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The Slack x Cole Haans Are Peak Startup Sneaker

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This Cole Haan x Slack collaboration (still feels weird to type that, all the way down here!) also pinpoints something important about the startup world’s odd relationship with sneakers. Sneakers make up a culture bigger than fashion itself, a major economy with an army of fanatics who track Yeezy releases and rare Nikes, furiously debating shoes on Reddit and social media. While some people were snarking on Cole Haan’s Slack sneakers, the sneakerheads were buzzing about the rhinestone Cactus Plant Flea Market Dunks.

But there is a parallel universe of sneaker hype in the startup world, one driven by brands like Allbirds, Veja, and Feit, that sneakerheads consider themselves blithely above. These shoes often vaguely echo other soft, squishy sneakers—most often Nike’s Flyknit, which is Mark Zuckerberg’s sneaker of choice, and Roshe Runs, Tim Cook’s favorite. They tout credentials that are utterly irrelevant to sneakerhead culture but right in line with the kind of overreaching virtue signaling that Silicon Valley adores: functional design, vegan or sustainable materials, and biological optimization. (Many sneakers claim to be sweatproof, for example, though one brand claims they are simply “beyond sneakers.”) They lack any of the excitement, design integrity, or intrigue that made the secondary market into a $2 billion a year industry.

Yeezy’s Steve Jobsian approach to product development in many ways parallels Silicon Valley culture, and though you used to see many guys wearing Boost 350s on the subway with sweatshirts and Everlane pants, they’re not necessarily the shoe of choice for the average power player. Though the hoodie, T-shirt, and sneakers uniform of the tech world is often thought to characterize a distaste for fashion or style, the dominant sneaker trends seem also to suggest that optimization itself is an aesthetic. The Slacks fall squarely into this category.

But all that feels irrelevant when you consider: Who wants to wear merch for a corporation where you don’t even work? The only people I can really imagine wearing the Slacks are those doing so with a dash of that Vetements irony—the ambivalent deskbound worker with much more brain power than his job requires, and an ironic appreciation for curated bowls. All it needs to take off is just the right spokesman. Which reminds me: Slacker heartthrob Jared Leto is a Slack investor. Will we see Leto in the Slacks? That could be a game changer. Cole Haan is typing…

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