Saturday, December 4, 2021

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    How the Air Jordan 1 Mid Became an Unlikely Hit

    If ESPN’s Michael Jordan doc The Last Dance had a co-star, it was the Air Jordan 1, Michael’s signature Nike shoe. The Last Dance made them look good: Here was Michael lacing them up again in ‘98, lavishing them with nostalgic praise. And here was a procession of celebrities, from Nas to Justin Timberlake, eager to extol the shoe’s immortal virtues and attest to the lasting influence of this truly iconic sneaker. It was hard to watch the series without yearning for a pair of your own.

    If you wanted to be like Mike and cop some classic red-and-black Jordans, you could have jumped on the Foot Locker website and, with the click of a few buttons, scored a pair for yourself for a little over a hundred bucks. But take a closer look: Those weren’t quite the Air Jordan 1 Retro High in the “Chicago” colorway that Jordan made famous on the court in Chicago Stadium. It turns out they were a different sneaker entirely: The Jordan 1 Mid Chicago Toe, a new, low-cost version of Michael’s vintage Jordan, released worldwide at the start of April last year.

    This may not seem like an important distinction. At a cursory glance, the Jordan 1 High Chicago and the Jordan 1 Mid Chicago certainly look like more or less the same shoe: same general shape, same bold red-and-black pattern, same unmistakable Nike swoosh along the side and Air Jordan “wings” logo stamped along the upper band of leather. But to any sneakerhead worth his or her salt, the two shoes could hardly have less in common. One is an immensely coveted grail that would be the crown jewel of any serious collection. The other — to put it bluntly — is unconscionably lame.

    The Jordan 1 Mid differs from the Jordan 1 High in two crucial respects: It costs less and, most critically, it’s much easier to buy. Every Jordan 1 High released sells out almost instantly, and if you want a pair, you have to either be extremely lucky or willing to pay a premium of upwards of 500% on resale. Mids, by contrast, tend to sit on the shelf at Champs and Foot Locker untouched for weeks. That level of accessibility has steadily tainted their reputation, and for people who have done the hard work of collecting valuable, hard-to-find sneakers, the Mid has come to represent a shameful compromise — a “fake” Jordan 1 that a real fan can spot (and disdain) from a mile away.

    “You just don’t buy Mids,” says Tristan Banning, a sneakerhead and influencer who co-runs the lifestyle website Sidewalk Hustle. “They’re like the Canada of Jordans — the safe younger brother.” His partner Hawley Dunbar echoes the sentiment: “Mids are super weird because when you look at what comes out, they tend to be super similar to an actual hype drop that’s passed. I consider them a consolation prize for people who take the L on the real thing.”

    But over the last eight months, a funny thing has happened. Mids have started selling — and retailers all over the country have started selling out. What has for several years been a down-market sneaker that anyone could walk into a sports store and buy at their leisure is rapidly becoming one of the top-selling items in the world of athletic footwear. As a result, perceptions are gradually shifting—and shifting so radically that the once-loathed Mids are poised to be the dominant sneaker of the year.

    “We’ve seen this really, really explosive growth in the Mid market, especially over the last calendar year,” says Jesse Einhorn, an economist with the major sneaker resale site StockX. On StockX, sales and trades of the Jordan 1 Mid have skyrocketed throughout 2020, and they predict the numbers will continue to rise. “We really started noticing it in Europe. In the UK, Jordan 1 Mids are now outselling Jordan 1 Highs two to one, and in the second half of the year we saw that pattern migrate to the US.” Sales of Mids on the site have increased over 200% since December 2019. Sales of Mids in women’s sizes, meanwhile, are up 1000% over the same period.

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