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1991: Angry Music & Angrier Footwear

There was a lot going on in September of 1991. Nirvana’s Nevermind elevated the flannel into sacred vestment; The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) threatened to cancel outdoor activities all together; and Ren & Stimpy cleared another stretch of trail on the way to Hell. 


And SNEWS was in peak form while reviewing the boot and footwear offerings at Outdoor Retailer in Reno, Nevada. They fiercely defend the specialty perspective and cast a dubious eye on the mainstreamization of a category that’s only getting started. Just take this in:


The boot picture was put neatly into perspective by a harried retailer at the end of the second day of the show. “If I see and hear about one more fabric/leather EVA midsole, specially designed outside, made in Korea but soon to be made in China or Thailand boot, I’ll take it and shove it down the guy’s throat.”


Yes buyer's tempers were running short and those who weren’t genuinely wanked off at the state of the boot scene were shaking their heads in dismay and wondering why were so many people trying to screw up what was a pretty decent scene.


Obviously the Euros are partly to blame because someone somewhere has fed them the line that the American boot market is about as big, dollar-wise, as our national debt. Then you have all the alpine ski companies trying to gain back lost revenue and, finally after a little soul searching and little wisdom, trying to diversify and have counter seasonal product.


And finally you have the footwear giants, desperate to flood yet another market segment with too much merchandise. That eventually kills the segment with shoddy goods, poor distribution and pricing policies. 


Pulling no punches, the article goes on to review all the product lines with the same critical view. The forces of over production, diluted equity, and chasing the gold at the end of the rainbow are evident over 33 years ago. You can see screen grabs of the original article at the end of this post, but here’s a few gems:


Asolo. “The story is refinement with products ‘priced and designed’ for a broader market segment. What does that mean? On a side note, it seems that an Elle Magazine fashion spread featuring a pair of La Rage shoes on a model brought a flood of calls to Kenko. Among the callers who 'simply had to have the shoes' were super model Cheryl Tiegs and trophy wife Kimberley Heffner, matron of the Playboy mansion.” (Ok, this didn’t age well) 

Adidas. “Bringing back the label that virtually disappeared in America and trying to sell the Euro look will be hard for many specialty retailers.” (Or this)


"It was rumored early on that Merrell was on a program of opening anybody anyplace to increase market penetration. 'Not so.' Merrell’s John Schweitzer told SNEWS."

(Should somebody tell him?)


"For our money, Reebok has to do a rethink on their line. It simply doesn’t jump off the shelf…. Yes, we’re still mad we didn’t buy the stock early.” (Honest on both accounts) 

"Hats off to Vasque for its 'real people' photos in the catalogue (sent in by customers) and Merrell for having closer to real people on their catalog cover than ever before. Remember guys - no greasers or yuppies." (I love this so much)


Now we’ll fast forward to the article’s conclusion. I’m not sure how much more context is needed, so I’ll just leave you with this: 

We close this chapter of 'Who Killed The Goose That Laid The Golden Egg' with these observations: Reno '91 was the boot show of me too, running shoe technology/ hiking boot ruggedness hype, coloration that was almost too toned down and a party that had grown from a neighborhood picnic to a noisy out of hand bash. Will the person who said the market was 500 million please turn himself in to be executed?


You go SNEWS.

-David Karstad

The Life And Times Of Outdoor History, by Rock Fight Contributor David Karstad, is available to receive early every week by subscribing to Rock Fight's weekly newsletter: News From The Front. Click Join The Mailing List to sign up today.

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Pictures of the OG SNEWS Article


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