Every weekend, Nike sells retro sneakers by the boatloads. People line up, get their bots ready, and fight amongst each other. They're vying to get their hands on either the latest Air Jordan that's been re-released or whatever's in-stock at NikeLab. But it's unlikely that they're picking up Nike's best-selling sneaker. That would be the Air Monarch IV, a crosstrainer that comes in multiple widths and is more likely to be seen on dads than those who purchase sneakers to flex on Instagram. That could be changing, however, even if ever so slightly.
The Monarch has become a parody of itself, and it's started to gain a cult following on the Internet. It's in part thanks to lists that we've put together in the past—photoshopping classic Nike colorways on the silhouette and telling people why they should buy a pair. It's also due to the Instagram account, Team Monarch, which started in May 2013 and chronicles real-life people—both young and old—wearing the sneaker out in public.
The man behind the account is 27-year-old former Nike Footwear Developer Ian Williams, and he's someone who has history with the normcore sneaker of the moment. "I used to work at the Nike employee store in Portland," Williams said. "I was new and I was like, 'Take me to the most comfortable shoe in here.' They were like, 'Are you sure?' And I said, 'Yeah, show me the most comfortable shoe and I’m going to buy it.' And they took me to the Monarch."
It wouldn't be until later that Williams had a more personal connection to the Monarch. "Three years later, I got a position in the category where Nike makes all the price-point products. And that category actually makes the Monarch," Williams said.
What started off as a quest for comfort ended up becoming Williams' livelihood. Being a sneakerhead, he tried to convince the higher-ups that they should modernize the Monarch and make it appeal to the same people who were buying Jordans and Nike Sportswear releases. "I tried to present to them that 16-25 year olds were wearing the Monarch. I tried to get them to do different colorways for retail for "Monarch Mondays," Williams said. "I put together all sorts of Jordan colorways. I was ready, man. I had one based off the Trainer 1 and all the materials picked out, but they weren't really feeling it."
Williams, who owns only one pair of Monarchs (a white/navy pair in a 4E width), says that his Instagram account became the talk of the Nike campus. "One day before a meeting, people were huddled over a phone and they were like, 'Hey, you seen what Team Monarch posted today?'" he said.
They were likely discussing the random dads that were snapped in their jean shorts, or a photo of Pete Carroll, who's a well-documented fan of the Monarch. Williams wasn't the only one who saw the sneaker in a comical light at Nike, though. As he recalls, "[The Monarch] is a campus-wide joke, because "White/Navy" is also the name of the intramural basketball team. The main reason they made that joke is because that colorway of the Monarch sold the most."
And Williams is quick to point out that the Team Monarch page is a joke itself. That's plain for anyone to see, especially with the account's photoshops of Kobe Bryant cradling the sneaker or seeing men in Canadian tuxedos straddling mopeds while wearing the Monarch. But there have been people, albeit ironically, making it cool. In the past few months, there's been a "Bred" Air Jordan 1 custom of the Monarch and it's been integrated into traditional streetwear outfits, which is begging this question to be answered: Can anyone really pull off the Monarch?
It might be a stretch to say that someone could look undeniably "fresh" in a pair, but if the Monarch underwent the transformation that Williams wanted before he left Nike, then Kohl's and Dick's Sporting Goods would need to figure out a Twitter RSVP system. Until then, we have Williams trolling us into looking at Nike, and sneaker culture as a whole, outside of what we'd normally wear.
Matt Welty is a staff writer at Complex. You can follow him on Twitter here.