Creating future cult classics with a conscience

It’s hard to predict what will become a future classic and nothing proves this more than sneakers. Just as Nike, Adidas and some ultra luxury brands have managed to infiltrate collector’s consciousnesses, there’s space for ethical styles to become cult favourites too.

Is it a little indulgent to think that maybe sustainable sneakers will one day be in the homes of avid shoe collectors, gaining in value and appreciation? Maybe, but thinking big is essential in the fashion industry, especially when making a significant difference is a driving motivation.

Rivalling Nike and its counterparts isn’t the aim for ethical sneaker brands. They are created for consumers that place sustainability above corporations and hold vegan-friendly construction in higher esteem than mimicking the ‘right’ celebrity wearers. It’s simply a case of very different motivations.

As a bit of fun, let’s take a look at some of the most collectible classic sneakers right now and then predict which Humans Are Vain styles could also be destined for the cult classic archives.

Future classic: Humans Are Vain Challenge V2

Simple, understated and yet created ethically and with a vegan audience in mind, the Challenge V2 is a street sneaker that feels, looks and does good. Made from recycled PET, pineapple leaves, corn fiber and recycled cork, it features low-key branding to keep the ethical manufacturing at the forefront of the design.

Cult classic: Nike SB Dunk “De La Soul”

Inspired by the neo-psychedelic artwork from the band’s debut album, Nike released De La Soul Dunks in high and low versions, both including image-shifting panels that wrap to the back. Popular not only because of the way they look but also thanks to the connection to a culturally significant hip hop group.

Cult classic: Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66

The classic low profile and simple styling have always made Onitsuka Tiger trainers popular but as it is one of the oldest shoe brands from Japan, it also brings a dose of heritage into play. Athletic but casual and released in a myriad of colours and configurations, ardent fans enjoy trying to predict which will be most coveted, to buy some before they sell out.

Future classic: Humans Are Vain ‘Hempy’

Influenced by classic skate shoes, the Hempy is a unisex design that offers natural protection against UV and is antibacterial. It also adapts to body temperature, thanks to the hemp material uppers. A viable alternative to simple fashion sneakers that have a comparable shape but none of the ethical credentials or protective qualities.

Cult or collectible?

It’s worth noting that there is a distinct difference between cult and collectible sneakers and one doesn’t necessarily mean the other. Just look at the shell toe Adidas from the 1990s and the suede ‘Gazelles’ too. Hugely popular, bought in their thousands but not what you’d call collectible, just because they were so freely available and most people had at least one pair. They can be identified as cult classics though, because of the nostalgia they invoke and the demographics that were most connected to them.

Collectible sneakers tend to be those that are released in limited numbers, as part of a collaboration with an important cultural figure or movement and command a relatively high price tag from inception. Because hoarding hot footwear has become such a ‘thing’, it’s often hard to secure a pair that are worth hanging on to but there’s something else to consider as well: why buy shoes if you aren’t going to wear them? This is the opposite of sustainable shopping and the result of clever marketing that tells consumers what they need for future financial gain, rather than practical use now.

The ethical conundrum

Should sneakers be bought and stored, just in case they increase in value? Or should we buy shoes that we love and wear them out? It’s a personal choice but the second aligns more clearly with planet-friendly motivations.

Creating cult classics with a conscience is something to aspire to, as there is a truth to the purchase as well as the processes and materials included therein. To create a truly circular fashion economy, products need to be made with care and from materials that can be recycled. They need to be worn out and appreciated down to the final stitch, making heroes out of every item that withstands constant use because the wearers have fallen so in love with them. 

Cult over collectibility and appreciation over appraisal. Changing the way fashion pieces are appreciated and making them accessible and enjoyable for all, including the planet, is an alternative but potentially industry-defining take on the value of cult popularity.