Don't buy these shoes.
Why is Nike filing trademarks on popular silhouettes?
Setting the stage:
Sneakers-wise - the most interesting thing to come out of 2020 was watching IG influencer after IG influencer create their own version of the Air Jordan 1, Dunk, and/or AF1 silhouette.
When it was revealed (to me) that you could make your own for $27.99, I was astonished. Obviously, there are minimum order quantities (MOQs), but no less than 89 IG ‘Influencers’ jumped on this idea and created their own version of these popular silhouettes (someone shared their list with me as a google spreadsheet and for the life of me I cannot find their IG to give them credit).
This isn’t the first time this happened - there is actually a pretty hefty number of mid-80’s AJ1 bootlegs that almost look like they come from an alternate universe. But this time around, it was fascinating to watch in real-time - the drama mixed with the personal brand expression was dope. I loved seeing some of these shoes, I loved reading about some of these stories, I loved talking with some of these people and I thought it was just a cool thing to attempt. And I LOVE watching the little guy trying things out for himself. And I love that this person made some dick shoes:
There was PLENTY of drama to accompany the bootleg Rennaissance…so much so that I got doxxed simply for my opinion on it. I’d say most of it came to a head when Warren Lotas and Pigeon Jeff…er…Jeff Staple ‘collaborated’ to create this piece of work:
I defended it at the time and I still do. It’s not perfect and it was probably pretty cheap and it’s very clearly just a photoshopped pic of the original Dunk, but I like the fact that someone with the tiniest bit of clout decided to say ‘FUCK YOU NIKE WE ALL WANT THIS GODDAM SHOE AND THE FACT THAT YOU ONLY RELEASED 202 PAIRS 20 YEARS AGO MAKES THIS EVEN MORE ABSURD SO WE ARE GOING TO CREATE OUR OWN WITH OR WITHOUT YOU.’ For whatever reason, that opinion got me doxxed. And I lost a handful of followers because of it. LOL
As we all know now, it appears Lotas sold $10M worth of pre-orders for this shoe (that means that more than 30,000 people ordered these shoes at $300 retail), and at that point, it seems Nike had to do something. So they slapped him with a cease & desist and some kind of trademark infringement and stopped manufacturing on the whole production. (And maybe at a later date we can talk about how genius of a move the whole thing was for his business).
Under a slightly different set of circumstances, Nike also had to lay the legal smack down on notorious troll/artist @MSCHF and Lil Nas X for their ‘Satan shoes’. The fact that regular people actually believed that Nike would create and then market a pair of shoes with HUMAN BLOOD in them has me fascinated that these same people have enough wear with all to actually voice those opinions on social media. How could ANYONE believe the world’s largest clothing company would have any interest in putting sneakers with HUMAN BLOOD out into the marketplace?
Anyway, most of us know how that turned out. Nike slapped them with a C&D, but not before they shipped out 666 pairs of the notorious sneaker.
These are probably the two biggest stories of the ‘bootleg renaissance’, both in which Nike actually did something. They really didn’t do anything else during that time period. But if you’re following my dude Zak Kurtz, you’ve probably seen that Nike recently trademarked the Jordan 1 High and Low, prompting everyone to assume it was because of the bootleg renaissance. Hell, I even assumed this was gonna slow some of these companies down but it seems they’re going all gas, no brakes.
What most people didn’t see, though, is that it looks like Nike has slowly been trademarking different models over the past several years. They trademarked the Air Max 90, Jordan 3, Jordan 4, Jordan 5, Jordan 11, and the Foamposite - models which have seen virtually NO customization. Why go through the trouble if you’re just trying to shut a few small businesses down? AF1 High, Mid and Low (2019, 2006), Dunk Low & High (2008), Air Max 95 have also been trademarked…in applications dating back 15+ years.
So if Nike has been filing trademarks for the past 15 years - was the primary goal to stop Warren Lotas and MSCHF and the dick shoes?
(As an aside, just imagine the head of counsel for Nike leading a meeting with ‘well, it looks like we might have to do something about these dick shoes’)
What’s on the horizon?
If you’ve been into sneakers for a while, you’ve probably come across a handful of customizers or restoration specialists. Guys like @jwdanklefs and @mache275 are probably two of the most well-known in the space, but there are countless more. In an industry that seemingly popped up overnight, there are dudes who have been grinding for YEARS learning all they can about how to work their magic on a pair of shoes. From the first one I met in person, @johnmanalo , to the guy who came and talked with my students in the midst of creating his fashion powerhouse @sia_collective , down to one of the most interesting people I’ve talked with @157restorations , to the hybrid soleswap god @govrn_ , and one of the most genuinely nice people in the space, @marrio_restores , customizers have been doin’ the damn thing for a long time. And what they do is pretty fascinating. And it’s tough. I tried my hand at it…I don’t have the stomach for it, nor do I have the patience for it. It’s difficult work.
Take a look at this pair of Barf’s someone listed for sale in the Sneaker Savant Discord…I’ve been searching for a pair of Barf’s forever, and the price on this pair is great…but when I scrolled down, I saw the damage to the toe flap:
If this pair of shoes is roughly 75% of the price of similarly worn *but not damaged* pairs - would it be worth it for me to try to have them repaired or restored? Or am I running another risk that a restoration specialist might not be able to find the right leather to fix this pair up for me? It’s a tough question that most of us have had to answer for ourselves - should I pick up this ‘grail’ even though I know it needs work?
I’ve heard of customizers buying fakes to part them out and use the parts for restorations on real pairs. This raises some Ship of Theseus-type questions. I’ve heard of customizers buying back tabs and soles and patches for restorations. And I honestly don’t know how one would go about getting the parts needed to restore most pairs…but they do it and they do it masterfully.
I remember I once went to a recon artists’ workshop and he had garbage bags full of Dub Zero uppers that he was trying to dispose of. I didn’t need to ask - I knew that he picked them up on deep discount at the Nike Clearance Store in San Leandro and he used them ALL for Jordan IV sole swaps. Are they still making Dub Zero’s because people are wearing them or are they making Dub Zero’s because Jordan IV’s are rocked so heavy that they often need their soles replaced? (And for the record - I think Dub Zero’s are probably the ugliest Jordan mashup of all time #sorrynotsorry)
But…what if Nike decided to sell parts to customizers and restorers? What if Nike partnered with some of the biggest customizers out there and agreed to partner up for the restoration of certain pairs? I could simply hit up Nike to *fix* these vintage shoes? What if I could just hit up Nike with the issue and they could tell me ‘customizer xyz is in your city and can fix these shoes with genuine Nike parts next week.’
From what I’ve heard - this has been in the works for years: a program in which Nike will provide all of the parts necessary for customizers and restoration specialists to REPAIR shoes. It’s all part of their sustainability initiative ‘move to zero’…
I asked local customizer @marrio_restores how his business would change if Nike provided replacement parts and he had this to say:
“If Nike were to ever start selling replacement parts for their models, it would do two things: (1) save me time and (2) cost me more money. It is not that easy finding certain models that are not sold in stores or on Nike.com anymore. I have literally spent months trying to locate certain models that are no longer in production for cheap on 3rd party websites and apps. So in a way I would love saving time by just going to a Nike outlet store or ordering from the Nike website to find the exact replacement part but, on the other hand I could also see Nike raising the prices on small items like red SB replacement laces for the Heineken Dunks or back tabs for Air Jordan 3’s. If Nike was to do it the right way, it would be amazing. I just don’t see that happening though.“
It is hard to imagine the biggest clothing company in the world (and the most bootlegged) coming up with a plan to have consumers actually buy less of their shoes, but it probably looks really good for shareholders…just look at what it did for Patagonia…
That’s great and all, but what does THAT have to do with trademarking shoes?
If history is any indication - Nike should actually be giving more credit to these customizers and recon artists. I know SEVERAL of their projects have been ‘borrowed’ by Nike with NO credit given whatsoever. But I think this program should give customizers more leverage to create proper works of (sneaker) art.
As for the trademarks Nike has been filing, the reasoning can be summed up in a single sentence: Nike wants to eliminate the possibility that someone would take their genuine Nike parts and recreate a popular shoe from scratch. It’s as simple as that.
Watching the magic that these customizers and restorers conjure up with virtually no *officially sanctioned* resources - I’m excited to see what they’ll be able to pull together with the support of the company they’ve brought so much life to. At the end of the day, I love seeing the little guy driving the decisions being made at massive corporations, but I hate when the massive corporation decides to stomp them (or us) out - let’s hope that Nike gives these customizers and reconstruction folks the proper respect they deserve and helps support future endeavors.
This might be a good time to shout out your favorite customizer (in the comments!)
Another one!! Some of those alternate versions were pretty lame. But hey I respect the creativity.
Such a great read