Why Nike is cracking down on designers ripping off their iconic sneakers



In October 2020, Nike filed a complaint accusing sneaker designer Warren Lotas of spreading “illegal counterfeits”.

Originally making a name for himself by customizing NBA jerseys with graphics suitable for an Iron Maiden album cover, Lotas turned to creating his own versions of Nike’s Dunk Low. A Jason Voorhees mask replaced the Swoosh on its limited edition sneakers and was the only significant deviation from the iconic silhouette. Lotas even went so far as to recreate some of the most sought-after colors in Nike history, including the unofficial “Heineken” makeup that, ironically, earned the sportswear giant its own letter of cease and desist. abstention.

Big no-no

Pigeon Dunk by Warren Lotas. Warren Lotas

While it was clear that Lotas closely mimicked Nike sneakers, what he did with his so-called customs was not uncommon either. At the time of the suit, many sneaker fans wondered why he and he alone were being targeted while many independent designers were doing the exact same thing – not to mention BAPE’s Bapesta sneaker that has been running on the Air Force 1 since the start. Now, after nearly 12 months and several more pursuits, it looks like Lotas wasn’t that special. Nike is taking a new aggressive stance to show that it will no longer defend the infringement of its intellectual property.

“We used our own sole, we use our own material, we have our own logos. “

If it seems like every month now brings a new trial from Nike, well, that’s not far from the truth. The company has had a busy year in court as it targeted a Brooklyn-based art collective working with Lil Nas X and a brand making Air Force 1s tailored for basic white girls and with over a million followers on Instagram. There are also cases in which Nike has managed to stop such creations with a simple stop and abstain, as was the case with the Air Force 1 “middle finger” formerly made by ineverheardofyou.

Nike’s latest target is John Geiger, a sneaker customizer who has built himself a huge success based on his own Air Force 1 spin dubbed the GF-01. While the Nike v Lotas case was still ongoing, Geiger said Grab it would be “impossible” for him to find himself at the other end of a similar trial. “We just changed it too much,” he said. “We used our own sole, we use our own materials, we have our own logos.” Geiger also pointed out that he didn’t violate any of Nike’s color schemes and that his cursive “g” logo was distinct from the Swoosh.


Nike disagrees and has added Geiger to its existing lawsuit against La La Land, the manufacturer used by Lotas and which also supplies Geiger. Although he fought in court for several months and publicly insisted that he stood up for small businesses, Lotas eventually struck a private deal with Nike in which he agreed not to create any more. products that infringe on the trademarks and trade dress of Nike. MSCHF, the ancestor of Lil Nas X’s “Satan Shoes”, also nodded amicably and launched voluntary recalls not only for custom Air Max 97s containing human blood, but also for “Jesus Shoes” containing of holy water released years earlier.

I am prepare oneself to struggle this battle for all creators and outsiders fight the same fierce battle like me. “

The legal momentum seems to be on Nike’s side, but Geiger is mounting the strongest defense we’ve ever seen from an independent party. The representative in this case is Kenneth Anand, former general counsel for Yeezy Apparel and co-creator of Sneaker Law, who has lectured at several universities and published a business and legal manual dedicated to the industry. While the case is ongoing, Geiger is digging into the controversy and has already released another pair of his GF-01s in a peach variant he calls “Banned.”

“I am preparing to fight this battle for all the creators and the underdogs who are fighting the same uphill battle as me,” Geiger said in a statement posted on Instagram. “I have been very clear throughout the two years of developing and selling the GF-01 that this silhouette was inspired by Nike and also made sure that anyone buying the shoe knows that it is about. ‘a designer shoe made with premium materials and quality, along with my trademark and the modifications to the silhouette.


Geiger has also vowed to be “vocal and open” about the case as it continues. Sneakerheads and designers should watch carefully, as this could be the last chance, however unlikely, for anyone to emerge victorious from such a lawsuit against Nike. So far, no one has taken their case to its conclusion instead of reaching a settlement – and if Nike receives a ruling in their favor, it could set a precedent that essentially guarantees the eradication of the customs market.

Nike’s case is bolstered by the recent securing of trademark registrations for the Air Jordan 1. The US Patent and Trademark Office has given Nike the right to protect the sneaker’s design elements that stretch well. beyond logos. According to the record, the sneaker’s very shapes are alerting customers to Jordan Brand as a source – and Nike is looking for similar brands for Air Max 90, Air Foamposite One, Air Jordan 3, Air Jordan 4, Air Jordan 5 and Air Jordan 11. .

Nike already owns the rights to the Air Force 1 and Dunk setup, but neither have been fully tested in court. In the past, a brand as well as Steve Madden have been able to avoid legal action by snatching both the Air Jordan 1 Off-White and Travis Scott. But as last year showed, Nike will no longer defend the perceived counterfeiting of its sneakers, regardless of the size of the source.


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