Brace yourselves, sneakerheads, because today Converse is releasing a new version of its Chuck Taylors. If you’ve been hiding in some unhip corner of the universe, the heritage footwear brand and these sneakers have inspired a generation. Converse Chuck Taylor All Star II was launched on July 23 in Boston, and the sneakers are now on sale.
What’s the big deal? This is the first new version of Converse Chucks in 98 years. The company was established in 1908, and though Chucks were originally shoes for athletes, particularly basketball players, they were soon adopted by everyone else, especially creative types. In a century, not much has changed about the shoe except colors and some materials. Until now.
A quick glance won’t tell you the difference between the old and new styles, since the changes are mostly internal. What’s more interesting: The lesson for any founder who is reluctant to make changes to products that are loved by a passionate community. While I have read many articles about what this means for Chucks, I am fascinated by the current sneaker boom and how Nike has turned an old brand into a cash-generating monster.
Converse has been on a bit of a tear lately. It had sales of $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2014 — up 10 times from its sales in 2003, when the company was rescued from pending bankruptcy by a Nike acquisition. Nike paid about $305 million for the brand, and 12 years later, Nike has browbeaten look-alikes with its legal prowess, improved brand positioning and gone directly to the consumer. As a result it isn’t surprising that during Nike’s fiscal 2015, Converse revenues grew 18 percent, to $2 billion. Now, that’s something, considering this is a 100-year-old brand.
Some sneaker fans think the new Chucks are going to cannibalize the old Chucks. Not surprisingly, there has been nervous chatter on the social web. Many die-hard fans have been worried about Nike mucking it up and moving away from the minimalism that made the shoe an icon. There have even been comparisons to the New Coke.
I think those negative associations might soon be a thing of the past. Anecdotally, it seems Nike might have a huge hit on its hands. I posted a link to this article on FastCo Design about the creation of this new shoe on my Facebook page, and I asked if people were buying these new shoes or not. The response has been overwhelmingly positive: People are ready to upgrade to the new version, which might mean big bucks for Nike at the cash register.
One caveat: Techies love Converse and always have, so there might be a certain bias in my community toward the brand. And being a tech-heavy community, we are more likely to upgrade more often. That said, the buzz around the shoe is amazing, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we see these new sneakers everywhere.
That means a beefier bottom line for the parent company. I’ve noticed that when an acquiring company uses its scale but generally leaves its iconic purchase alone, that acquired brand becomes a big money maker. Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram is another example: According to eMarketer estimates, by 2017, Instagram revenues are likely to be $2.81 billion. Facebook hasn’t pushed any major changes on its acquisition, and the Instagram experience is still as original as it was during the early days. Google’s acquisition of YouTube also falls in this category.
And if you were wondering about me, well, apart from the gym, I rarely wear sneakers. But when I do, I prefer ones with much thicker soles and comfort padding, especially the Greats’ Royale Chukka, which were a gift from the Greats founder Ryan Babenzien, who has become a dear friend over the years and wants me to design a shoe for him.
So are you buying the new Chucks? Let me know and come continue the conversation on my Facebook page.
Update: My friend Michael Galpert disagrees and points out that under the Facebook watch, Instagram has added Hyperlapse, Layout, new search and discovery. I disagree! The first two are standalone apps. Instagram Search and discovery were there before Facebook acquired the company — since acquisition they have become infinitely better and synchronous with Facebook search and discovery. In many ways it is like Nike quietly slipping in its tech inside the shoe.
Here are some of the improvements in the new Chucks II (via the press release) :
- Lighter canvas that has a slick and softer finish.
- Embroidered Patch in white and blue thread vs heat-welded in the classic model.
- Rectangular logo on the heel is embossed and. It screen printed.
- The sole is honey colored versus brown.
- Eyelets are the same color as an upper, have a matted finish and also have the converse marking.
- The inside of the shoe features a springy foam cushion on the footpad. It is Nike technology called Lunarlon.
- There is memory foam in the shoe.
- Micro-suede inside the shoe is breatheable.
- Some adjustments to the tongue of the shoe.