In May 2023, Nike teamed up with the colorful soda brand Jarritos to drop a limited-edition release of SB Dunk Low sneakers. Inspired by the canvas bags Mexican workers used to harvest fruit, the shoe includes a tearaway canvas overlay and three colorful lace options. After selling out almost immediately, the green and orange sneakers moved to the resell market, where Nike kicks go for hundreds of dollars.
In an increasingly competitive market, it’s only natural to see companies innovate new ways to capture market share.
From well-established macro brewers to up-and-coming flavored tequilas, brands across the prestige spectrum are investing in exclusive footwear. For good reason, too: No matter the brands involved, or their individual identities, sneaker collaborations are a tried-and-true way to create hype and push new innovations, for both drinkers and sneaker enthusiasts alike.
The recipe for a successful collab is simple: Start by taking an already trending item, like sneakers, to use as your base. Then, stir in a generous amount of brand recognition and garnish with a strategic communication campaign. Serve in limited quantities at a very high menu price, and voila.
Given the crossover in values between engaged drinkers and sneaker collectors, the popularity of beverage brands’ sneaker collabs isn’t too surprising. “There is some synergism between sneaker collecting and fine wine collecting, or the collecting of spirits,” author Elizabeth Semmelhack says. “It speaks to taste, wealth, status, and historic knowledge. A lot of sneaker collectors themselves are interested in rarity and history.”
Semmelhack, author of “Sneakers X Culture: Collab” and senior curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, says limited-edition sneaker collaborations create excitement (read: demand) with low availability in the market. “Exclusivity is what creates hype, and hype is what creates monetary value,” she says.
When Worlds Intersect
While cross-industry collaborations appear hotter than ever, there’s nothing new about them.
Sneaker collabs are closely associated with the mid-2010 rise of streetwear, yet Semmelhack says brand partnerships started much earlier, during the Great Depression. As companies competed for customers’ limited dollars, some shoe brands decided to release crossover products to increase consumer interest. Most notable among them: Converse’s 1932 collab with athlete Chuck Taylor.
Brands are employing that same strategy today, as the U.S. economy faces a potential recession in 2023, according to Ad Age. The advertising-focused media outlet notes that cross-industry collabs can also cut companies’ marketing costs by joining forces as budgets tighten.
“It must be a complete alignment in terms of the values, DNA, and ethos of the brands. In a marketing campaign, these collaborations typically happen when a brand is trying to break into a new customer segment.”
Cost-saving advantages aside, like-minded partnerships can also share marketing and profit opportunities. By building on brand loyalty, and generating exclusivity, two brands can produce an almost instant sellout product. That might be driven by drinkers looking to scoop up every product associated with their favored booze brands, but Semmelhack says the same strategy works with audiences who choose to drink less frequently.
As alcohol brands brainstorm ways to reach younger audiences — especially those who favor drier lifestyles — sneaker “drops” are the natural next step. “Part of it is an effort to engage with Gen Z,” she says. “They’re a generation who really isn’t that interested in alcohol.”
In the same way, younger audiences are also learning information about product drops differently. Semmelhack notes today’s use of StockX, a sneaker trading site that tracks sales data and offers exclusive releases for often hefty price tags. On the platform, Nike x Jarritos sneakers can go for as little as $60 or as high as $1,335. Data indicates that there’s an average 305 percent markup on the limited-edition sneakers, based on over 500 sales on the reselling platform in the past 12 months.
Planning a Successful Collaboration
In order for a brand collaboration to be mutually beneficial, it must feature two companies with overlapping values, according to New York University professor Thomaï Serdari. Serdari focuses on luxury marketing strategies in her work and says that successful collabs can be tricky — and sometimes risky.
“It must be a complete alignment in terms of the values, DNA, and ethos of the brands,” Serdari says. “In a marketing campaign, these collaborations typically happen when a brand is trying to break into a new customer segment.”
Serdari describes partnerships as either an upward or a lateral move — a brand might strive toward a slightly more luxurious market, or pair with a company on the same level of prestige. A lateral move is typically mutually beneficial, while an upward partnership can provide significant marketing value for the lesser-known or less prestigious brands.
“Sneaker culture and streetwear have shifted the way we think about fashion and expression.”
Take the 2019 release from Jack Daniel’s and Dominic “The Shoe Surgeon” Chambrone as an example of the former. Both are strong leaders in their respective categories: Chambrone is esteemed for his creative spins on custom-made shoes, while the spirits partner is one of the most recognizable brands in the whiskey space. The shoes incorporated smooth whiskey hues and a variety of leather-like textures for a uniquely crafted — and undeniably Jack Daniel’s-inspired — sneaker. A total of seven custom designs from The Shoe Surgeon, inspired by the brand, debuted at pop culture convention ComplexCon that year.
“Craftsmanship is the ultimate common denominator between what I do and those who make Jack Daniel’s,” Chambrone said in a press release at the time. “We have a mutual respect and care for the process and the end product is highlighted through every last detail.”
It’s expected that those who love to sip Jack Daniel’s also wouldn’t mind slipping into a pair of those sneakers.
When considering alcohol-specific collaborations, Serdari says that exclusive sneaker partnerships can help cater toward drinkers’ self-expression.
“The apparel sector is the one industry that capitalizes on our expressive wants,” she says. “We all want to project an identity, and the easiest way for us to do it is to buy certain types of clothing that say we’re hip, we’re cool, we’re fun, or we’re serious.”
As such, brands are counting on consumers to align themselves with their shared values. Perhaps they’re attracted to the carefree appeal of Bacardí rum, or the down-to-earth authenticity of a soda brand like Jarritos. Sneakers were also the first vehicle to make the general male population feel comfortable experimenting with fashion, Semmelhack says.
Executing a Sneaker Drop
Earlier this year, flavored tequila brand 21SEEDS co-founder Kat Hantas and cult shoe label Birdies founder Bianca Gates joined forces to release a tennis sneaker based on 21SEEDS’ line of flavored tequilas. It combines the base of the Roadrunner sneaker silhouette (a classic Birdies offering and favorite of Kat Hantas) with the color palette of 21SEEDS. Color offerings such as “hibiscus raffia,” “jalapeño leather,” and “valencia leather” speak to the lineup of colorful, fruit-flavored tequilas. The final product is a brightly colored, punchy sneaker with a Birdies-trademark tassel and comfy sole inserts.
“Sneaker culture is big,” Gates says. She notes that prior streetwear trends typically skewed masculine, so the duo wanted to create something unmistakably feminine. “The idea was how to leverage both of our brands — in categories that typically target men — to use our platform to create something so incredible for women,” Gates says.
Hantas met with leaders at parent company Diageo to pitch the idea. After receiving the green light from execs, longtime friends Hantas and Gates spent roughly a year designing the May 2023 drop. The final product is a brightly colored, punchy sneaker with a Birdies-trademark tassel and comfy sole inserts.
Hantas says the partnership was a seamless project between two female-focused labels with similar values. “This is a perfect marriage — there’s so much in what we stand for, as two brands, that we can throw into the idea of this collab,” she says. “There’s a lot of overlap.”
While some sneaker drops rely on shared marketing values, others aim to capture a shared understanding of individualism. For a summer 2023 marketing campaign, Bacardí collaborated with streetwear staple Stadium Goods to launch a line of futuristic merch. As a lead-up to the 2023 Governors Ball music festival, a pop-up event invited attendees to customize their own NFT shoes, which were later delivered to attendees’ homes.
“Sneaker culture and streetwear have shifted the way we think about fashion and expression,” Bacardí Rum’s vice president of Americas Lisa Pfenning tells VinePair. “Our brand is all about expression and personal freedom, and it continues to be the main motivation when we come up with new products and experiences.”