Move Over Stilettos: Sneakers Make a Statement

Skift Take

Sneakers are taking over the convention center floor, making a statement while boosting comfort, confidence, and brand awareness. Will they be part of the new dress code for business events? 

As the meetings industry celebrated its comeback at IMEX America 2022, something else was also getting plenty of cheering. Sneakers, and an overall more casual dress style, replaced traditional business attire in many instances.

This massive shift is happening across multiple industries that traditionally relied on stilettos and suits to make a powerful impression. Many attribute this transition to the two years of working in yoga pants and sweats that have nurtured an appetite for comfort and authenticity in self-expression. This prompted an evolution of the business dress code, and the meetings industry is no exception.

Visit Milwaukee Gets Cheesy

Custom “cheesy” sneakers were telling a brand story with a local flavor at Visit Milwaukee’s booth. Local sneaker artist Noel Alvarado, who transformed Nike Air Force 1’s with a hand-painted cheese design. 

“We were looking for a unique, fun way to speak to who we are and tell a story of a maker within our community,” said Joshua Albrecht, vice president of marketing and communications at Visit Milwaukee. The team considered various elements of the city, sports teams, and the brewery scene for their sneakers’ theme. In the end cheese won and the whole concept turned out great for the team and business.

“If our team is comfortable in their shoes, they will be comfortable talking to our clients and customers and representing our city the best way we can,” said Albrecht. He expects to keep the shoes as part of their uniform for upcoming trade shows.

How are custom sneakers made? “It’s like painting a car — there’s a lot of prep work,” said Alvarado, a social media influencer who started painting sneakers in high school. He prefers to work with white Air Force Ones or Jordans. After stripping the factory layer, he hand-paints or airbrushes designs with acrylic leather paints. The finishing touch involves sealing the wearable works of art, with gloss or matte finishes to protect them.

“I wasn’t expecting the reaction that Visit Milwaukee showed, but it demonstrates how custom sneakers are a cool thing, and businesses see them as a way to stand out,” Alvarado said. 

Visit Orlando’s Bright-Orange Kicks

Sneakers were front and center in Visit Orlando’s booth at the entrance to the IMEX America show floor. Team members sported bright-orange kicks that matched the exhibit’s statement elements. It was an easy conversation starter and a great photo op.

“We wanted a way to infuse the fun of Orlando and stand out at trade shows but remain professional,” said Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit Orlando. “We also often wear the orange shoes during familiarization tours, sales missions, and site visits. They allow us to carry the Orlando brand everywhere we go as the vibrant orange color helps us grab attention and is a fun extension of our brand, ‘Unbelievably Real,’ which we just launched at IMEX.”

Euromic Embraces the World

Across the floor at the euromic booth, a global association of destination management companies, team sneakers were already on its second iteration. “Our first sneakers debuted five years ago, and we’ve carried the tradition since,” said Huw Tuckett, euromic’s executive director. The company’s kicks have color-coded laces dependent on which continent the member is based.

Allbirds for Hyatt

Branded Allbirds, the low-key darlings of the tech world, took the spotlight at Hyatt’s sprawling booth. “We worked with, a woman-owned and planet-forward business, to provide the options that allowed us to care for our colleagues so they could be their best,” said Trina Camacho-London, vice president of sales at Hyatt Hotels Corporation.

Hyatt’s exhibit space focused on optimal well-being, so it just made sense that its associates wore comfortable footwear. Its IMEX activation also featured a Miraval branded recharge/meditation igloo and Chef Thomas McKeown serving healthy snacks like quinoa-filled snap peas at its entrance.

Personalization Onsite at The Venetian

The Venetian took activation to another level by gifting their group of hosted buyers customized sneakers. Part of the group was Nicola Kastner, former VP and global head of event strategy at SAP. Kastner founded her own company in January — The Event Strategist and now owns pair of sneakers with her company logo emblazoned on the side.

In true Venetian fashion, Freestyle Love Supreme, an improvisational hip-hop group started by Lin-Manuel Miranda, wowed. Their performance, completely audience-generated, ended with an awe-inspiring fireworks display.

The next evening at Rendezvous at Drai’s Nightclub, many of the hosted buyers wore their new personalized sneakers and got many compliments. 

Kastner agrees the pandemic has fueled this trend. “Associates and colleagues got to see us in our living room, in our bedroom. The facade of the perfectly-polished professional vanished,” she said. 

This new-found love for sneakers seem like a solid bridge between brands and the individuals that they seek to attract. Rules are changing, and our feet are thankful.