ComplexCon 2022 Exhibits A ‘New Balance’ In Sneaker Culture

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ComplexCon 2022 in Long Beach, Ca., was a deep dive into street culture from multiple perspectives. Among the streetwear and fashion enthusiasts were reporters, rappers, artists, curators, innovators, decision-makers, and the many folks participating in the street culture market. They gathered to galvanize and trade creativity through community building under the ComplexCon catalog.

A conversation called the “War On Rap” kicked off the panel discussions, hosted by Ari Melber of The Beat, a news show on MSNBC that often wraps political news in the context of hip-hop lyrics. This initial panel featured rap legends Bun B, and Tip T.I. Harris, who all spoke to modern interpretations of street culture that emanate through, dialogue, fashion, sneakers, cultural relics, and artifacts of modernized culture.

Another panel hosted the rap duo The Clipse, made up of Pusha T and No Malice, music executive Steven Victor and long-time friend, collaborator, and rapper Fam-Lay. Moderated by Andrew Barber, the group detailed the many stories and nuances that made the album Lord Willin’ a cultural classic.

As big as this conference is, it’s no bigger than the over 260 brands that occupy the expo floor in efforts to keep a pulse on the ever-changing youth culture that fuels trends. Since 2016, ComplexCon has brought together thousands of fans who gravitate towards rare and unique items provided by each brand's desire to offer an experience significant to the conference.

Ideally, each brand would find a way to excite customers under the impression of exclusivity. Evidence of this lives throughout the ComplexCon expo floor, seeing the hundreds of brands that make up the streetwear and street culture ecosystem. Although Nike, an intricate brand in street culture, has been at the top of any footwear list, sneakers specifically. This year has showcased one brand as a guiding light in this sneaker generation.

This year at ComplexCon, New Balance earned its spot on the Sneaker of the Year List, a long-running list, and the most popular ComplexCon panel that features sneaker enthusiasts who have made broad impacts and spend about an hour debating their choices for top 10 sneakers of the year. Hosted by Complex: Sneaker Shopping host Joe La Puma, rapper Jim Jones, cultural curator Vashtie, rapper Jadakiss, and of course, DJ Clark Kent, famous for his one-pair-a-day sneaker trend, all got knee-deep into the hottest shoes of 2022.

New Balance, other than Nike or Jordan, has surged in sales via collaborations, according to Garry Thaniel, Global General Manager of Sneakers at eBay. The ComplexCon eBay booth sold sneaker grails like Nike collaborations between Travis Scott and Off-White at retail prices with the help of their authentication process to ensure validity to their customers. Thaniel has been appointed to head streetwear in addition to his usual GM role and is also a sneakerhead who understands the New Balance appeal.

One thing noticeable about the reselling of sneakers on eBay is that the collaborations like the Salehe Bembury New Balance 990v2 collaboration have been “selling crazy” in comparison to other brands, this noted by Thaniel. It has been these collaborative designs that are solidifying the long-time dad shoe brand into sneaker grails.

“ComplexCon is such a great show for the sneaker industry and the culture,” Thaniel states. “For eBay, it’s a chance for us to recognize, connect with and give back to the sneaker enthusiasts who use our platform every day. It's also about discovery, and making sure we're at the forefront of today's trends to best serve our community with the most coveted styles and experiences.”

For the New Balance brand at ComplexCon, they stuck to the theme that has given the most visibility for the shoe name, building out a basketball gym-inspired booth, complete with bleachers and images of featured athlete and NBA All-Star Kahwi Leonard. The New Balance booth remained occupied with street culture players, including the creative collaborating duo Clayton and Chris Griggs. Besides showing off a new pair of basketball trainers, New Balance revisited the deadstock inventory of the 550 style shoes in an exclusive white, sky blue, and yellow colorway.

Selling the 550 styles is a clear sign the sneaker community has grown an appetite for the comfort and appeal that New Balance has manifested. The sentiment was mutual at the Coinbase booth, as Jeff Staple raffled off exclusive “LA Edition” Staple design 2002R New Balances made by sneaker artist Stan Birch. Those entering the booth used their Coinbase Wallets to collect a Coinbase x Jeff Staple NFT from Stapleverse and the raffle for a chance to win a pair of the limited Staple x New Balance sneakers.

The tale of how impactful the New Balance run of sneakers and collaborations came in the form of “back-to-back [to-back] New Balance” sneakers on the Sneaker of the Year list - “I don’t think that’s fair,” Jim Jones argues. Besides an overall debate on whether the list properly placed each shoe, the New Balance sneakers were as prominent discussed.

The conversation boiled down to three overlapping spots on the Sneaker of the Year list, including the New Balance “Protection Pack” 993, the Joe Fresh 993 “Performance Pack”, and the JJJJounds 990v3. Whether they are your favorite pair or you remain indifferent to the sneaker brand, as does Jim Jones, New Balance has been “dropping heat,” according to sneaker aficionado DJ Clark Kent.

“There could be more than one New Balance [on the list], says DJ Clark Kent. “The reason is, New Balance is dropping heat.” The cast of judges held court and held strong in opposition to Jim Jones discrediting its overall appeal for a truly fresh fit, as Jadakiss tried to convince the Harlem-style icon of the new luster, “leave it to me. Let me give [you] some New Balance,” he offers.

Ultimately, the customer is always right in this case, and the sneaker game has given way to the underdog of the sneaker ecosystem but is still a foundational player. The debate went on in town hall fashion, with DJ Clark Kent giving way to the audience's opinion.

“I would like to ask ComplexCon a question. After Nike, is it not New Balance right now? New Balance is shitting on everybody right now. They might put pressure on Nike.” This is where the debate becomes a continuum for sneaker designers and enthusiasts. Sneakers provide a voice and a form of expression through wearable art, and New Balance is elevating its cache while creating its own lane of sneaker-ism for a new generation of sneakerheads.