Back in September, designer Warren Lotas made headlines by offering a pre-order of his latest Nike SB Dunk lookalike sneaker—a "Pigeon" inspired pair worked on in collaboration with the original shoe's creator, Jeff Staple, distinguished by a Swoosh altered with a Jason Voorhees hockey mask. Shortly after, Nike filed a lawsuit against Lotas in California, accusing him of selling fake versions of its trademarked designs. Since then, the legal battle between the two parties has quickly escalated, the latest development being a countersuit filed by Lotas that claims Nike's trade dress is invalid.
As the process continues to play out in court, people in the world of sneakers continue to weigh-in, including Staple himself. A guest on Ben Kickz's YouTube show Sneaker Talk, the founder of Staple Pigeon touched on the topic of designers and customizers making knockoff versions of existing sneakers.
"I'm always a fan of DIY bootleg culture.I just love it," said Staple. "That's how Staple started. To me, that's where true creativity happens."
Cautious about speaking too directly about the pending legal matter, Staple says he's a fan of Lotas' work, but acknowledged the complicated nature of the bootleg sneaker business.
"I can see the perspective on both sides, but I will say that brands have always pushed the culture forward and it's always been uncomfortable for certain parties."
Perhaps the most prominent example of another entity having success by blatantly tinkering with a Nike design is A Bathing Ape's BAPE STA, a reimagining of the Air Force 1 Low with the brand's lightning logo in place of the Swoosh. Staple pointed out what he believes is hypocrisy in the reactions for Bape and other companies that have knocked off Nike's designs.
"When Bathing Ape first put out the BAPE STA, pulled the Swoosh off an Air Force One and put something that looked like a Swoosh and a star, it was the OG heads that was like, 'Fuck that, that's wack. That's basically a bootleg.' Japanese heads were like, 'nah that's dope. That's Nigo.' And of course now Bape is like a multi, probably almost a billion dollar company. They can't be stopped at this point."
Staple believes one of the main differences between the counterfeit business and customizers making bootlegs is that the former misleads customers intentionally, while the latter is more of a fashion statement.
"No one's buying a Shoe Surgeon or Warren Lotas shoe to trick their friends. It's a different thing. You don't go to warenlotas.com, add a $300 dollar item to your cart and be like 'ah, he tricked me, man. I thought these were the Pigeons. I thought these were the Stussys.' "
Staple went on to call Nike co-founder Phil Knight the "OG shoe dog bootlegger," claiming that he and Nike's other co-founder Bill Bowerman made their own versions of Onitsuka sneakers after the Japanese company failed to meet demand on a distribution deal between the two in the early 70s. It's worth noting that a legal dispute between Nike and Onitsuka did take place, centered around the Cortez—a shoe originally known as the TG-24 that Bowerman had actually designed and engineered. Nike produced its own version and won rights to the Cortez name in 1974, Onitsuka rebranded its shoe the Corsair and they both continue to sell their respective models today.