If you step into one of Undefeated’s retail locations, see its latest Nike collaborations on the wall, and wonder to yourself, “What the fuck are these guys onto now?” then you are in the right place. The shoes are not so out there, and in some ways very traditional with respect to the store’s heritage, but Undefeated designer Jesse Leyva imagines them eliciting that reaction for a certain portion of the audience—in a good way.
Undefeated began as a Los Angeles sneaker shop in the early 2000s and grew into a streetwear empire with global locations, an in-house label, and regular collaborations with big sneaker brands. From its opening on Sept. 11, 2002, Undefeated helped establish the idea of a boutique that purposefully stocked hard-to-find sneakers, and then helped that business go mass in the decades that followed. As the limited-edition footwear scene went mainstream, Undefeated maintained its edge by landing Nike projects that nobody else could: a remix of the Dunk High, an impossibly limited version of the Air Jordan 4. That advantage of keeping special shoes on the shelves, even the kind that challenge customers, is part of Undefeated’s identity.
“When Undefeated started, you would go into the store and the whole thing was unexpected stuff,” says Leyva, the former Nike design director who makes up one-third of Undefeated’s LA-based design team.
In this instance, what Undefeated is on is a reimagining of the Nike Air Terra Humara, a Peter Fogg-designed trail running shoe from 1997 that’s sometimes mistaken for a member of Nike’s ACG family. The sneaker’s upper is held across the middle by a series of spokes inspired by motorcycle disc brakes, its sole uniquely outfitted to fight pebbles caught in the undercarriage.
The Undefeated collaborations on the Air Terra Humara are not intended for trail running per se, but are still a kind of performance footwear. Undefeated’s Nike Air Terra Humaras are meant to be unprecious shoes that can be worn to the ground. They are also part of a lineage, drawing a through line for the Undefeated viewpoint across decades.
“The shoes take a lot of influence from the original heritage of Undefeated,” says Leyva.
There is a mostly black colorway with speckled midsoles (style code FN7546-002) and another that mixes brown panels against a background of smokey grey and not-quite-white (style code FN7546-200). Both Undefeated x Nike Air Terra Humaras will be released exclusively via Undefeated’s website and global chapter stores on Saturday, Dec. 2, at $170 each.
The shoes make their collab status known through ample logo hits. The Undefeated five-strike emblem is remixed into a Nike Trail logo on the Terra Humaras’ insole, tongue, and heel pull tab. Undefeated’s “Play Dirty” slogan splits across the medial and lateral side of each shoe, hitting toward the collar, and the brand gets another callout on the tab hanging from the lateral Swoosh.
Beyond those markers of the partnership, the materials on the shoes are distinctly Undefeated. The ballistic sections point back to some of Undefeated’s earliest work with Nike, specifically the Dunk High from 2003 that was made for Undefeated’s one-year anniversary. Choices like the nubuck and suede panels are hallmarks of Undefeated’s footwear.
The collaboration marks the first time Undefeated has worked on the Air Terra Humara, albeit not the first time the store has hosted the sneaker. Leyva, who was an “Ekin” product specialist in his early career at Nike, remembers Undefeated co-founder James Bond validating the Air Terra Humara circa 1999 at K-Bond, the pre-Undefeated spot he co-founded. The shoe carried over to Undefeated.
“It was one of the early shoes at the time that was being served up to Undefeated as a special boutique,” says Leyva of the Air Terra Humara. “It was back when there really were really select doors.”
The Nike buy at Undefeated was informed by Bond and other Undefeated co-founder Eddie Cruz, who both came from the East Coast and brought with them some of its taste in footwear. When Undefeated first opened, shoes like the Air Terra Humara made its selection stand out, especially in Los Angeles, where shoppers were less practiced in adapting chunky outdoor sneakers into street-level apparel.
“Undefeated was really different because it was up on stuff on the West Coast when the rest of the West Coast wasn’t quite up on it yet,” says Leyva, “which always made Undefeated very special.”
Leyva left Nike in 2018 but continues to work on Nike sneakers through his role at Undefeated. Union LA owner Chris Gibbs and Adam Weissman, an art director who also worked with Stüssy and Union, round out the trio that designs all of Undefeated’s apparel, accessories, and footwear collaborations.
The group shares the work, pulling from their different backgrounds to color up loads of possibilities for any given Undefeated sneaker.
“We probably end up doing a couple hundred colorways,” says Leyva.
Patterns emerge in the process—the designers have become familiar with one another’s tastes. There is a distinct Gibbs approach to green, a Weissman appreciation of blue and purple. The black outsole, like the one used in the Humara collab, is a Leyva special.
“For right, wrong, whatever, each of us probably have our go-to color, our go-to material,” Leyva admits.
The design group will cull around six sneaker mockups from the potential hundreds and then edit them down further with input from Undefeated lifers like Bond, Alex Bruzzi, and Fred Lozano. As the member of the Undefeated sneaker design trio with the most experience in the Nike system, Leyva takes the lead on comping final designs up to present to Nike. He credits Nike employees Nico Fearn and Dave Vericker with pushing the Humara project through on the Swoosh side.
Undefeated brings the Air Terra Humara’s materials to stocky new levels in its version of the shoe. The texture on the toe and heel is bumped up to use a nubby rubber akin to what you would find on cycling tires. The goal there was to reinforce the shoe and make it tougher than the standard retro.
The motivation for that was to create a sneaker that people could live in. Undefeated’s work on the Air Terra Humara came as the brand was planning to open its first New York store and refocus on Tokyo, where it has a location in the Shibuya district. Leyva and his team wanted to make something uniquely suited to those cities, where a wearer might sport the same sneaker all day and night
“A shoe you can go out all day in,” Leyva says, was the aim. “It’s indestructible; you can travel with it. It never looks like it gets beat up, which is really rare.”
Undefeated wanted to alter and bulk up the shoe while still treating it with a certain reverence. Its designers are purists on some level.
“We never want to mess with a shoe and take it somewhere where the shoe wasn’t really meant to be,” says Leyva.
They were allowed to make changes to the Air Terra Humara that go beyond logo slaps, though. The custom rubberized mold on the heel has Undefeated’s logo embedded in its design. The rubber added to the front and back of the shoe was a challenge for Nike, as there’s only room for so much material allowance where the sole meets the upper.
“It makes it harder to fit it onto the sole and then make sure it will still actually perform,” Leyva explains. “That took a lot of back and forth. It’s those subtle little details that we always try and push.”
The details matter to shoe nerds like him, even if the effort that went into them won’t necessarily be visible to the customer spotting the shoes on the shelves at Undefeated.
The extent to which young people will recognize the Air Terra Humara at all is up for debate. Off-White’s Nike Blazer Low collaboration from 2022, which used a Terra Humara-esque bit of design language in the heel, is the closest the silhouette has been to the hype space in at least a decade. The Undefeated x Nike Air Terra Humaras are not as easily digestible as Undefeated’s recent Dunks or Air Force 1s.
If anything, the Undefeated Humaras are better compared to crunchy styles from Hoka or the sleek, technical models of Salomon, which charged the allure around outdoor footwear in the 2020s. As Leyva sees it, the trajectory of the Air Terra Humara from the trails of Oregon to the pages of Vogue in the late ‘90s was a precursor to the current outdoor sneaker trend.
“People were appropriating [Humaras] the way kids are appropriating a Salomon today, or a Hoka today,” says Leyva.
He knows because he was part of that shift, and witnessed firsthand when the trail running shoe diverted from its original course to become a lifestyle shoe. He was there in ‘02 when Undefeated picked up Nike’s special edition HTM Air Terra Humaras, which were made in collaboration with the powerful Nike design trio of Japanese streetwear icon Hiroshi Fujiwara, Nike design legend Tinker Hatfield, and eventual Nike CEO Mark Parker. The two HTM x Nike Air Terra Humara colorways were explicitly distanced from the original Terra Humara design, and came dressed in hard, full-grain leathers of brown and black with contrast stitching.
Those who were around Undefeated for the release can still remember the lineup the shoes prompted and exactly where (just barely in reach of the treacherous shop ladder they used to fetch sneakers off the shelves) the HTM Humaras sat in the store.
Undefeated’s takes on the Terra Humaras that release this week contain a subtle reference to the HTM pairs by way of the “Play Dirty” marks, which hit in the same spot as the debossed HTM logo on the 2002 pairs. The Undefeated team made sure that Fujiwara got a pair of its upcoming Air Terra Humara collab before its release.
That connection is one of a handful that boomerang the Nike Air Terra Humara, through Undefeated’s work, back to where it sat over 20 years ago. Now, the people who wore it at the turn of the century, who saw its potential as something more than a silhouette to log muddy miles in, are designing what the Air Terra Humara will look like for the next generation of wearers.
The Undefeated x Nike Air Terra Humara is not a blockbuster collab, not one that relies on a popular Nike silhouette that will move units by default. But it does have the potential for some of that old sense of discovery that made early sneaker boutiques like Undefeated special. And Leyva believes it can still break necks.
“Hopefully kids are like, ‘What is that?’” he says. “Hopefully they still have that curiosity in them that we did.”