I recently found myself faced with a very 2021 problem. A minor issue given the state of things, but a problem nonetheless: Todd Snyder or Aimé Leon Dore? Not in the sense of picking my One True Brand, but something a little more prosaic: each had a New Balance collab coming out within a day of each other, and I couldn’t decide which one to get.
Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. My wife—who is very accepting that I’m a weirdo who likes having lots of stuff—has tried to curb my consumption by instituting a one in, one out policy for shoes, which I’ve largely ignored. Initially, after donating a pair of Jordan 1 lows and seeing the hole in my closet, I thought I’d pick up the A.L.D.s. But the news that Todd Snyder was dropping a pair of New Balances with colorways inspired by a farmers market froze me in my tracks. I’d hit collab overload—a feeling I’d venture to guess lots of similarly sneaker-obsessed folks have been feeling lately.
This wasn’t the first time, either. Not long ago, I saw a pair of the New Balance X Casablanca 327s available on a resale site for a decent price and almost pulled the trigger—but then saw that the sneaker shop Bodega was going to celebrate its 15th birthday by working with NB on a pair of 990v3s and I thought that maybe I’d wait to see if I could get those. That decision sent me down a New Balance collab rabbit hole, causing me to second-guess my decision. I was crippled with anxiety. I’d hit a wall. That’s collab overload: a condition characterized by too many choices and not enough time to make a decision.
The brands, of course, are nowhere close to collab fatigue. Everybody wants to work together these days. Air Jordan and Dior. Lego and Adidas. Those Chinatown Grateful Dead Crocs: the rare three-way collab, and one I was obsessed with. My beloved New Balance is a particularly intense offender: in recent months, they’ve launched shoes with J. Crew, Tokyo Design Studio, JJJJound, Salehe Bembury, Stray Rats, Stüssy, and a few others still. I asked longtime sneaker writer Russ Bengtson to explain why, besides it being a good way to make more money, every sneaker company wants to work with somebody else.
“It’s a way to bring attention to a silhouette before it’s brought back on a more mass-market scale,” he says. “It’s a way for brands to utilize the design chops and social media of younger artists and designers without actually hiring them to real positions. The retailer or designer is guaranteed to push your product more—after all, now it’s their product too—so it’s win-win for the brands.”