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The Simple Design Trick Behind $800 Sneakers

Breaking into the highly competitive U.S. sneaker market is hard. Here's how one entrepreneur got his foot in the door.

Editor's Note: This article is part of a series that examines the lessons behind disruptive products through the lens of design.

Creating demand for $800 sneakers might sound like a daunting task, but for shoemaker Jon Buscemi, all it took was one bold design decision and a marketing scheme centered on exclusivity. 

Since debuting online a year ago, Buscemi shoes have sold out so fast that they're almost always out of stock, a startling fact considering the exorbitant price and the fact that the high-tops resemble any number of athletic shoes in the over-saturated U.S. sneaker market. Their single-color, all-leather design represents a style embraced by countless sneaker brands, but unlike every other pair of shoes on sale today, Buscemi's feature tiny golden padlocks that hang from the ankle straps.

While this detail might come across as just another footwear gimmick, design-wise, it's a differentiator that makes all the difference for sneaker enthusiasts. Still, it takes more than a unique design to win over customers--especially at an $800 price point. (At two exclusive retailers--Barneys and Neiman Marcus--Buscemis retail for $865, when they're available, according to the Wall Street Journal.)

So what accounts for the sneaker feeding frenzy?

The second part of Buscemi's strategy: the sneakers are produced in limited editions. Extremely limited editions, in fact. Last August, the first line included just 600 pairs, distributed to 10 retailers. While many shoe companies come out with limited-edition models, Buscemi is taking the strategy to a new level by building the brand entirely around the limited-edition concept. 

And, fortunately for Buscemi, many high-end sneaker lovers value exclusivity above all else. The company released an additional 4,000 pairs in January, selling out in a matter of days, and is in the process of distributing another 8,000 across roughly 50 stores.

Among the early adopters of the shoes are Justin Bieber and Sean "Diddy" Combs, who tweeted a picture to his 9 million followers along with the comment "You ain't got THESE!!!" upon purchasing a pair.

While the success of Buscemi's business model relies on a number of unique characteristics specific to the sneaker industry, non-retail entrepreneurs should still take note. A simple design twist combined with a creative marketing strategy can still disrupt an overcrowded market.

IMAGE: Courtesy Company
Last updated: Jul 28, 2014


Graham Winfrey is a staff writer for He previously covered alternative investments at Private Equity International magazine, prior to which he worked at Business Insider and He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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