Image Courtesy of Adidas
April 17, 2024

It’s Still the Year of the Adidas Samba

The Adidas Samba has been going strong for years - but this bizarre longevity isn't making a dent in its marketability.

The most confusing part about the Adidas Samba trend is that it’s still going on. Most “it” sneakers burst onto the scene and quietly exit a year after going mainstream. After all, sneakerheads and fashion insiders often want to distance themselves from the typical so once a shoe makes it big, it’s already on its way out. 

But the Samba is different. Its staying power has made the Samba the “it” shoe of the last three years and shows no signs of slowing down. Depop has seen searches for the Samba trend up 1,325% from 2022 to 2023. Laced, another online marketplace, sold 2,638% more Sambas in just a year. And Adidas itself has expressed such a heavy demand for the shoes that their CEO Bjørn Gulden has said: “Demand is much higher globally than we have supply, so we could have had much higher sales if we had the product.” We don’t even have the figures for 2024 yet, but they’re projected to be just as high.

Image Courtesy of Bella Hadid

From Icy Fields to the Hottest Influencers

As many soccer players can tell you, the Samba was introduced in the 1950s as a winter soccer boot. Its namesake comes from how players could gracefully play on an icy field, like dancing a samba. In the ‘90s and 2000s, it became a staple of the Blokecore look — especially for grunge artists who wanted that “soccer look”, like Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl.

After Bella Hadid was spotted wearing the shoe in 2022, it blew up in the fashion world and, soon, all over TikTok. A quick search on the app will bring up scores of videos, with some wearing the classic black-and-white while others don pricey limited edition collabs — the most famous being with Wales Bonner. In 2020, the eponymous label and Adidas teamed up, jumpstarting the Samba collab hysteria with unique colorways that go for top dollar on resale sites. 

Several high-profile collaborations have entered the marketplace since, like Pharrell’s skincare label Humanrace, Sporty & Rich, Palace, and even Jonah Hill. They all sell for well over the classic colorway’s price of $100 — already a price increase from the Samba’s less mainstream years. Waves of limited-edition collabs are still forthcoming with another Wales Bonner collab slated for June of this year. The Samba is hot, hot, hot.

Image Courtesy of Adidas

The “Anxiety Era” of the Samba

GQ writer Nathan Taylor Pemberton coined 2023 as the “Samba Anxiety Era,” as fashion denizens and the everyman find themselves wearing — gasp! — the same shoes. He says: “What we’re witnessing now is the awkward moment in culture when multiple groups compete over the meaning of one item. Who gets to claim ownership of the Sambas? And, more importantly, who will decide when the trend is dead?”

Indeed, there seems to be a crisis among sneakerheads over the Samba, with one now-deleted Reddit user posting three months ago: “I’m really annoyed with the adidas samba trend” on the fashion podcast Throwing Fits subreddit. Some commenters admonished them for trying to feel special, while others acknowledged the dilemma of the trend cycle, saying: “I don’t think other people wearing something should ruin it for you. I think we would all be lying if we said that part of being deep into clothes is about feeling a bit unique/special but the real satisfaction comes from wearing clothes that reflect who you are and your personality, etc.”

It’s a nice sentiment, but the tenuous relationship between tastemakers and mainstream fashion consumers is shaky enough to bust the foundation; in fact, it’s enough for one uncool person wearing the shoe to be an excuse to jump the Samba ship. Just a week ago, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was seen sporting a pair of white Sambas in an interview — a move that some say attempts to make him hip and relatable. 

Things were so bad that he had to issue an apology to the “Samba community” — but he still managed to play his part in the trend ownership game, saying: “…in my defense, I would say I have been wearing Adidas trainers including Sambas — and others, in fact — for many, many years.” It’s the same line old hat Samba wearers and early adopters will use in defending their “right” to wear the shoe.

Shine on, Samba, Shine On

The sentiment overall seems to be that everyone wants to continue wearing the Samba — but now that they’ve exploded in popularity and “trend hoppers” are wearing them too, something feels off about sporting them. Even if they push their Sambas to the back of the closet, they’ll likely return to them someday. They’re classic, after all.

Guest on the Throwing Fits podcast J. Page offered up a statement that sums up the strange shelf life of the Samba: “It’s going to go away but it will always stay.” Commenters on the video echo this, saying: “They been goated” or “Sambas never disappeared.”

They’re right, after all. It’s a basic shoe with a storied past that reminds us of our dad doing weekend chores, our after-school soccer practice, or hanging out with our friends. The Adidas Samba is lasting and popular because of how classic and basic it is. It’s not the blinding new, new, new. It’s from the days before there were sneaker resellers, sneaker journalism and sneaker collabs – a shoe you could get at Footlocker in the mall.

The Samba community, as Sunak called it, should concern itself less with who can wear the Samba and more with why it resonates so widely. It may not be such a bad thing if everyone can get a piece of the Samba pie. With the upcoming collabs, copious online content, and even the larger discourse of whether they’re cool — the Samba is definitely going nowhere soon.

Claire Stemen

Claire is a writer based in Seoul but originally from Cleveland, a very decent city. She is a fashion and beauty writer who got her start almost a decade ago at Paris and New York fashion weeks, where she covered shows, designers, and trends. The greatest sadness of her career was when she had to give her seat for the Jacquemus Spring 2017 show to someone else because she wasn't in town. She is also a published fiction writer, which is why she's so dramatic about everything.

Her work seeks to draw out the hidden functions of beauty and fashion—and what that says about culture. She believes the act of dressing oneself goes beyond mere expression and that the act of selecting a sock, earring, or lipstick is rife with meaning. She’s especially interested in the academic definition of “dress”.

Claire wakes up every day excited to experiment with beauty, fashion, and her sense of self. Her black cat Heathcliff wakes up excited to exact vengeance like his namesake in "Wuthering Heights".

If something she wrote made you feel something, you can direct your hot takes, fiery opinions, lukewarm criticism, and otherwise to The Territorie's comment section, her Instagram @claire_stemen, or via email at claire at clairestemen dot com.

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