I recently found myself faced with a very 2021 problem. A minor issue given the state of things, but a problem nonetheless: Todd Snyder or Aimé Leon Dore? Not in the sense of picking my One True Brand, but something a little more prosaic: each had a New Balance collab coming out within a day of each other, and I couldn’t decide which one to get.
Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. My wife—who is very accepting that I’m a weirdo who likes having lots of stuff—has tried to curb my consumption by instituting a one in, one out policy for shoes, which I’ve largely ignored. Initially, after donating a pair of Jordan 1 lows and seeing the hole in my closet, I thought I’d pick up the A.L.D.s. But the news that Todd Snyder was dropping a pair of New Balances with colorways inspired by a farmers market froze me in my tracks. I’d hit collab overload—a feeling I’d venture to guess lots of similarly sneaker-obsessed folks have been feeling lately.
This wasn’t the first time, either. Not long ago, I saw a pair of the New Balance X Casablanca 327s available on a resale site for a decent price and almost pulled the trigger—but then saw that the sneaker shop Bodega was going to celebrate its 15th birthday by working with NB on a pair of 990v3s and I thought that maybe I’d wait to see if I could get those. That decision sent me down a New Balance collab rabbit hole, causing me to second-guess my decision. I was crippled with anxiety. I’d hit a wall. That’s collab overload: a condition characterized by too many choices and not enough time to make a decision.
The brands, of course, are nowhere close to collab fatigue. Everybody wants to work together these days. Air Jordan and Dior. Lego and Adidas. Those Chinatown Grateful Dead Crocs: the rare three-way collab, and one I was obsessed with. My beloved New Balance is a particularly intense offender: in recent months, they’ve launched shoes with J. Crew, Tokyo Design Studio, JJJJound, Salehe Bembury, Stray Rats, Stüssy, and a few others still. I asked longtime sneaker writer Russ Bengtson to explain why, besides it being a good way to make more money, every sneaker company wants to work with somebody else.
“It’s a way to bring attention to a silhouette before it’s brought back on a more mass-market scale,” he says. “It’s a way for brands to utilize the design chops and social media of younger artists and designers without actually hiring them to real positions. The retailer or designer is guaranteed to push your product more—after all, now it’s their product too—so it’s win-win for the brands.”
Bengtson agrees there are too many collabs, but points out “the best collaborations are when someone has a really cool idea and a brand lets them do it,” which is likely why I’m drawn to all the New Balance team-ups. Todd Snyder tells me that when he’s working on a new pair of New Balances, he’s given pretty free room to work, but there are always roadblocks.
“Sometimes the story comes first, and sometimes I’ll get excited about a certain colorway and the story helps bring it to life,” he says. “When that happens we sit and think, what does this shoe bring to mind? What world can we build around this? And then there’s the whole legal process you need to go through in getting a name approved — you’d be amazed at the seemingly obscure ideas that people have already trademarked.”
At the heart of all my problems is the concept of decision fatigue—the idea that our brain dulls from all the choices we have to make, so we start making irrational trade-offs to arrive at a decision. I’m obsessed with the concept, and yet I find myself hardly doing anything to curb it. Seeing a grocery store freezer filled with 30 different flavors of ice cream will make my head spin and throw me into some sort of anxiety-filled we’re drowning in ice cream rant—but having a lot of shoes makes me feel a little more at ease. And sure, I’ve read the studies on how people like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates wear pretty much the same thing every single day to help down on things to think about, but I really don’t want a uniform look.
Over time, I’ve found a sort of middle ground, merging the philosophies of two friends with whom I regularly start texting about one thing—and wind up talking to about sneakers. Josh is an open-minded shoe guy. He’s a comedian and writer who constantly posts pics of his “Show day shoes” whenever a new episode of the show he works on airs. He’s an omnivore: he’ll wear Jordans and Kyrie 4s, Onitsuka Tigers and Vans x Peanuts Sk8-His, and he tries to keep his expectations at bay. “I will also sometimes throw an entry in for a lottery of something like but don’t need just to feel a glimmer of hope with no real risk of disappointment,” he says. Adam, on the other hand, has a job I can’t quite explain, but I know he’s always closing some sort of deals and he makes a ton of money. Adam only likes one sneaker brand: Nike. He has been obsessed with all things Nike since we were 9, so much so that not only does his suburban basement look like a temple to Phil Knight—all decked out in framed “Bo Knows” posters, a painting of Charles Barkley based off his “I am not a role model” commercial and his autographed Jordan IIIs in a pedestal display case on the wall—but when he told me his first son’s name is Max, I replied, “Because of Air Max?” (The answer is that, supposedly, his grandfather was named Max. I’m not sure I believe him.)
Considering my buddies on the opposite ends of the sneaker spectrum, I arrived at a possible fix for not just my sneaker buying problem, but my entire issue with the overabundance of stuff: find a reliable brand you like, but keep an open mind to the possibility of change. For me, that means a focus on Todd Snyder’s collabs, but a willingness to drop my name into the lottery whenever Aimé Leon Dore drops a batch of New Balances. It’s not exactly zen, but it lessens the stress. (Avoidable stress, mind you, but I can’t help myself. I like shoes and I especially like ones that I don’t see everybody wearing.)
In the end I decided to go with Todd Snyder. I figured the colorways of the Farmers Market New Balances would be more suitable for autumn. The only problem was I was a maybe a bit too confident in my decision—and when I went on the site to purchase a pair, there were none available in my size. The perils of having size 13 feet, I suppose. But I didn’t fret over the continued hole in my sneaker universe, because I know ultimately there will be another pair of sneakers I obsess over. And then another, and probably another. But I find a perverse sense of comfort in the fact that, as fast as one shoe flies off the virtual shelf, a new one will eventually replace it. As Bengtson puts it, “Once everything is special, nothing is special.” And I’d like to figure out a way to keep things special, so I don’t mind waiting just a little longer.