$100 Sneakers? Nike Shows It's a Lot of Hot Air

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The price of sports shoes, like the price of street drugs, is based more on what the market will bear than the costs that go into manufacturing. Which means that, as with street drugs, suppliers are able to vary the price from country to country. Americans accustomed to paying $80 and upwards for a pair of Nike cross-trainers may soon be looking enviously at Asia, where the company last week launched its new "World Shoe." The canvas-constructed, swoosh-bearing family of cross-trainers, basketball sneakers, running shoes and soccer boots will be sold for a meager $15 a pair –- the equivalent, in these countries where single-digit hourly wages are considered good, of being priced at about $60 in the U.S. –- in the hope of trebling Nike’s share of the Asian market.

Nike has no plans to distribute the World Shoe in the U.S. or any other industrialized country. But street fashion has a habit of developing peculiar obsessions, and it’s far from impossible that the World Shoe accrues a kind of ironic cachet among cool kids –- who may be prepared to pay $50 to any retailer smart enough to import them from Asia. Then again, if that happened Nike could always simply supply them here directly –- at whatever price the market will bear.