Chinese New Year is on February 16th this year. Based on the 12 Chinese zodiac animals, 2018 is the year of the dog, and with it, there’s a new set of Chinese New Year themed sneakers that are releasing. Nike is releasing Chinese New Year silhouettes for the Air Max 90, VaporMax, Air Foamposite One, Air Force 1, Air Jordan 6, Air Jordan 32 and Kyrie 4. Adidas released a “Year of the Dog” pack including four models: the NMD R2, EQT Support ADV, Superstar 80s and the Campus. There are also Chinese New Year silhouettes for the Ultra Boost, Pure Boost and Crazy Explosives.

In 2002, Nike released a pair of Air Force 1s which they called the “Year of the Horse” to celebrate that Chinese New Year. The shoe kept the legendary minimalist design of a pair of white Air Force 1s, with subtle details including a galloping horse on the insole and the word “horse” in Chinese characters on the heel tab and tongue. 2,002 pairs were released in Asia to celebrate the occasion—a major start to the trend of Chinese New Year-themed sneakers.

For the first few years after, Nike stuck to the Air Force 1 lows for its Chinese New Year theme, before mixing it up in 2007 with the Nike Dunk High “Year of the Pig.” In the years since, the trend has exploded in terms of models, with some leaving a lasting impression, but many other ones being quite forgettable. Finding the right design for a Chinese New Year sneaker that also manages to strike a chord with the general audience remains a work in progress.

Take, for example, the adidas EQT Support 93/16 “Year of the Rooster” that was released last year. While it was definitely not one of the most hyped sneakers on the market, for a sneaker that was focused on Chinese New Year, the design touches were subtle-but-appropriate. Avoiding clichés, it was done in a way that made it both a wearable shoe and one that felt like it understood how to convey the theme without overshadowing the overall silhouette. A tricolor rooster was placed on the heel while the insole featured a mahjong tile design. It was simple, but effective.

On the other hand, you have the Under Armour Curry 3 “Chinese New Year,” which was a red shoe (many Chinese New Year shoes use red, because it is a color that is signifies good fortune and joy in Chinese culture, and red envelopes with money are handed out on Chinese New Year, with the color of the envelope signifying good luck) with several other colors on the midsole. At its worse, it appeared that the shoe’s sole was attacked by CMYK toner cartridges flying from a nearby office printer.

Jay Shuang, (better known as shanghaisole on Instagram), attended college in Baltimore and now lives in Shanghai, China. The Curry 3s are one of his least favorite Chinese New Year sneakers. “The bright colors and fireworks are corny to me,” Shuang said. The response echoes a sentiment among a lot of Asian sneakerheads who want to connect with these shoes for obvious reasons, but are still hesitant to do—especially when it comes to the “on-the-nose” or kitschy design choices.

“I prefer a sneaker with a theme that doesn’t narrow it down to the zodiac sign,” Shuang told Dry Clean Only. “If you wrote the words 恭喜發財 (a traditional Chinese New Year greeting) or 新年快樂 (“Happy New Year” in Chinese), I could see myself wearing it more.”

Even with the available models on the market, Chinese New Year sneakers are still very much a niche product. When I spoke to illustrator and designer Sophia Chang, she was surprised at just how many of these sneakers existed, but eventually settled on the upcoming Air Jordan 6 “Chinese New Year” as a sneaker she would wear.

Living in Shanghai, Shuang can offer a perspective of whether these sneakers are doing well in China. “Considering there are billions of Chinese people and every shoe company is pushing their way into Asia,” Shuang said, “there is a market for these sneakers.” However, Chinese New Year sneakers still need to adhere to the rules of supply and demand—perhaps better thought of as the “hype” of a sneaker—within the wider shoe market. “To many consumers here, it is still more about what is limited and exclusive,” Shuang explained to Dry Clean Only. “A Chinese New Year sneaker just isn’t that special to a lot of consumers here.” In fact, Shuang says the Air Jordan 12 “Chinese New Year”, which released last year, was seen popping up at outlet stores.

The 12s are one of sneaker enthusiast Larry Luk’s (perhaps better known as the Director of Brand & Partnerships at Localeur) favorite Chinese New Year sneakers. Other Luk Chinese-centric favorites from previous years include: the Nike Flightposite Exposed “Year of the Horse,” the Nike Air Foamposite One “Tianjin” and the adidas Ultra Boost 3.0 “Chinese New Year.”

“The Flightposite Exposed is a pretty rare silhouette,” Luk said. “Nike hasn’t made too many iterations of this shoe, which is actually slimmer than a normal Foamposite.” Luk also notes the rarity of, and story behind, the “Tianjin” as part of its appeal. Released in 2015, the shoe is a tribute to the city of Tianjin’s history of helping foster and grow the sport of basketball in China.

While not a direct tie-in to Chinese New Year, the design of the “Tianjin”—which features images of koi fish and lotus flowers, along with the traditional Chinese greeting, “Prosperity Through the Years” written on its heel and insole—places it in similar company with other Chinese New Year models. Due to its exclusivity, the “Tianjin” sneaker is reselling around $3,000.

Arby Li, managing at Hypebeast, told us the only Chinese New Year sneaker he can see himself wearing is the Air Jordan 7 “Year of the Rabbit,” but also lists the Nike ACG Wildwood 90 Free Trail “Year of the Rat” and Nike Air Force 1 “Year of the Dog” as some of his other favorites.

“I appreciate the effort and I’m sure there are people who really enjoy wearing the inconspicuous designs,” Li told Dry Clean Only, “but I would like to see brands not take so much of a literal approach in creating them. Perhaps there could be a better way of interpreting the [Chinese New Year] themes in a more subtle manner, which hopefully we’ll see more of soon.”

This is the conundrum with Chinese New Year sneakers. While models like the aforementioned Ultra Boost or the Air Jordan 12s work because they already have significant demand on the market, other designs have felt like brands are simply doing it because it gives them one more silouette to sell at an opportune time.

The sincerity surrounding Chinese New Year-edition sneakers is murkier than it should be; history shows us that while some iterations spawn spectacular homages to the holiday, others end up feeling like seasonal afterthoughts with lackluster designs. No matter where you sit on the issue, Luk sums up the scenario succinctly:

“I wish the Chinese New Year sneaker movement was pushed a little harder,” Luk said to Dry Clean Only. “I don’t know if it’s just a box that brands like Nike and adidas merely check off to be inclusive, or if they actually push harder to make a larger statement. I can’t recall a single instance when an NBA player of fashion influence flexed in a pair of Chinese New Year kicks. So many of the Asian sneakerheads out there are just resellers that care about flipping whatever is hyped, [but] they don’t realize they have a platform and voice to create the hype.”

Here’s hoping to some industry improvements—at least by 2019’s Year of the Pig.

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Tags: sneakers, jordan-brand, adidas, nike