I Miss When Fake Sneakers Were Fake Sneakers

Let's stop arguing what constitutes a fake shoe and bring it back to simpler times.

SpongeBob SquarePants-themed sneakers with SpongeBob images on white upper section and black lower section, featuring red, white, and gray accents
A fake pair of Jordan Dub Zeroes featuring SpongeBob SquarePants. Via Ebay
SpongeBob SquarePants-themed sneakers with SpongeBob images on white upper section and black lower section, featuring red, white, and gray accents

If you want to have the most annoying conversation of your life, mention fake sneakers on the internet. You’re likely going to be inundated with responses from conspiracy theorist types that will tell you that you’re funding pure evil by supporting major footwear companies, and that the knockoff sneakers are one-to-one to legitimate pairs, made in the same factories by the same workers, and, even, better quality than the real shoes from Nike or Jordan Brand.

But I’m not here to talk about any of that. In fact, I’m quite tired of that whole conversation. What I miss is when fake sneakers were actually fake sneakers.

I hate that we’ve gotten to the point where fake sneakers are no longer even called fake sneakers. They’re “reps”—short for replicas. They’ve become normalized. And I’m not here to argue the ethics of spending $70 for a pair of Travis Scott Air Jordan 1s because you don’t want to pay $1,000 for them on the resale market. People can do whatever the heck they want with their money, whether it’s buy fugazi shoes or spend ten times the retail price for their grails. 

Fake Travis Scott Air Jordan 1s vs Real Travis Scott Air Jordan 1s

But we used to be a proper country. One where wearing fakes was universally frowned upon. It was almost something that you could never come back from if people found out you were wearing fakes. Or something people could look back on and laugh about.

And let’s set the record straight right here: I genuinely don’t care if you’re a kid that’s randomly wearing a pair of fakes because your parents bought you them, or if you bought a pair of fake shoes online because you didn’t know any better. It happens, that’s life. I bought a fake Tommy Hilfiger T-shirt when I was in fifth grade when we took a family vacation to New York City. And my dignity is still intact. El-P even made a song referencing the childhood trauma from his mother buying him fake Jordan 1s in 1985.

What we’re talking about here is the subculture of folks online that pass themselves off as sneaker collectors when their collection is full of stuff like fake Red Octobers, Travis Scott Air Jordans, Chunky Dunkys, Dior x Air Jordan 1s, etc. I totally understand that people don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on sneakers. And I’m not saying anyone has to. But I think the allure of a lot of those shoes is that they’re worth so much. That’s why they’re grails to many. Sure, some of them look cool, too. But people often want status symbols without paying the price tag.

Real vs Fake Nike Air Yeezy 2 Red October Comparison

If you want to enjoy your shoes, by all means, go ahead. But it’s just not the same as a legitimate collection.

With all of that said, I miss the days when none of this was a discussion. When fake sneakers were fake sneakers. There was no grey market. There were the Jordans you’d buy at Foot Locker on release day versus colorways you’d never seen before: Air Jordan 7s done up in an Oakland A’s colorway, Dub Zeroes with SpongeBob SquarePants all over them, Jordans with see-through panels, a la the “Invisible Woman” Air Force 1s. Jordan 13s with full-length Air Max units on them. Air Force 1s with Tony Montana’s image all over them. Women’s Air Jordans with high heels.

You could spot fake Jordans, and fake sneakers in general, from a mile away back in the 2000s, and even early 2010s. If it wasn’t the fact that many of these shoes didn’t come in official Nike colorways—we're talking about something purchased from the Sneaker Man instead of in the mall—the materials and shape of the shoes were dead giveaways that they were fake.

The toebox might have been huge on a fake Air Jordan 4, and the shoe would look exaggerated in general. The materials would be way off. Nubuck would look like construction paper. And if all else failed, the box was half the size of a real one. Or the font was off. Or the label was a piece of printer paper that was attached with a glue stick. There were Jumpman logos that were in different poses or looked like they were caked up. Or, if worse came to worst, you could always give the sneakers a big whiff and get that 100 percent fufu berry smell from them.

Fake see-through Air Jordan 7s

All this was true of SB Dunks or Bapes back in the day. Chances were, if you saw someone with a pair of Bapes on in the 2000s, they were probably fake. That’s how prevalent the bootlegs were at the time. There were plenty of fake Nike SBs, especially the “Tiffany” Dunks. If you went on eBay and tried to find a pair with a reasonable price, they were probably not real.

Let’s not forget the whole trend of Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Burberry-print Air Force 1s and Air Jordans. This wave started as covetable, custom footwear made by Harlem’s Dapper Dan in the 1980s and later was sold at Union in New York City. This look ended up being expressed through the collaboration between Nike and Louis Vuitton, which was made possible by Virgil Abloh.

Many remember the plethora of fake sneaker sites online in the 2000s. Something along the lines of hotcoolkickz.com would be chock-full of Jordans and Nikes in every shade and print imaginable. Even Nicekicks.com was a hub for fake sneakers before it became a sneaker blog. 

These days, people need to get plugged in with grey market fake dealers through Reddit threads that will link you with shady business dealers in Asia to get their fugazi fix. Or risk their money with Pandabuy.

Now we’re getting to the point where people might say, but why does any of this matter? It really doesn’t, if we’re being honest.

Our lives on Earth are finite. The decision to purchase a pair of sneakers that were officially made by a multi-billion dollar sportswear company that may or may not have egregious business practices versus buying a piece of leather and rubber made in an unaffiliated factory doesn’t matter at all in the grand scheme of our existence. If you want to buy Nike Mags for $140 instead of $40,000, go ahead.

It only matters when you try to pass things off as real. When you try to get the world to believe that you’re something that you’re not. That you try to sell a fake product to someone as an authentic one. Or when you try to get over on someone who’s buying your shoes at StockX (the verifiers should know better anyway). 

That’s where the problem with fake sneakers lies. It’s the deception. If you’re not trying to literally fake anyone out, then no harm, no foul. And that’s why I miss the days when everyone could tell from a mile away whether your sneakers were fake or not—no black market or black light required.