Nike first introduced their line of skateboard sneakers in the early 2000s, shaking up the skateboard scene from the usual Vans, DCs, and Emericas that most boarders wore at the time. They were one of the first major sportwear brands to really acknowledge skateboarding, constructing the shoe with exact specifications from some of the community’s most popular skaters. Despite a slow start, the signing of pro-skaters like Richard Mulder and Paul Rodriguez in 2002 and later to help jumpstart the division, dramatically raised the brand’s profile with skateboarders. In addition to sneakers, collaborations with notable brands and artists, including UNKLE and Medicom, helped Nike SB achieve streetwear clout. For both skaters and sneakerheads, Nike SB was tops. As styles trended toward slimmer silhouettes and sneakers were getting more attention from high-end fashion brands, we saw a decline in Nike SB’s popularity around the mid-2010s. The chunkiness that made the Nike SB such a statement shoe in its hay day was no longer in demand. But now, Nike SB’s are starting to come back and come back HARD.
Basketball Meets Skateboarding
Before the Swoosh introduced their skateboard line, riders were rocking Nike Dunk Hi’s and Air Jordan 1s, both models that were built specifically for basketball. Attracted to ankle support and the popular colorways of the shoe, skateboarders would ride in many of the shoes that are considered today’s classics, such as the Nike Dunk Hi’s “Be True to your School” pack. Riding on the popularity of the Dunk, Nike saw fit to use it to jumpstart their SB division. When the first round of sketches were being established in 1997, the brand decided to transform the model with a padded tongue and interior, making it more durable for some of the toughest ollie tricks and nose grinds. With a mix of some interesting materials for the uppers, such as tweed, hemp, suede, leather, and even fur, while introducing a sleeker skateboarding shoe than the others on the market, Nike SB hit the ground running by contrasting from the usual Etnies and Osiris. Visually, the SBs just looked nicer to wear when skating!
SB, A Sneakerhead Staple
Nike SB’s peak of popularity started in 2005, when Jeff Staple and his Pigeon-mascot brand, Staple, worked on the SB Dunk Low. Dubbed the “Pigeon Dunk,” the collaboration caused major nationwide hysteria, which led to a riot outside of Staple’s Reed Space storefront, in New York. Legend has it that this sneaker was one of the first shoes to bring attention to reselling, with the shoe hitting the secondary market for thousands of dollars over its $75 retail price. Since then, sneakerheads started seeing the skateboarding shoe for more than it’s utility and as more of a fashion statement. Nike did not ignore the call for more projects. After the Pigeon Dunk craze, Nike started working with sneaker boutiques, artists and musicians that matched the same rugged, innovative, out-of-the-box aesthetic that was the foundation of Nike Skateboarding. They worked with influential figures like the street artist Futura, cult hip-hop group De La Soul, and skateboard clothing brand Supreme, to create shoes that, today, have a collective resale value that surpasses the $1000 mark. The many designs of the SB Dunk Lows solidified SB’s role as the Swoosh’s more artistic and liberal silhouette, making it a fan favorite of sneakerheads and skateboarders alike.
Fashion Turns Slim
Following the SB’s peak popularity around 2005, sneaker culture increasingly became mainstream and increasingly appropriated by high fashion. As fashion trends swayed more towards tighter-fitting clothing, and with Ronnie Fieg and KITH leading the “Athleisure” look, shoes followed suit. Trainers and running shoes grabbed more of the spotlight, and the introduction of knit technology created a demand for slim-cut sneakers. This approach made Nike more appealing to higher fashion trends; it pushed SBs to the background. With their bulky structure, these skateboarding shoes couldn’t withstand the “skinny” style taking over fashion.
This lack of attention on the skateboarding division was more apparent than ever to some OG Nike SB heads, as newer colorways of the shoes became less memorable. There were a couple of stand-out releases, such as the return of the classic Supreme x Nike SB Dunk Low in 2012, and the SB Dunk Low Pushead 2’s from 2012—which was a follow-up to the favorable metal/hardcore artist’s 2005 Dunk Low design. As footwear technology progressed, Nike also introduced newer models to their SB family, such as the Janoski’s and the SB Dunk Low Zoom, each missing the fat tongue and padding that made the SB Dunks a memorable model. Though the brand was expanding its catalog, it looked like Nike SB forgot all about the shoe that earned them their mainstream following. Or so it seemed!
Don't Call it a Comeback
View this post on Instagram
With the advent of the “Dad Shoe” craze and its lasting impression on fashion, the demand for chunky shoes has returned. Nike has capitalized on the current trend by pushing the SB Dunk Low back into our faces, bringing back a slew of groundbreaking collaborations and introducing some new ones that are grabbing everyone’s attention. The resurgence of the SB Dunk can be traced back to the recent retro release of the popular “Tiffany” Dunk, a shoe that caused a riot during its drop at last year’s ComplexCon.
Boston’s sneaker boutique Concepts brought new colorways of their “Lobster” shoe, which was a major move for SB collectors as the first round of shoes from the collaboration was introduced in 2008 and are still extremely valuable due to their limited run.
Now with the power of social media, a platform foreign to the times of SB’s creation, Nike can bring back the classic shoe to a wider audience and with the support of influencers. This strategy has already taken shape, as Nike enlisted its newest and most popular celebrity signee, Travis Scott, as the ambassador to resurface the shoes. Travis Scott has been caught in multiple paparazzi shots and music videos wearing some of the most prolific and notable Nike SB colorways. We can only speculate that this strategy is a telling sign that Nike will deliver even more favorable SB retros.
Nike has gone back to the roots of what made SB such a meaningful silhouette: collaborating with artists, boutiques, and brands that helped push the skateboard shoe forward. With teasers of new colorways and upcoming collaborations, such as the upcoming release of Verdy’s Girl’s Don’t Cry SB Dunk Low, there is so much more in store for Nike SB.