Just an ordinary day on Twitter: news, facts, a sprinkle of debauchery, and the occasional Migos/Beatles comparison. Admittedly, I’ve been falling behind on kicks because stuff that releases in June gets reissued the following February, and, truthfully, there’s just too much to keep up with. A friend of mine posted a photo of some highly coveted kicks in what seemed to be a humble brag on his latest pickup, and after a short exchange, he revealed that they are counterfeit. If this was ten years ago, I may have laughed him off the Internet, but things are different now. I tend to look at both sides of the coin, and, dare I say, had the nerve to inquire about more photos. I wanted a closer look at the questionable "Royal Blue" Air Jordan 1s, I wanted to know what distinguishable characteristics made them "fake," and, ultimately, could he get me a pair?
THIS IS A CAUTIONARY TALE TO BRANDS WHO PLACE EMPHASIS ON MAKING SURE A SHOE IS SO LIMITED THAT PEOPLE ARE NOT GOING TO PAY THE MARKUP IN ORDER GET WHAT THEY WANT.
I've written pieces on the Air Jordan 1 before and my love for these shoes is pretty well documented. In my piece about the "Black/Red" colorway, I talked about purchasing a bot because I didn’t have the time nor patience to fight off folks that have the luxury of investing way more time and resources into this shit than I ever could. So, when it comes to buying some less than authentic sneakers that look legitimately close to the real deal Holyfield, I'm not tripping.
Now, again, this is something that's a cardinal sin in nearly every facet of American consumerism. Women knowingly and unknowingly buy fake handbags (although, I don’t know how someone could find difficulty in discerning real and fake designer bags in a street alley), and some people walk around with counterfeit streetwear. But by and large, the idea that you would wear something that wasn’t the real deal is crazy, especially with such scrutiny being placed upon any fake items trying to pass as a Nike product, who, according to World Trade Review, is the most counterfeited brand in the world.
Shoe molds are passed among factories and duplicated, and then traded on the grey market. Nike has an entire page on its website dedicated to counterfeit protection because, for lack of a better term, people get got. Stories of major busts have always circulated throughout the sneaker world, as well as tales of major “sneaker personalities” selling counterfeit goods as a way to supplement income. It’s quite an interesting paradox: The very thing that people have garnered admiration for can also not even be real. As certain folks say, “Stay woke.”
But back to how I inquired about the kicks. I met with my buddy and took the dive. Fortunately for me, he forked them over for the low price of absolutely free. So it was really a transaction without consequence. Worst comes to worst, I could dissect the fakes so that I'd know what to look for in a truly authentic pair. But, ironically, everything checked out from my understanding: the box, laces, outsole, embossed logo, and ventilation holes on the toe box. The features were all identical to authentic pairs that I owned, so in the end I was satisfied with it. But to that end, that could also be part of the problem. Fakes are just getting too damn good.
Not more than just several years ago, the build quality on inauthentic sneakers were way off, the shapes were incorrect, colors didn't match, and often times the boxes were a dead giveaway. But now, some of the same factories that Nike uses are being used to produce these "variants," or fakes, and minute details such as the 3M on a Jordan VI, or glow in the dark soles on an Air Yeezy could be replicated with ease. The line separating fake from real has never been murkier. The bar has now been raised from variant to "unauthorized" sneakers, which are pairs produced without the brand's knowledge out of their own factories and has become more and more difficult to discern.
Of course, I knew what this could mean for my “reputation” as a sneakerhead, if there was such a thing. But honestly, who the fuck cares? I’m an adult, I can make the decisions that I want, and I know that of the hundreds of pairs of sneakers that I’ve owned, sold, and traded, this pair would be the misnomer. This pair would be the one pair that I would point at in the corner of my closet and say, “They're a bit off, but it's OK.”
Now I don't mean to drag a bunch of people down with me. But for me to pay the resale value of this particular shoe, which is upwards of $500-600 for a deadstock pair, with two kids, an “alright” job, and Christmas on the way? Asinine. Don’t get it twisted, I’m not advocating the notion of buying fake sneakers because, if for nothing else, it’s quite illegal and not reflective of true sneaker culture. But understand that after putting a photo of said kicks out on social media, I did receive quite a few DMs asking where they could be had, and when it's all said and done I've weighed all my options and found this personally justifiable. Trust me, I get it, you want what I want, a classic shoe for less than the cost of a pretty decent TV.
Perhaps this is a cautionary tale to brands themselves who place emphasis on making sure a shoe is so limited that people are not going to pay the markup in order get what they want. The world is going to keep spinning, and more sneakers are going to be released. The bottom line is that the grey market is going to continue to flourish and while most can immediately turn away from all the fugazi stuff out there, with the increasing costs and lowered quality of some authentic sneakers, don’t be surprised if people you know start looking elsewhere.
Tommie Battle is a contributing writer for Complex. You can follow him on Twitter here.