When New York City-based designer Sandy Liang entered the footwear arena last fall, she chose a style that mixed function and fantasy with a collection of square-toed ballet flats modeled on actual pointe shoes.
“She’s a New York princess,” Liang told Harper’s Bazaar of her imagined clientele when the flats debuted at her Spring/Summer 2023 show. Fitting perfectly into the balletcore craze, Liang’s shoes sold out in just two days.
But the Sandy Liang girl doesn’t just wear pink satin ballet flats, she also wears hiking shoes. Specifically, the Salomon XT-6, which have become a mainstay among the urban gorp core set thanks to their coveted colorways and rugged silhouette.
At her Fall/Winter 2023 collection, Liang showcased a pastel pink and green pair of Salomons, which launched at Liang’s boutique and on her ecommerce site last week and will hit global retailers on May 5. Promotional images for the collab, which also includes a white take on the slip-on RX Moc 3.0, show models not in mountain-ready Patagonia or Arc’Teryx jackets, but wearing Liang’s preferred styles of pleated skirts, sheer ruffled tops and floral-printed socks.
Feminine, preppy styles making waves
The Sandy Liang x Salomon collaboration isn’t just a savvy mashup of one of the hottest fashion labels with a leading footwear brand of the moment, however. It’s also the latest in an emerging trend of collabs that blend the typically male-dominated sneaker market with traditionally feminine and preppy styles.
For the Spring/Summer 2022 season — yes the same collection that showcased that skirt — Miu Miu debuted a New Balance collaboration, which was revisited earlier this year. Last summer, Jacquemus took a break from micro purses and draped gowns to team up with Nike on strappy bodysuits and shocking pink Humaras, with a potential Jacquemus Air Force 1 teased on Instagram earlier this year. In May, Emily Oberg’s Sporty & Rich will release an Adidas Sambas collab featuring co-branding and a dangling pearl charm.
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“Today, more than 35 percent of StockX users are women, and we’re keen to see more sneaker brands collaborating and designing with women,” says Cynthia Lee, VP of merchandising at resale platform StockX.
The rise of more feminine styles is a notable shift for a sneaker market that has frequently relegated women-centric releases to playing second fiddle. It’s also recognition that the sneaker market needs to evolve to keep pace with the dressier styles like quiet luxury and loafers that are taking over fashion.
“I think the ‘preppy’ and ‘trail’ trends play very well together. We predicted both of these styles would be big in 2023, and [the Sandy Liang x Salomon] collaboration has elements of both,” added Lee. In 2022, StockX expanded its shoe section to non-sneaker styles, and she noted that Prada loafers have been trending in recent months.
Salomon also had a particularly strong year on the resale platform, Lee added. The shoe company was the fastest-growing sneaker brand on StockX in 2022. But preppier silhouettes like Adidas’ Sambas and Gazelles have lately emerged as some of the hottest styles going into 2023, overtaking the chunky dad sneakers and technical styles that dominated the market over the past few years. This has made them attractive targets for high-profile collabs, like the expanding crop of Gucci’s colorful Gazelles, the upcoming rainbow-drenched Sambas from Pharrell’s Humanrace line, or Grace Wales Bonner’s latest Adidas partnership featuring silver Sambas.
The Sandy Liang collab offers Salomon an attractive middle ground to remain true to its hiking roots while also speaking to a ballet flat-loving audience. But the collaboration isn’t just useful for Salomon to keep its hiking shoes up to date with the latest trends, it’s also an opportunity for Sandy Liang to raise its global profile.
The brand, which runs a boutique on the Lower East Side’s Orchard Street, has been a fixture of the downtown New York fashion scene for years. It’s stocked at global retailers like End and Net-a-Porter. But Liang, who was raised in Queens in a Chinese-American family, has a relatively quiet presence in China.
Though stocked at curated boutiques like Sanlipop in Beijing and Assemble by Réel in Shanghai, the brand is absent from major e-commerce or social media platforms in China, such as Taobao, Tmall, WeChat, or Weibo. The hashtag #SANDYLIANG# however has 1.61 million views on the social media network Xiaohongshu, with the most popular posts referencing the Salomon collab and asking if it will be available in China.
Shifting sneaker markets
The sneaker world has traditionally been one of the few corners of fashion dominated by straight men, to the point that it has been frequently criticized for excluding women and fostering misogyny. It will take more than a handful of collaborations with women designers to alter that culture, but if recent collaborations are anything to go by, sneakers featuring pastels, pinks, and pearls can garner just as much hype as more traditionally masculine styles. And sneakers will need to cross over into new styles should they wish to appeal to a Gen Z audience that is increasingly less concerned with strict gender binaries in fashion.
That isn’t to say sneakers are going away anytime soon.
“Sneakers will always carry value beyond their functional use,” says Lee. “They are cultural conduits that make people feel connected to their favorite brands, movies, and celebrities.”
Nonstop collaborations have resulted in a saturated market place, but there are still avenues for brands to pursue via unexpected partnerships to showcase a fresh perspective. How else could you showcase a New York princess who enjoys a good hike but with a Sandy Liang x Salomon collab?