Controversial shoes and sneakers have played a big role in the sneaker game. There has been no shortage of cease and desist letters, costly lawsuits, and heated debates amongst sneaker lovers, sneaker resellers and sneaker designers. Some of the most infamous controversial sneakers include a limited edition design with a menthol cigarette look to it and another collaboration between a fashion designer and a sportswear brand that was met with extreme criticism. This article revisits some of these notorious kicks and examines why they remain relevant in sneaker culture today.
1. Jeremy Scott ‘Shackled’ (2012)
Can you talk about controversial shoes or sneakers without mentioning this epic fail? In 2012, fashion designer Jeremy Scott teamed up with Adidas to release the Roundhouse Mids. Though designed with playful toy monsters from the 80s in mind, the startling bright yellow shackles garnered massive criticism and outrage as they evoked notions of slavery. Rev. Jesse Jackson described them as ‘slave shoes’ that commercialized hundreds of years of human degradation. After widespread humiliation against Adidas and Scott, the sneakers were quickly scrapped- but are now an infamous reminder of misguided decisions.
2. Nike SB ‘Heineken’ Dunk (2003)
The iconic Nike SB ‘Heineken’ Dunk was released in 2003 but was quickly halted due to a cease and desist sent by the Dutch brewing company. Despite its limited release, this unofficial Heineken colourway soon grew in popularity among the skate community and sneakerheads alike, making it one of the most coveted Dunk releases ever.
3. Ari Menthol 10 (2006)
The Ari Menthol 10s, a custom-made Nike Air Force 1 designed by Ari Saal Forman, are the stuff of sneakerheads’ dreams and nightmares. Drawing inspiration from Newport menthol cigarettes, the bold design featured a replacement of the classic Swoosh with a Newport Spinnaker logo, as well as the custom ‘ARI’ letterform on the midsoles. And if that weren’t enough to get tongues wagging, Forman designed an unbelievable box meant to replicate a Newport cigarette pack!
Launched in limited quantities of 252 pairs, the hype around these was real – until Nike stepped in with a cease and desist order, quickly followed by tobacco company lawyers. Despite every pair later being destroyed, these unique kicks remain one of the most talked about sneaker controversies in history.
4. Nike Air Bakin (1997)
Originally released in 1997, the Nike Air Bakin featured a controversial logo on its heel, which closely resembled the Arabic word for ‘Allah’. Due to the backlash from the Muslim community, Nike’s decision to pull back all 38,000 pairs of Air Bakin sparked concerns. Years later, however, Nike made an effort to rectify the situation by replacing the logo with classic Nike Air branding and building playgrounds for Islamic youth organisations in neighbourhoods across America.
The Air Bakin is now a keystone in Nike’s outdoor-inspired basketball line and includes models such as the Air Grill, Air Melt and Air B-Que. To this day, the Nike Air Bakin remains one of the most controversial shoes of all time.
5. Air Jordan 1 ‘Banned’ (1985)
The famed Air Jordan 1 ‘Banned’ sneaker changed the game forever. When Michael Jordan first wore these iconic black and red (also known as ‘Bred’) kicks, they broke the NBA’s strict uniform rules – leading to a fine of $5000 per wearing. Even though Nike covered the cost, it started an enduring legend that has earned worldwide recognition. Soon after, the shoe’s bad boy status was solidified by an iconic commercial released by Nike’s marketing team. While some believe it was actually a Player Exclusive version of 1984’s Air Ship that propelled this controversy, one thing is for certain: Air Jordan 1 ‘Banned’ is still one of the most recognizable sneakers today!
6. Air Force 1 Experimental ‘Postal Ghost’ (2021)
The Air Force 1 Experimental ‘Postal Ghost’ launch of 2021 stirred up quite a bit of controversy due to its remarkably similar look to the USPS Priority Mail box. This design granted Nike widespread attention and got the attention of USPS, who initially opposed this release. Despite their initial reaction, USPS decided to go back on their decision and ended up supporting the shoes instead. Finally released after the shift in opinion, these sneakers now stand as an example of how quickly one decision can change the views on a pair of sneakers from one extreme to another!
RELATED: The 10 Best Jordan Sneakers for Women, Ranked
7. Nike x Lil Nas X ‘Satan Shoes’ (2021)
In early 2021, Nike and rapper Lil Nas X got into a legal battle surrounding the controversial “Satan Shoes.” Despite not having any input in their creation, alteration, or sale, Nike demanded that MSCHF, a Brooklyn-based company, recall all 666 pairs of the Satan Shoes. The shoes had been heavily modified Air Max 97s with a demonic red and black theme and contained red liquid they claimed contained real human blood. This incident followed MSCHF’s previous release of the ‘Jesus Shoe’ – another heavily modified shoe filled with holy water from the Jordan River.
8. Golden Goose Sneakers
Golden Goose sneakers perfectly bring together that edgy and effortless look, creating the perfect shoe for those wanting to step outside of the status quo. These controversial sneakers have been spotted on stars from Taylor Swift to Jennifer Lopez and Megan Fox, proving their timelessness. Complete with a signature grunge look, worn details and gummy soles, these Italian-made shoes are worth every penny. While they may appear battered at first glance, their durability is unmatched due to an amazing build quality featuring sleek leather, comfortable insoles and strong rubber soles.
When they were first released, Golden Goose sneakers were considered quite controversial, with the public questioning why anyone would pay for shoes with a battered look.
9. Umyogo Running Sneaker
The Umyogo Running Sneaker made its debut in April 2020, just as the world was being rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. The $49 shoe features a unique honeycomb sole, multicolour mesh exterior, and text across the sides and laces. During this trying time, frontline healthcare workers noticed something special about the Umyogo sneaker: it provided relief from foot and back pain after wearing it daily. Nurses at hospitals ended up purchasing the Umyogo sneakers after seeing coworkers wear them, while other shoppers were influenced by them on Amazon.
Now, these shoes have received 42,440 five-star ratings and have been compared to Nike sneakers – with customers noting that they’re better than any major brand of shoe! They are now being praised as “the most comfortable sneakers right out of the box”, with many calling them a lifesaver for their feet!
The controversy? Sneakerheads are dumbfounded that a relatively small brand has created shoes that are voted higher than many big designer brand sneakers.
10. adidas Adilette 22 Slides
You can’t discuss controversial sneakers without mentioning Kanye West and Adidas. The Adidas Adilette 22 slides have proven to be extremely popular due to their unique and stylish design. But they’re not without controversy either. Whilst the design has been called out by Kanye West for allegedly copying his YEEZY slide design, this hasn’t prevented them from being a huge success, with them now available in stores.
The Adidas Adilette 22 slides feature a textured ridged texture, giving them a futuristic 3D aesthetic and are adorned with minimal black branding on the lateral midsoles. Of course, these aren’t the only adidas sneakers that bear a sharp resemblance to the YEEZY brand. The adidas Adifom Sltn, adiFOM Q, Adidas Tubular Shadow, Adidas Tubular Shadow, Adidas NMD_CS2 Primeknit and Adidas Y-3 Pureboost sneakers all seem to be inspired by Ye’s sneaker brand.
Tell us, which other controversial shoes or sneakers deserve a place on our list?