How one of Nike’s weirdest sneakers became a bestseller

Most of the best-selling sneakers are typically Ken Doll – slick – think the never-offended Nike Roshe Run or the Adidas Superstar. Or think of the Nike Tanjun, adored by moms everywhere. But one sneaker sitting among their rarefied air caught my eye: the Nike Air Huarache.

I wrote recently about how the Tanjun became the best sneaker in America, and it’s easy to see why: the shoes are comfortable, cheap, and incredibly basic. The Huarache, which is second only to the Tanjun on the bestseller list, is best known for its signature chunky heel strap. It’s not Balenciaga”Ugly Croc Rigor even “ugly Balenciaga Triple S”, but it’s definitely bulkier than what usually sells at the mall. And at $110, it’s not cheap either. So how did we get here? Why is the second best-selling shoe in the United States – the kind of shoe that sells in the millions – so particularly odd?

The Huarache debuted in 1991 and, at the time, was one of Nike designer Tinker Hatfield’s most cutting-edge designs, debuting with advertisements that read, “The future is here.” Oliver Mak, co-founder of the Bodega sneaker store, recalls buying the shoe at a discount at first because it was so polarizing. “It was before its time,” says Daishin Sugano, co-founder and CPO at sneaker re-sell GOAT of the site. Sugano says the design was so different that he only really found an original consumer base among sneakerheads who gravitate towards shoes that stand out from the pack. Nike stuck with the shoe and saw a resurgence in interest in the model when it brought back the iconic “green scream” colorway in 2014. Since then, this bet has paid off.

“Huarache started making a name for itself in the market as early as spring 2015, with regular iterations of the model continuing through 2016,” Mak explains. “You’ve seen quirky retro colorways, premium and utilitarian variations, and only one or two collabs to keep it special.”

As with most great shoes, the Huarache’s rise in popularity was a calculated slow burn. It works like this: Nike recognizes a trend – a resurgence of interest in the 90s – and begins to create a buzz around the shoe, offering new colorways, then launching a trendy collaboration or two. In the case of the Huarache, Sugano says this process “helped make this once sneaker-only shoe more appealing to the general market.” Sugano specifically points out a model of the Huarache this streetwear brand Undefeated designed last summer. “The sneakers sold out immediately and are now selling for four times the retail price,” says Sugano. These types of partnerships create a halo effect around a shoe, boosting sales of non-collab online versions.

And while spotting and tapping into trends is business as usual for Nike, there’s something different about the Huarache. It’s not part of the trend; the shoe is a pioneering, iconic design that laid the groundwork over 20 years ago for the tastes we have today. “The Huarache is a classic Nike design from the golden age of sneaker innovation,” says Mak.

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