Nike SB couldn’t be any hotter than it is right now. After cooling off in the late 2000s, the skateboarding offshoot has seen a re-emergence due to co-signs from the likes of Travis Scott and Kylie Jenner, hyped collaborations such as new colorways in the Tiffany Dunk saga, and a genuine interest in shoes from the past and present. This makes now one of the most pivotal moments in the line’s history. With all the pressure, the brand is delivering possibly one of its worst collaborations ever, a Nike SB Dunk Low in partnership with 7-Eleven.
The shoe, which Nike SB hasn’t officially announced yet but is rumored to release later this year, seems like a joke, a pair of fakes in line with the infamous UPS Air Force 1s. They look like something that you win after eating 1,700 taquitos and show the blood work to prove that you’ve acquired diabetes. At best, they look like a pair of customs made for a campaign to let the kids know that their favorite convenience store is hip. The colorway itself -- orange, red, and green with a gumsole -- isn’t great, although its oddball scheme does fit in line with past Nike SB releases.
Here’s the issue: What made Nike SB cool in its inception was that all of the references in its collaborations were subtle nods to skaters. They referenced things that skaters would pick up on. A De La Soul sneaker made sense, because Mike Carroll skated to “Oodles of O’s” in Girl Skateboards’ 1994 video Goldfish. Or a Heineken Dunk, as the beer is notoriously associated with East Coast skateboarding and hip-hop. Even the Dinosaur Jr. Dunks, with their garish silver and purple design, got a pass because Rudy Johnson skated to the band in Blind’s Video Days, one of the greatest skate videos of all time.
Even later collaborations like Lance Mountain getting his own Nike SB version of the Air Jordan 1 with mismatch sneakers and paint that wore away tied directly to skateboarding. Even if you weren’t a skater, you loved the shoes because of the storytelling. Nike SB was founded by the late Sandy Bodecker to right the wrongs that Nike had committed in skateboarding in the past (look up the Nike Choad). To give the skate community something tangible that they could latch onto and get behind.
“Our business model was just being fully committed to the core skate community – as humbly as we could – by admitting where Nike had made mistakes in the past. We spent a ton of time in the community listening and learning, basically asking for the chance to do it right this time around,” Bodecker said in a 2017 interview with Sneaker Freaker. “I also made it clear to our internal team that, while we would remain humble, we would also be proud of the Swoosh and that we wouldn’t try to hide who we were. There was, and still is, value in what Nike can contribute to the skate industry if we do it the right way.”
The 7-Eleven Dunks seem like everything that Nike SB isn’t. I sit here and try and think of the connection. Maybe people skated in (and got kicked out) of the store’s parking lots. I just don’t see it. I know there will be hype around these shoes. Any Nike shoe with a logo on the heel is generally good (even if some have been duds).It will get compared to Roc-A-Fella Air Force 1s, Wu-Tang Dunks, and even the unauthorized Heineken Nike SBs (which released at skate shops but is rumored to have become scarce due to Heineken sending Nike a cease and desist letter). The convenience store logo just doesn’t hit the same. I think of 72 oz sodas and microwaved wings, not a sneaker grail.
There’s nothing rebellious in nature with working with 7-Eleven, other than the fact that people can joke and say, “Wow, we really did that.” Nike SB did a “Big Gulp” Dunk High in 2008, once the original steam had cooled off on the line. And this photo tells you all you need to know about it. Even if skaters were into Big Gulps, this shoe has jumped the shark.
Nike also has a Ben and Jerry’s Dunk on the way, which people have a sincere craving for, and a pack of furry Grateful Dead Dunks. I’m not here just to sound old and say, “Back in my day, Nike SB Dunks felt more authentic.” But they did. These shoes feel targeted towards an audience that gets their SBs from an app while waiting in line for Starbucks, rather than going to core skate shops and haggling with the owner to pay box price.
It’s clear that Nike has changed the strategy for SB. It went from doing subversive collaborations with streetwear brands like Stussy and Staple to official partnerships with huge corporate institutions. It’s like when you’d see skaters like Colin McKay in a 1-800-Collect commercial and asked if he’d do a “goofy-footed double fakie ollie grind.” The corporations had cashed in on something big, but stripped its soul from the item in the process.
If they sell, they sell. And they probably will. I just wish we had collaborations that felt connected to Nike SB in a more organic fashion. It seems uncool for Nike’s skateboarding division to work with such a mainstream brand. It reminds me more of Puma x Barbie than something underground and aggressive like Nike giving MF Doom his own shoe, or championing designers like Errolson Hugh and Futura. It might be convenient for Nike SB to work with 7-Eleven at the moment, but anything worth having is worth waiting for, and these Dunks aren’t it.