’s the sweet spot.
J: You’ve got that right. That’s that science. Much respect to the brand for investing in a team — the Consortium business. Now, we not only have the time to put the creativity in, but we also have the time to get deep down into the business and analyse things, It’s not the sexiest part, but we’re so dialed in now that if you mention any key account we can pretty much tell you the capacity in that account for a qualitative and quantitative perspective. We literally look at everything — no stone is unturned.
Hype product is almost a norm — venture capitalists seem to want some of that shoe resell money — so does that make explaining the need for limited numbers any easier to top level management?
D: It’s a tough one to say. Internally we are still having these conversations about what we sold. They’re aware that if means a lot for brand image and how having these drops every weekend translates down into business. I think we’re starting to make capitalists realise that it can help make us healthy on the financial side. We have all this intelligence now like StockX and other resources, and it’s helping raise awareness to educate people.
Do you think it sometimes helps to not be too reverential towards a shoe design when it comes to collaboration? Often it helps to be passionate about it, but sometimes you can be too reverential and play it safe.
J: I think we actually are creating new franchises that we’re handing over without any external history. Obviously our design team does a good job of pulling things out that hark back if you really, really look at them and really know about it, but at the end of the day it’s a new product and the history hasn’t been written yet. Then you’re creating the new. When you don’t just have the same bag of tricks, you can refresh and move ahead.
Do you see a difference in how Americans and Europeans approach adidas products? A new stateside audience is picking up on running shoes, which seemed like a very Euro thing several years ago.
J: Actually, we were working with an American partner who was able to look at these things and look at these products and tap into it knowing that the kids don’t have an existing reference point so they’re deliberately creating their own context, message and intent. It’s interesting to see how the brand is operating in North America right now.
I’m interested in seeing how the SPEEDFACTORY concept applies to Consortium over time — making things to order and to specific specs will change everything. It should definitely change lead times. Do you see that as another layer on top of your future workload or an opportunity to open up new creative avenues?
D: I think you’re in the right territory there. It’s something we’re definitely looking into. I’m not sure that it’s going to make our lives more hectic or challenging — I believe that adidas will always be about authenticity. The quality of products will never go away, no matter how fast we can sample products in the future. But we are open to opportunities that help build us as a brand and as a partner to help the retailers, and allow us all to be more creative and be even quicker to get something that you’ve designed into your hands in matter of days or even hours. That’s an amazing future.
We throw open source around as a buzz term, but it feels very apt with the FUTURECRAFT concept. I can see a future where fake shoes happen by pirating source codes rather than just trying to clone them the age-old way. Or maybe you’ll just be able to legally download the code for a collaboration…
J: Every now and these are the things that make the team say, “Hey, let’s go away for a day and just have these conversations!” But that is exactly what enables us to keep going.
The first drop of the ADIDAS CONSORTIUM SNEAKER EXCHANGE, the excellent COLETTE x UNDEFEATED CAMPUS 80s and COLETTE x UNDEFEATED EQT SUPPORT, gets its global release tomorrow, SATURDAY 28 JANUARY. You can find the full, confirmed stockist list by clicking the banner below.