size? celebrates 20th anniversary with limited-edition collaborations

adidas SL76

JD Sports-owned sneaker haven size? celebrates its 20thanniversary this year with limited edition collaboration drops throughout the year from some of its best-selling brands such as Nike, adidas, Reebok, PUMA, Saucony,New Balance, Converse and Vans – featuring new collaborative takes on iconic styles from each brand.

At the retailer’s recent “Past, Present, Future” launch event and exhibition at the White Rabbit Studios in Shoreditch, size? footwear buyers, and designers of special project sneakers, Luke Matthews and Chris Binns, shared their passion for sneakers and for the new anniversary celebratory designs.

“It all started with a question…What’s your size?” reads the strapline for the retailer’s 20thanniversary. The exhibition walls of the first room of the White Rabbit Studios had a timeline of some of the sneaker specialist’s iconic past footwear collaborations, but it was the middle room, with the unveiling of what’s to come in the first half of this year, where the real buzz was. It was also where Matthews and Binns could be found waxing lyrical about the new limited edition creations. “We’re footwear buyers, but we also design the exclusive product as a partnership. We’re like Ant and Dec!” says Binns.

Both of them started out working on the shop-floor of JD Sports shops before working their way up in the company. Matthews originally started at the JD Sports store in Grimsby 11 years ago, as a Christmas temp, before moving to Leeds and working in the size? store there part-time while at university studying law.

When I graduated with a law degree, I couldn’t really walk away from trainers such was my passion about them,” offers Matthews. “So, I essentially took the leap to go to work at the JD Sports head office, based just outside of Manchester, and I worked my way up from there.”

Binns started out working in the Manchester branch of JD Sports about 14 years ago. He’s been working his way up at the head office now for the past 10 years. He spent five years as a merchandiser before managing to get on the buying team.

In the room with all the new anniversary models set to be released this year on display, Matthews says: “This is where all the magic happens. We have a diverse role because, while we buy the product for the store, we also work very creatively in terms of creating these collaborative projects.

“We design stories to almost empower the range and build on the foundations of a particular range in store, which puts some more energy into it. These are the cherries on top of ranges we will be carrying instore.”

adidas Originals Superstar

It was at the end of last year that the pair saw some models be re-released from the adidas archive which really caught their eye. “They brought back the SL72 and SL80,” says Matthews. “From a size? perspective we have a huge consumer base which buys into the vintage running shoe or terrace product, so we wanted to have a real point of difference. We’ve therefore brought back the SL76 for the anniversary and, throughout the whole year, you will only be able to buy this model from size? It’s exclusive to our business.”

In terms of picking the colours, Matthews says they initially look in to the archive to see what came first, “to really hero what the shoe actually means.” The first colour that ever came out in the SL76 was a green and yellow, so that’s where the size? journey starts with that shoe, dropping in store around April 2020.

“Then we’re going to follow up with my personal favourite, which is a model that was part of the West Germany pack that we see referenced a lot from the different adidas members of the community,” says Matthews. “We’re going to bring those back as per the original shoe, and we’ve really stressed over the details in terms of getting the materials and fonts right, and the boxes right. There will only be 1,200 pairs of each colour, retailing at £75 – the ballpark price point for all vintage running models at the moment.”

There’s a blue with red stripes shoe, and a yellow with blue stripes in the revisited SL76 West Germany pack, and it’s not only older customers, who still love the old school styles, who will be buying into it. “We’ve seen vintage running really pick up at size? as a category,” explains Matthews.

“It’s now transcended the traditional consumer and gone to more of a fashion customer as well. The vintage running styles have just got a lot bigger. It was never niche but, if anything, more consumers are being introduced in to that look, and it’s become a lot more relevant to today. Running styles from the 70’s and 80’s from adidas and Nike are massive at the minute.”

So, what do they think of the ‘fugly’ trainers trend? “It’s completely dead for us,” offers Binns. It had a moment in time, but that’s kind of gone now – thank god!”

This year is also the 50th anniversary of the adidas Superstar shoe, “arguably one of adidas’ most iconic models of all time,” says Matthews. To bring together the 50thanniversary with the size? 20th anniversary, one side of the premium leather shoe is in orange and black leather. “Through the year we’ve got a few different projects coming on the Superstar, and all will carry the 50/20 sign off,” comments Matthews. The first collaboration goes in store this month, with again only 1,200 available.

Also highly anticipated is the adidas Liverpool shoe, a nod to the original “Anniversary Series”, which size? collaborated on with adidas Originals in 2010, itself a homage to the original “City Series” from the adidas archives.

adidas Liverpool

“In 2010 we did six adidas ‘City’ shoes,” says Matthews. “We did the adidas London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow and Dublin. For 2020, for our anniversary, we are doing the twin cities of those. Dublin is twinned with Liverpool, so we’re bringing the Liverpool out for the first time, in premium dyed green suede with three gold stripes.”

Its imminent release, on 28 February, initially at the Liverpool and Dublin size? stores (before launching at every other store the week after), was apparently recently leaked on Instagram, and the reaction was crazy. There will be 2,020 of the Liverpool shoes available, whereas there was only 500 pairs of the original Dublin in 2010. The Liverpool will retail at £90, with “surprise packaging” and gifts with purchase.

“There were people queuing up for the Dublin shoes for days,” says Matthews. “It’s first come, first served, and the shoes sold very quickly then reappeared for lots of money, so this time, for the Liverpool model, we’re making more to give more of the adidas community the chance to buy a pair.

“Even so, we’re thinking that when this shoe is released there’s going to be people camping outside our stores for days again. Someone has even messaged me from Dubai saying he’s booked flights to come here for its release!”

In terms of the colourway, most people would expect it to be executed in either the red and white of Liverpool FC, or the blue and white of Everton, or both. But they have steered clear of the football connotations, and instead been inspired by the green and gold branding of the golden syrup of Tate & Lyle, which had a sugar refinery in Liverpool for 150 years.

“The buses in Liverpool also used to be green,” offers Binns. “It was a colour that just kept coming back to us, hence why we went for it. It’s not about the football clubs, it’s about the city itself. To give it a bit more context, in 2010, when we did the Birmingham shoe, we did it in purple to celebrate Cadbury’s being from Birmingham.”

Also from adidas for the anniversary celebrations comes three styles which nod to iconic moments from football’s European Championships, which take place again this summer, with the semi-finals and final both to be played at Wembley. One model is a leather Gazelle shoe, which references the famous Gazza “dentist chair” goal celebration against Scotland in 1996, with an illustration on the footbed.

Nike is another major player in the anniversary celebrations, with a limited-edition version of the iconic Air Max 95 due for release on 26 March, 2020, which is a day in the year which Nike apparently calls “Air Max Day”. “It will be a massive moment for us as a business,” says Matthews. “We can’t talk about numbers on that, all we can say is it is very limited. More details will be revealed closer to the launch. We have a launch platform on our blog where you can get regular updates on all our releases.”

Throughout the last twenty years, size? has done plenty of very big projects with Nike. “They’ve been a massive part of our business and a massive partner with us,” says Matthews. “To celebrate 20 years of size? and our partnership with Nike, we wanted to celebrate it on one shoe, and one of their most iconic shoes – the Air Max 95, in a really premium leather. The price is TBC, but it’s going to be quite expensive.

Nike Air Max 95

“We’ve essentially incorporated our favourite 20 shoes that we’ve done with Nike in the past on to the anniversary shoes. So, you’ll see 20 different panels and 20 different colours, and each one will come with a key to say which panel comes from which shoe.”

Another key collaboration is with Vans, on three of its most iconic styles – the Sk8 Hi, the Old Skool shoe and the Slip-on. Binns says: “Both myself and Luke are massive fans of punk and that whole 70’s period, so we wanted to tell the story of the evolution of punk through the shoes. We build a story before we build a shoe. It gives us a way to think outside of the box because, if you go based on trends, then you don’t get anything different.”

Vans collaboration

The first shoe, the Sk8 Hi, references The Ramones’ outfits, with leather and denim used on the upper and the date -16/08/1974 – on the side of the shoe referencing the first time they played at CBGB’s in New York.

The second shoe, in the Vans Old Skool style, plays more on the UK punk scene, referencing The Sex Pistols. “The design also plays heavily on the influences of Vivienne Westwood, Malcom McLaren and the Sex shop on the King’s Road,” offers Binns.

The shoe comes with a tartan, leopard print and pony skin upper, with a patent pink PVC side panel. The date on the side of the shoe, 11/6/1977, is a reference to when The Sex Pistols were number two in the charts, but weren’t officially recognised as such because their song, ‘God Save the Queen’, was banned. “So, there was no number two that week! It was also the week of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee,” says Binns.

The final Vans collaboration shoe is the Vans Slip-on which is influenced by an iconic image of Talking Heads. The date on the side, 03/08/1979, is the date they released their ‘Fear of Music’ album, and the design on the upper and sides represents the different outfits of the Talking Heads members, with a floral toe box and a paisley heel. “They all had mad suits on!” offers Binns.

The three Vans shoes will be released one week apart from each other at the end of February or early March. “We can’t say the exact dates yet, you’ve got to wait!” says Binns.

For collectors and real sneakerheads, this year is going to be one of major excitement at size? stores. And, while this was the revealing of the limited editions for the first half of 2020, there’s going to be another raft of new designs for the second six months of the year to keep the frenzy going.