The Stingwater x Nike SB Dunk was never supposed to happen. Daniel Kim, the owner of the brand, was too old to be a designer, according to people at Nike. And he definitely wasn’t supposed to flip the brand’s iconic Safari print, first introduced in 1987, into something that resembled the amanita muscaria mushroom, a fungus that’s known in pop culture for its connection to Super Mario and psychedelic journeys. But here we are.
Released this past Friday at skate shops and Monday via SNKRS, the Stingwater x Nike SB Dunk takes the familiarity of Nike and sprinkles it with a touch of paranoia. It has Safari print, it has the original Nike Swoosh that Carolyn Davidson designed in 1971, it has the Jewel Swoosh made popular on Air Force 1s worn by Puff Daddy and Mase in the “Mo Money Mo Problems” video. It also has a stash pocket and see-through sole that should have contained a mushroom on the bottom, although it wasn’t approved by Nike’s legal department. And it was all made by Kim, a former Nike employee turned pro skater who grew up in the Washington, DC area, skating in Nikes in his younger years.
We had the opportunity to talk to Kim via email about the sneaker, how it came about, and some of the special details on it. The conversation appears below.
You used to work at Nike. What did you do there and what was your experience with the brand?
During that time (2014-16) I was at Nike, they were grooming me to become a SB sales rep in New York. I spent a lot of time in sales meetings and naturally I’d turn to sketching Dunk designs in my notepad. Every once in a while I would share my design ideas with the team I worked with. The Air Max Safaris were one of my favorite shoes, and I wanted to bring that safari print to the Dunk, but red mushroom. They said Safari is a heritage print, not to be fucked with. It pained me to hear that.
One day, I was sitting next to Mark Parker’s sister-in-law, and she asked me what I did here. I said sales, and she said I looked like a designer. First time I ever heard that from anybody. I said that’s funny because that’s what I eventually want to do here. She asked me if I knew how to design, but I was insecure and gave her a weak answer, “I really like designing things in my head or sketching, but never learned Illustrator or those type of programs.” She asked me how old I was, I said 27. She responded “Oh...yeah, might be too late.” This interaction/moment changed my life. I knew I had to act fast, and I knew what I wanted to focus my time on. Fast forward 5 years later, I get hit up by my friend, Austin, who remained at Nike and got into a position where he approves brand collaborations. He had been following what I was creating at Stingwater and asked if I’d be interested in collaborating. It was Groe Time.
Being a skater from DC, what’s your history with skating in Nikes and Nike SB?
At school I wore Nikes, mainly Dunks. After a few months of wearing them at school, I would skate in them. Something felt special about skating shoes I wasn’t supposed to skate in. I felt better when I landed tricks in my Nikes. White tee. Fitted hat. Early 2000s, I remember opening up a skate mag and seeing a Nike SB ad. It blew my mind. I fantasized what it would be like to get free Nikes to skate in.
Can you tell us about Stingwater? How did the brand happen?
Landed a job at Nike in 2014 and was getting paid the most I’ve ever received for a salary. Looking back it wasn’t that much, but at the time it was a lot for me. This new money changed my taste in certain things. I wasn’t drinking tap water anymore; Fiji and San Pellegrino was the new norm. It eventually got to the point where there were “expensive” waters floating around in my room everywhere. They would become flat and didn’t have the sting (carbonation) anymore. That’s where I got the name Stingwater. From the enjoyment I got from the pain in the back of my throat caused from chugging these rich, sparkling waters. I realized I was spending too much money on it, so I started making it at home. I learned how to make a DIY sparkling water machine with a 20lbs CO2 tank and some pipes and pieces. Rest is history.
Can you tell us about the design of the shoe?
A groeing mushroom in very speshal water.
How did you pick to put the original Carolyn Davidson Swoosh on the shoe?
I really liked the original drawing of it and wanted it to be the main Swoosh on the side. I have a pair of Cortez that have this embroidered on the side and wanted to re-create that on the Dunk. It didn’t work out, so I figured we use it as the tongue label.
How’d you get the idea to use the corduroy to resemble a mushroom?
Corduroy = gills.
The sneaker resembled the amanita muscaria mushrooms. Why’d you pick that?
It’s a beautiful looking mushroom. A very speshal mushroom.
Tell us about the $100 box you’re selling with the sneakers.
I put together a cardboard box and branded it with a gold Stingwater sticker. Presented it as a sculptural piece. Stamped it and titled it “friends and family box.” Wrote a description of the box and the materials used. Put it on my webstore. Stepped outside to get coffee. Came back home 30 minutes later to a couple hundred new orders. I said, “Oh, Lord Jesus, it’s a fire.” What shoes? Items sold separately.
What was your relationship like with Nike and Nike SB through your skating career?
I was getting flowed shoes. My high school fantasy became real life.
Can you tell us about the stash pocket on the tongue?
It has a zipper and enough space to hold a small snack for later use.
It says “plant emoji with eyes” on the sole. Why the words?
Originally wanted to use my plant logo, named Aapi, but it got shot down by legal. If we can’t use the logo, I was going to figure out a way to include it on the shoe somehow.
Was there any pushback from Nike on the theme of the shoe?
No, they’re from Oregon. They have an appreciation for nature.