The top-selling sneakers in any given month are typically a predictable and average bunch, the kind of shoes beloved by and spotted on mall walkers across America. There are a couple reasons for this. Though sneakers have never been more popular, the most hyped ones are limited and unable to crack the top 10 because there are simply not enough to go around. Additionally, sneakers with even slightly out-there design alienate enough potential buyers to preclude chart-topping status. For those reasons, among others, the vanilla Nike Tanjun was the best selling shoe of 2018, according to data collected by NPD. Which makes the just-released list of February’s 10 best-selling shoes especially interesting: Jordan Brand dominates the chart with five shoes.
This is genuinely surprising for a number of reasons. The first is that it’s typically generic shoes—ones that cast the broadest possible net—that sell the most pairs. The Jordans that made a mark in February—the Jordan 6, the 6 Rings, the 4, the 1, and the 1 Mid “Winterized”—are a lot more advanced, design-wise, than the inoffensive Tanjun. The two other headwinds working against Jordan are that basketball shoes reportedly aren’t selling well—and that last year saw Jordan make a well-publicized effort to reduce supply, in hopes of bringing some heat back to the brand. So what happened?
According to NPD analyst Matt Powell, the impressive sales month comes down to Jordan’s willingness to uncork supply. “Strictly a function of number of pairs released,” he writes in a characteristically brusque email. But that seems to undersell what the brand was able to do last month. There are plenty of brands that make shoes in quantities large enough to catapult them onto the Top 10—but they don’t have five shoes on this list. Theoretically, if Jordan had been suppressing quantities of its shoe releases before increasing them, the hot month could be seen as a function as pent-up desire.
The models that sold for the brand are also telling. Jordan worked slowly and meticulously to create hype around versions of the very same shoes that are now top sellers. Travis Scott dressed up the Jordan 4 in a candy-blue shell to make one of last year’s most desirable releases—since then the brand has pumped out plenty of new versions, from denim-clad to laser-etched. Scott then debuted his new collaborative Jordan 6 during the Super Bowl, presumably driving interest in more widely available versions of the shoe. The Jordan 1 likely benefited from Virgil Abloh deconstructing the shoe and zip-tying it in September 2017. All three of those shoes—the generic versions, that is—make appearances on February’s top-10 list.
Jordan’s success could also be a good sign for the basketball category overall. Sales of basketball shoes have been down for several years but don’t tell that to the countless brands that have jumped into the category over the past year. Puma, Converse, and New Balance all laid out plans to launch basketball categories in 2018—all three must have some belief that the data is going to turn, or isn’t showing us everything. As one executive at a sneaker brand told me recently, “Data doesn’t lie but you have to ask where is the data coming from and what does it mean.” Plus, data looks at what just happened, but can’t predict the future. That five of the top shoes in February were Jordan basketball shoes is hard to cast aside as completely meaningless in the broader story of basketball sneaker sales.
Last week, Levi’s CMO Jennifer Sey told me that if denim is flailing, it’s the brand’s responsibility to make jeans cool again. Jordan is in a similar spot here: the brand is the north star when it comes to basketball shoes, and, following Sey’s logic, should be able to bring customers back to hooping sneakers by doing what it does best. Which leads to an unusual and maybe even exciting takeaway: today’s list of top sellers might not just be great news for Jordan but for fans of basketball shoes in general.