Is the ‘It’ Sneaker Replacing the ‘It’ Handbag?

At the end of each year, global fashion search platform Lyst takes all of its data from its 80 million users and their 100 million searches that span across 5 million products and neatly packages it into a comprehensive analysis of consumer behavior trends. And the biggest takeaway from 2017 was that there were more searches for sneakers than handbags, with more than 3 million shoppers searching for a pair every month.

Considering that this is from only one platform out of countless others points to how significant today’s sneaker culture is, both in terms of sheer volume and its immense influence on society — so significant, in fact, that it’s not only outperforming on the sales front (sneakers raked in $19.6 billion in the U.S. in 2017, a 2 percent increase from 2016), but there’s also a possibility it’s negatively impacting other accessories, namely handbags. Experts believe that there might be an inverse relationship between the two, and with handbag fatigue at an all-time high in 2015, it’s led to a resurgence in strong footwear trends.

“Distribution rationalization, handbag miniaturization given the rise of mobile phones, and lack of emerging new ‘it’ bag styles may drive flat sector growth,” Cowen & Co. analyst Oliver Chen previously told FN.

For so long, celebrity-driven “it” bags have reigned supreme (leather goods is the largest category in the luxury market, with bags making up the majority of it); the earliest and most famous being Hermès’ Birkin bag and its infamously long waitlist, born in 1983 after a serendipitous encounter with Jane Birkin. Since then, there have been others, some also named after influential stars (Mulberry’s Alexa bag after Alexa Chung, Marc Jacobs’ Stam purse after Jessica Stam, Louis Vuitton’s SC duffel after Sophia Coppola, etc), some simply seen swinging from their arms (Proenza Schouler’s PS1, Chloe’s Paddington, and Mansur Gavriel’s bucket bag are just a few examples).

But now, sneaker hype has forced handbags to take a backseat. Fueled by longtime sneakerheads, buzzy limited-edition collaborations and sneaker-centric street style spawned from athleisure, there really was no stopping its inevitable upward trajectory — the beautiful result when the worlds of sneakers, celebrity and fashion collide. A few shout-outs from all three: Nike’s insanely in-demand rerelease of retro Black Cements, the comeback of Air Max 97s, Kendrick Lamar’s Nike Cortez, Louis Vuitton’s Archlight, Balenciaga Triple S’s, Supreme collabs and Off-White’s Nike anything, not to mention all the celebrities who have inked deals as brand ambassadors, like Selena Gomez and Rihanna for Puma, Kendall Jenner for Adidas and Gigi Hadid for Reebok.

Off-White x Nike Air Jordan 1.

So what does this mean? Is this the beginning of the end of the “it” bag?

Well, not necessarily. Megan Collins, a trend forecaster from Trendera, a firm that analyzes trends through a generational lens, believes that the “it” sneaker and the “it” bag can coexist because they represent and serve different demographics.

“It’s not that people don’t care about the ‘it’ handbag anymore, because it still has the same cultural cachet, but we’re seeing a huge fragmentation of influence and people are aspiring to live more attainable lifestyles, so instead of looking to a $12,000 Hermès bag they could never afford, they can reach for a $900 pair of Balenciaga Triple S’s,” Collins said. “Sneakers also symbolize influence and being ‘in the know.’ A lot of these collections are limited runs and they’re hard to get, which means if you own them, you’re instantly cool because you knew they were being released, that they were going to be a thing and you had the foresight to buy it. A handbag just means you have the money to afford it.”

Gen Z-ers, who are now between the ages of 8 and 23, play a major role in this shift from handbags to sneakers. For younger consumers, it’s less about money and more about what’s “cool.”

“I think millennials still care about status symbols in terms of conveying wealth, lifestyle and level of class,” Collins continued. “But Gen Z-ers are all about influence, and as they gain more purchasing power, luxury will be redefined to be about limited runs and collab culture. It’s a generational thing.”

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