In the wake of the atmos x Air Max 1 “Elephant” retro drop, there is no better time to visit the subject of boutique sneaker shop collaborators than right now. In what may arguably be the pinnacle of brand partnerships throughout fashion and especially footwear, some may take the side that forced collaborative efforts or boring and unoriginal matchings are flooding the market today. While this debate has its truths and flaws, what can be said with certainty is that there are boutique sneaker shops who have set the benchmark for collabs in the past, and continue to do so while spawning and inspiring the new generation. Some of these humble retailers have taken certain silhouettes and made them world famous while other shops have taken less popular models and made them highly sought after. Many, if not all of these destinations for kicks have built upon their initial success and have expanded to additional locations.
However you cut it, the following seven names have become legends in sneaker history because of what they’ve mastered while working on collaborations and from their ability to push the culture of creativity, design, and storytelling to the next level.
atmos — The OG
No conversation involving sneaker collaborators can start or end without the mention of the legendary Japanese brand atmos. Taking a hole-in-the-wall shop and growing it into a brand that has collabed with Nike, adidas, Reebok and
Solebox — King of the New Balance M1500
Traveling west into Europe, the German staple in streetwear and sneaker collab connoisseur Solebox has made a name for itself with some of the hottest New Balance mixes to ever drop, more specifically on the 1500 model. Taking three-tone colorways and elevating them to perfection on the 1500, Solebox has blessed fans of running sneakers with the likes of the 2006 “Purple Devil,” 2008’s “Nazar Eye,” and 2009’s “Solebox Finals” in both green and maroon. In 2007, the “Toothpaste Pack” utilized toothbrushes in the packaging and featured the M1500WTU mint and M1500BOR orange colorway both on a clean white upper with grey suede accents, a mesh toecap, white midsole and gum outsole. For taking the New Balance 1500 model and creating a perfect formula of colorways that are still some of the most desired collaborations and pieces of inspiration for others, Solebox and Hikmet Sugoer definitely deserve respect as one of the greatest sneaker boutique collaborators and designers of all time.
size? — Best Artist Selection
The United Kingdom has had the pleasure of enjoying sneaker boutique size? since 2000. Getting into the game early, size? has given us some of the most vibrant collaborations over the years which started with its partnership with local artist Dave White back in 2005. The duo linked up on the “Neon Pack” which included an Air Max 1, Air Max 90 and Air Stab. All three silhouettes in the two-tone grey, white, neon green and black colorway immediately took on the “Dave White” nickname as a homage to the artist. Following up what would become a holy grail pack for many sneaker enthusiasts, size? teamed up with Jeff Staple and Staple Design for the New Balance 577 “Black Pigeon.” The third NB “Pigeon” iteration, following grey and white M575s, was engineered at NB’s UK factory in Flimby and celebrated the manufacturer’s 30th anniversary. While the Staple Design x size? x New Balance M577SZE sneaker came together to tell the story of a pariah, size?’s 2013 release of an exclusive Nike Air Max 93 in a purple and teal hue was an ode to the good old ’90s and lively color. All in all size? has built a reputation for choice collabs in close to two decades.
Patta — King of the Anniversary Pack
The city of Amsterdam and the brand Patta are synonymous with each other in the kicks game. The collective started off as a bunch of friends with a passion for sneakers, traveling around and hunting down pairs to share with the Dutch crowd. Consequently, they soon become one of the most recognized names in the streetwear scene both in Europe and around the world. Having witnessed the days of Tier 0 and Quickstrike accounts, the humble sneaker boutique celebrated its five-year anniversary back in 2009 with a five-sneaker Nike collab pack. Showing off a propensity to the Air Max 1 silhouette, Patta created “Lucky Green,” Purple Denim,” “Chlorophyll,” “Corduroy” and “Cherrywood” colorways. Mastering the use of premium materials like denim and corduroy on the silhouette, the first four celebratory pairs held their own but the “Cherrywoods” which were done in collaboration with the artist Parra are the cream of the crop. Featuring the iconic and vibrant pink, teal, and red that the artist is known for alongside art on the insoles, the “Cherrywoods” took collaboration to new heights with its incorporation of vibrant colors, premium suede and wool, and attention to detail. These five sneakers are the reason Patta is one of the most renowned footwear and boutique collaborators — it has the ability to turn an anniversary into a celebratory pack of kicks that still resonate to this day.
Packer Shoes — Master of ’90s Tributes
Located in New Jersey, Packer Shoes has been taking silhouettes which are less widely known and making great colorways with them for years. One of the retailer’s greatest abilities is honoring ’90s culture, with examples including the Reebok Question “Curtain Call,” Reebok Kamikaze II “Remember the Alamo,” and the Saucony Grid 9000 “Snow Beach.” Most recently, the brand recognized the legendary Wu-Tang member for the 20th anniversary of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx with a drop that coincided with the “Purple Tape” release in 2015. All these tasteful homages to cultural icons of the 1990s are the reason that Packer Shoes has stepped into the collaboration spotlight in recent years where they should remain from now on.
Concepts — King of Storytelling
Boston-born boutique Concepts is one of the greatest narrators in the sneaker game today. Drawing inspiration from history, its surroundings and the culture of Bean Town, the team has put together some of the most creative sneakers on Nike, ASICS and New Balance silhouettes. The New Balance ML999CP “Kennedy” paid homage to the 35th President of the United States and his love of sailing. Taking the Nike SB Dunk Low to the next level in terms of thought, packaging and overall storytelling, the “Red Lobster” in 2008 would pave the way for the “Blue Lobster” and “Yellow Lobster” iterations in 2009 that are both extremely rare in real life and in its sneaker form and all three sneakers donned rubber bands on the toe box to mimic lobster claws. Concepts then proceeded to tackle the ASICS GEL-Lyte III silhouette with the “Boston Tea Party” and the “Three Lies” preceeding it, where the latter drew inspiration from the statue of John Harvard which is worn from various visitors rubbing it for good luck. With creativity, execution, and superb sneaker narrative, Concepts cements its legacy as one of the best in the game.
KITH — Current Top Dog
Our last, but certainly not least collaborator is none other than Ronnie Fieg’s KITH located in New York City. The man responsible for a huge resurgence in the collectability and influence of the ASICS GEL-Lyte III silhouette over the last decade started off his own boutique with a bang in the form of the “Salmon Toe” GEL-Lyte III. Dropping in limited numbers with an exclusive clothing capsule to match, the clean navy blue upper with bright salmon toe box was a signal of impending dominance in the sneaker game. KITH and Ronnie created the GEL-Lyte III “Super Green” for Soles4Souls charity in 2013. Giving away 300 pairs to those in need in Haiti, one of the cleanest and most inspirational colorways from the brand would eventually make its way back in 2016 for a general release during KITH’s fifth anniversary. In a dominating 2016, KITH closed out the year by opening its Aspen location which coincided with an adidas Consortium collab in the form of an UltraBOOST Mid. Constantly evolving and creating bright colorways with just the right accents has been RF’s trademark and thus KITH’s for years and will continue to forge the path for collaborations going forward, making the brand the strongest sneaker boutique collaborator in the game right now and one that definitely deserves to be remembered as an all-time great.