Adidas

Residents of and travelers to Portland! Fans of the Trailblazers basketball team! Design nerds!

Your big day has finally arrived.

The Portland Airport Carpet, generally known through the hashtag #pdxcarpet, is getting its own shoe.

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Well, technically, Damian Lillard—one of the NBA's young stars—is putting out a new shoe with Adidas. But that shoe features the distinctive pattern of the carpet at the Portland airport.

Yes, we know it sounds insane.

But the Instagram account @pdxcarpet has more than 20,000 fans, and that doesn't include all the people who simply post pictures of their feet standing on the carpet with the hashtag #pdxcarpet. And many, many people do this. The best design podcast in the world, 99% Invisible, even dedicated an entire episode to the power of this teal carpet and how it inspired a generation (or something).

But how does a carpet build a social media following?

GOOD QUESTION.

The short answer is: the world is mysterious and unpredictable and people are really into 80s color schemes right now.

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The long answer is that some decades ago, a carpet with a distinctive pattern was installed in Portland's airport. It is a small and nice airport. (I grew up near there.) There is very little distinctive about it, except this freaky carpet. The carpet is teal with this geometric pattern that's kind of morse-codey. The metapattern is sort of an X and there are some colors. My apologies if I'm being vague here. Just take a look. This is what people do with the carpet:

At some point in the distant social media past, people began to post pictures like this of themselves on social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Why? Perhaps because you spend a lot of time staring at the ground at an airport? Let's not overcomplicate it: it just started happening.

Suddenly, people really noticed the carpet. And when their eyes really focused on it, they thought: I can sell that shit on Etsy! People started the carpet pattern into (successful) products. Socks! Shirts! Tote bags! Ties! Some dude on Reddit even already got custom shoes made with the carpet pattern.

The PDX carpet was a way of showing that you were tres Portland. And maybe that you were a hipster who didn't take herself too seriously. After all, you got a carpet pattern tattooed on yourself: not even Zooey Deschanel could deny your dedication to whimsy!

But the truth is, no one can really explain why this carpet, out of all the crappy airport carpets, became a carpet célèbre. Except for maybe James Gleick in his book on chaos theory. Celebrity—for Alex from Target or Joe the Plumber or the Portland airport carpet—is random and weird. It is like lightning, but minus all the known physics.

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But once it exists, it is valuable. From a marketing perspective, the PDX carpet is a bona fide thing, that rare viral trend that appears not to have originated within a media organization's fevered boiler room or on an ad agency's white boards. It is a People's Meme.

Which means, obviously, that it must be commodified by a global brand, so that its value can be captured. As they say, from your Instagram account to brands' ears.

In conclusion: these shoes are cool in that ugly way of the moment. And the famed carpet is being torn out, strip by strip. Such is the way of the modern world.