Titan's Air Jordans Are a History Lesson in Filipino Sneaker Culture

Philippines retailer Titan is releasing its first Air Jordan collaboration. Find out why the moment is important for Filipino sneaker culture in this interview.

Titan x Air Jordan 23 & Air Jordan 35
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Titan x Air Jordan 23 & Air Jordan 35

It's generally accepted that the roots of American sneaker culture date back to 1985's Air Jordan 1. 8,000 miles away in the Philippines, a much different history is being written. Basketball has always been beloved by the country—it's said to be the nation's most popular sport, and the Philippine Basketball Association is one of the oldest professional leagues in the world. But Filipino fascination with the game didn't spawn the same fandom over performance footwear in the '90s that it did in the US. And during the 2000s, there was no "Pigeon" Dunk riot in Manila like the one in NYC. In fact, there were barely any line-ups for sneakers at all.

That started to change with the Air Jordan 23, specifically the ultra-limited "Titanium" style. Released in January 2008, the debut colorway of Michael Jordan's 23rd signature sneaker blended white and silver with light blue. The shoe was individually numbered through 1,058 pairs and made available only at the top 23 Jordan Brand accounts worldwide. Despite not yet having the fervent sneaker thirst we had in the States, a Nike store in the Philippines was one of the lucky bunch to make the cut. The "Titanium" Air Jordan 23 grabbed the attention of an already bubbling Filipino sneaker community, turning the phenomenon from underground to near-mainstream overnight.

Air Jordan 23 'Titanium'

The team at Titan, a Manila-based basketball concept retailer founded in 2010 that also functions as a barbershop and publishing agency, remembers this moment well. Titan brand connections director Nikko Ramos pegs the “Titanium” Air Jordan 23 release as a "watershed moment" for the culture in the Philippines.

"[The release] merged these small, niche sneaker communities that were on forums and online groups or smaller meet-ups before, and kind of really brought that piece of culture into the mainstream," says Ramos. "We feel that's a big moment where everybody really saw what that culture was like and got into that culture. It was two years before Titan was founded, but a lot of our founders were either there on that day or actually had a hand in working that launch and putting it together. I like to believe that played a super significant part in them really saying, ‘There's room for a brand and a store that's going to cater to this community.’"

In celebration of Titan's 10th anniversary, the store's first-ever collaboration with Jordan Brand pays homage to that defining moment in Filipino sneaker culture. Made up of two shoes, the aforementioned Air Jordan 23 ($250) and the most recent performance game shoe, the Air Jordan 35 ($200), Titan's project bridges the gap between the area's first major sneaker moment and today's most advanced Air Jordan. The collaboration released today in the Philippines exclusively through Titan, and will launch globally on December 29. The North American release takes place on January 23.

Titan x Air Jordan 23

Both shoes use similar color schemes, with the Air Jordan 23 taking loose inspiration from the model's original "Black Stealth" colorway. Notable for being the first Jordan model to use Nike's eco-friendly Considered construction, the Air Jordan 23 was left mostly unchanged, keeping its premium leather paneling, elaborate embroidery, thumbprint details, and more. New additions include a repeating pattern of Titan's lightning bolt stitched throughout the upper in place of the model's usual designs, co-branded metal tongue badges, and the store's signature black, white, red, and gold colors. During the design process, the Titan team discovered why the Air Jordan 23 hasn't been reissued much over the years.

"Getting into the process of actually trying to create a new 23, I guess that's when we found out how rare it is," Ramos says. "That the reason why it's so rare, is because whether it's the molds or how it's made, the intricate detailing that has to go into an upper for a 23. That's when we realized there's a reason they don't mass produce these anymore. There's a reason they didn't mass produce it too much to begin with. It's not the easiest sneaker to make, and it shows.”

Described as the flashier "YouTube highlight reel" of the pack, the Air Jordan 23 includes a subtle Easter egg callback to its original design inspiration. On the medial side of the shoe, you'll find the Nike style code 318376-001, which is what was used in 2008 for the "Black Stealth" Jordan 23. This obscure detail is the sort of thing that most consumers might overlook, but it speaks to how much thought Titan put into the design process. 

The Air Jordan 35 follows a similar theme. This modernized execution of Titan's vision dials the details back a bit, allowing the model's tech and design to stand out, while the colors are a throwback to late '90s, early 2000s athletic color blocking.

Titan x Air Jordan 35

"We wanted to really give a tribute to the game shoe, and do a game shoe right, in the sense that we didn't want to overcomplicate it, and we really wanted this to be about performance," Ramos says. "And hopefully once everybody's able to go back to the courts and play again, this is what they'll go to. Hopefully they'll wear them out."

Titan's lightning bolt pattern is debossed onto the black heel of the Air Jordan 35, while the mostly white upper is contrasted by crimson Flightwire strands. Like the 23, the Jordan 35 includes a reference to one of its design inspirations, with another hidden style code on the medial heel. This time, it's DA2371-100, which is the number for the Fragment x Air Jordan 35. 

Although 2008’s “Titanium” Air Jordan 23 elevated the Philippines’ interest in sneaker culture, things had been trending in that direction for a few years. 2006 saw the release of the Philippines-themed Nike Air Force 1 Insideout. After the "Titanium," 2009’s Hyperdunk was another example of the country’s connection to basketball. More recently, Titan has collaborated with Nike Basketball on the “Agimat” LeBron 16 Low and the LeBron 17 Low in 2019 and 2020, respectively. And weeks ago, Jordan Brand marked the opening of its first Manila store with a premium pair of Air Jordan 4s limited to 150 pairs.

Titan is hoping its new Air Jordan collaboration will inspire the next Filipino brand to flourish. “I know it's kind of maybe not common practice, but we're seeding this to retailers,” Ramos said. “Guys who work at various retailers here in the Philippines. I guess conventionalism would tell you that we're kind of competitors in that way, but we like to see this as kind of a big moment for Philippines brands. We may be first through the door, but want to keep it open for another brand to come in.”