Will Pop Culture Ever Embrace My Brooks?

The Bothell-based sneaker company couldn’t care less.

Under the laws of fashion, every brand of athletic shoe is allowed at least one 15-minute period of cultural cachet. The lazy Susan of trendiness rotates a few degrees, a spotlight goes on, and suddenly your old sneaks aren't just footwear: They're icons, discussed and debated on sneakerfreaker.com. It's a magical, transformative moment. Trouble is, I'm still waiting for it to happen with my favorite shoes. Adidas, Reebok, K-Swiss, Nike—all have taken turns, over the last couple decades, laying claim to the feet of rap artists and other pacesetters of style. Converse All-Stars and Chuck Taylors have gone in and out of favor a few times, and Puma was transformed from a mere soccer-boot purveyor into a ubiquitous brand of "streetwear" for the effete urbanite. Even footwear long associated with that dorkiest of activities—long-distance running—has been enjoying a retro, multicolored, suede-and-nylon revival: New Balance, Saucony, and Asics are all serving up "low-performance" kicks for the boutique set, shodding the young, arts-conscious, and highly discriminating while collaborating with DJs and other "underground" types on design. No surprise that Warhol himself has (posthumously) gotten into the act: His foundation recently collaborated with Royal Elastics to create a new line of slip-on sneaks. Just one brand is left. Just one remains out in the cold. Just one vainly awaits deliverance from the middle-aged jogger ghetto to the high-markup pedestal of a Pike Street window display. And that brand is Brooks. Based in Bothell, just northeast of Seattle and right off the Burke-Gilman Trail, Brooks remains stubbornly focused on "advanced stability, cushioning, and motion control." It continues to be sold only in the "specialty running channel"—i.e., painfully unstylish retail environments such as Super Jock 'n Jill near Green Lake. Amazingly enough, company executives even claim this is how they want it. "Our universe is runners and running," says Fritz Taylor, the company's recently hired senior vice president of footwear. "We see growth in getting more shoes on more runners." By contrast, he says, "On the fashion side, consumer tastes are a little more whimsical. You have to add headcount and infrastructure. It's a hard thing to maintain." Even so, the company gets contacted every day, he says, by "street artists and fashion designers" wanting to make the next Patta X Gel Lyte III (a very cool Asics shoe, take my word for it). But Brooks has so far been uninterested. It's perhaps an unsurprising philosophy, given that Brooks is among the dozens of companies owned by legendary Omaha billionaire Warren Buffett. His holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, is known for buying untrendy, stick-to-your-knitting businesses like See's Candies, Dairy Queen, Fruit of the Loom, and (seriously) the Acme Brick Company. Brooks came under Buffett's control a couple years ago when he bought Russell Athletic, which had bought up Brooks a couple years before that. Now, having recently purchased a pair of extremely comfy, solidly built, non-limited-edition Brooks Addiction shoes (see photo above), I'm eager for someone—anyone—to anoint them killer kicks. I mean, I wouldn't mind looking cool, too, and especially without having to go shopping again. When will Brooks and I win the crapshoot? When will the great lazy Susan turn our way? When, I wonder, will the hipsters randomly alight on my innocent Addictions? OK, probably never. But that's why I think Brooks needs to go in the other direction. Let's get these shoes on the feet of Malcolm Gladwell, Sarah Vowell, and Buffett himself. Pitch them to the John Hodgman demographic—everyone prefers him to the insufferable Justin Long (who's probably wearing Asics Gel Lytes as you read this). Come on, Brooks, time to play the Nerd Chic card. I can't do this all by myself. mfefer@seattleweekly.com

 
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