Nike’s giant debt of gratitude to the city of Baltimore continues. Around 1984, the company was about to discontinue the Air Force 1 basketball sneaker it had introduced a couple years prior. But in Baltimore, the shoes had picked up a fanatical following. “We Baltimoreans call them ‘Airs’ because they’re as important to us as oxygen,” D. Watkins, an author and lecturer at the University of Baltimore, wrote in the New York Times last year. Thanks to that local fandom, Nike ditched its plans to ditch the shoe.
It’s a good thing it did. The Air Force 1 is one of Nike’s all-time hits, and in 2019, the low version it first released in 1983 was the second top-selling sneaker in the US, according to data released this week by research firm NPD Group. Only the Air Max 270, a style Nike introduced in 2018, beat it out.
As different as the shoes may appear, they have one thing in common: They’re both what you’d call lifestyle sneakers. The AF1 was originally designed for on-court play, but these days it’s a fashion shoe more than anything. The Air Max 270, meanwhile, was the first shoe in Nike’s Air Max lineage created specifically for casual use rather than anything athletic.
For a few years now NPD has recorded a decline in performance sneakers as sport-inspired shoes have grabbed more customers looking for comfortable, versatile footwear they can wear throughout the day. The firm says its figures capture most of the wholesale market in the US, meaning the sales retail chains such as Foot Locker make to customers. They don’t include the rising direct-to-consumer sales from brands straight to shoppers. Its list is based on dollar sales rather than units sold.
Matt Powell, NPD’s vice president and sports industry analyst, noted in the release that the “lack of a true hot item really hurt the outcome this year.” A number of the top styles were returning from last year, such as Adidas’s Yeezy Boost 350 v2 and the low-cost Vans Ward and Nike Tanjun. For the year, sales of athletic footwear were up only slightly, a trend Powell expects to continue through 2020.
Here were NPD’s top sellers in the US for 2019: