Artificial scarcity in the sneaker business

The shoe is part of a series of sneakers Adidas has made with Williams embroidered with words from different languages. The company typically sells them in limited quantities through select retail partners and its Confirmed app, which is only offered in certain countries. Generally these aren’t mass launches where anyone who wants a pair can get them. It’s a common distribution strategy in the sneaker business, where desire for a product tends to rise with its exclusivity, but by not making them available in South Africa, Adidas stumbled onto the wrong side of an issue that has received growing attention in the fashion industry.

Cultural appropriation in the fashion industry

In recent years, global corporations have been criticized for exploitative cultural appropriation, where they borrow from a culture, especially indigenous or disadvantaged ones, without including it in the process or profits. The situation can be complicated when a designer is trying to show appreciation for a culture, but often it amounts to a company turning a cultural group’s heritage into a way to make money without so much as consulting it.

Some groups have been pushing back. Maasai people in Kenya and Tanzania have sought to prevent companies from using their distinctive patterns without a licensing agreement. Mexico’s government has gone after companies co-opting the designs of its indigenous groups.

But companies are being warned they need to be more thoughtful in how they take inspiration from a culture. In Adidas’s case, that just means at least giving the community that inspired its sneaker the opportunity to buy it.

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