You can't scroll past it. You can't look away. If you see the sneaker on social media, and you certainly have leading up to its launch this week, you almost have to stop and stare. The Nike SB Dunk Low "Chunky Dunky," designed in collaboration with Ben & Jerry's, looks like a shoe made for Instagram's Explore page, its vivid colors and drippy Swoosh seeping through the algorithm. Ahead of its release date on Saturday, it's also looking like the biggest shoe of the year so far for Nike's resurgent skateboarding division.
"I've had a lot of requests from people close, near, and dear to me, and then complete strangers finding my social media handles," says Jay Curley, who managed the project at Ben & Jerry's, of the many asks he's fielded from people trying to buy a pair of the sneakers.
The Ben & Jerry's x Nike SB Dunk Low "Chunky Dunky" will release first at select skate shops globally on May 23 at $100. After that, the Nike SNKRS app will launch the shoe again on May 26. It's designed to look like the packaging of a Ben & Jerry's pint of ice cream, tie-dyed, pastoral, and cow-printed. Some extra-exclusive pairs even come in a giant pint container. The shoe is limited, with some stores receiving in the area of 25 pairs.
In some ways, the project feels like a return to form for Nike SB, a hysteria-inducing partnership in flashy colors. In others, it feels like a signifier of a new direction for the cult sub-label, one involving more mainstream collaborators and intended for a wider audience.
Yes, Curley has seen that the sneakers are fetching between $1,000 and $2,000 on the secondary market before their release. No, he cannot help you get a pair. Even employees at the Vermont-based ice cream company have scant access to the Chunky Dunky—Ben & Jerry's is still working on an internal sweepstakes to try to figure out how to distribute the stock it has allotted for people who work there.
This territory of highly coveted product is not entirely new to Ben & Jerry's. Ice cream drops don't spark the same chaotic lineups and release-day fisticuffs as collectible sneakers, but the brand is used to dealing with a rabid audience.
"We have similar challenges for new ice cream flavors. We've had our site hacked before by influencers who were looking to leak stuff," Curley says. "People watching trademark registration stuff—all that."
The Chunky Dunky, like almost all sneakers of this sort, did indeed leak before Nike's official announcement and confirmation. Its arrival online, via early photos and people securing pairs through furtive means, rose some questions about the project's intentions. It's an eye-grabbing shoe, which is not new for Nike SB. But the Ben & Jerry's connection felt curious, like something aimed not at longtime collectors or skaters, but more so their relatives on Facebook. It's the kind of shoe your friends and family who are not into sneakers ask you about.
"I think a lot of people want to know why is this even happening," Curley says.
One of those people is Eric Whiteback, a Supreme obsessive notorious for social media stunts and wild photos involving the New York skate brand's product. Whiteback, a man who has earned Instagram fame in part for his absurd outfits, blasted the Ben & Jerry's Dunk on Twitter this week, calling it "one of the ugliest sneakers of all time." His complaint is that the Chunky Dunky makes sense as a collector's item, but not as something one can actually wear. He's also skeptical of there being a legitimate connection between Ben & Jerry's and Nike SB.
"To me, Dunks like the Strangelove, Futura Unkle, Stussy Cherry, Mondrian, Staple, What The Dunks, and other Dunks in this echelon are way more justified in their price points," Whiteback says. "The Chunky Dunky is just a collab with an ice cream brand of no cultural importance in this industry."
The mostly older shoes he references come from an era when acquiring SBs, which was harder in the early 2000s, made the buyer feel like they were part of an exclusive club. Some of those buyers believe things should remain exclusive, right down to the collaborators that help remix the shoes. For this crowd, it makes more sense that Nike SB work with an underground rapper or a graffiti writer than an ice cream company. It's a salient critique recently, and one leveled by this site around the now-canceled pair of Dunks designed in collaboration with 7-Eleven. Those selling the sneakers, though, believe there are shared values between Nike SB and Ben & Jerry's.
"Between both brands, there is more in common than people are giving credit to," says Deon Point, creative director at Boston-based footwear boutique Concepts, which built its name on a long list of coveted SB Dunk projects. The shoe has also been co-signed by other people who have contributed to the Dunk's lore, Nicky Diamonds and Virgil Abloh among them.
Point does see the Chunky Dunky as oriented toward a mainstream crowd more than Nike SBs of old, but he does not see it as a bastardization of what the skateboarding division of the Swoosh has been doing since its inception in 2002.
"SB has always been about taking risks," he says, "and while I personally felt it was a no-brainer, I can see how the execution would take some getting used to. Certainly not for everyone. They remind me of the De La Highs and Three Bears in that it is unapologetic."
That descriptor could apply to Ben & Jerry's as well—this is the ice cream brand that released a Saturday Night Live-inspired flavor called "Schweddy Balls" in 2011, inciting protests from a Christian group that was hysterical over the idea of so explicit a flavor landing in grocery stores. Nike SB, which regularly releases sneakers of illicit inspirations, works with a similar irreverence in its Dunks.
"The SB line is really rooted in creativity and fun, and we like to think that is a big part of Ben & Jerry's as well," Curley explains.
Both the sportswear supplier and the ice cream company use progressive politics as part of their brand identity. Both businesses were born from a 1970s sense of entrepreneurialism with roots in small college towns. And both are headquartered in hippie havens: Nike in Portland, Oregon, and Ben & Jerry's in Burlington, Vermont.
Curley says that Nike provided the spark for the shoe, first approaching the ice cream company with its pitch almost two years ago. The designers then handled how the sneaker would look, which mostly remained the same during its development. He describes partnering with Nike as an easy process, one aided by the fact that Stephen Pelletier, his friend of 20 years who's a senior product line manager at SB, was involved. The two met at Saint Michael's College in Vermont.
Unless you are a desperate Quebecer crossing the border to discover America's footwear riches, Vermont is by no means a hotbed for sneaker hunting. It will, however, enjoy a fitting release of the very homegrown Chunky Dunky via local Burlington skate shop Maven, which has a limited stock of the shoe.
"It's crazy times right now, too, because in-store release is out of the question," says Brendan Foster, the store's co-founder, referring to how he's had to tailor the launch to accommodate social distancing guidelines. "You can't have a line out the door."
Once he saw the Ben & Jerry's x Nike SB Dunk leak online, he wanted to carry the shoe, especially given the local connection. It's a big moment for Maven, a store that just started carrying Nike SB again earlier this year but narrowly missed out on its biggest 2020 release prior to the Chunky Dunky. Foster says his account opened a week too late to get the red-hot Travis Scott x Nike SB Dunk Low to sell in his store. For the Ben & Jerry's shoe, he's ready.
Maven managed to avoid some of the unwanted attention and hounding that comes with such releases because it's not listed on Nike SB's website yet, meaning global sneaker hunters didn't necessarily notice it would have the shoes. Still, Foster has had to turn down the people trying to offer him big cash to secure the sneaker.
His store ran an email raffle for the Chunky Dunky Nikes and is keeping things local. Among the entrants are plenty of hopeful employees at the ice cream brand who have yet to secure theirs through other means. Maven won't ship the shoes, and winners of the raffle will have to come and physically pick them up at the shop, which is just a block down from the Ben & Jerry's on Burlington's Church St.
In this way—lurid, bold, and pop cultural though it may be—the Ben & Jerry's x Nike SB Chunky Dunk appears a bit like a launch from decades ago. At Maven, there is no store-instituted wacky feat buyers have to complete to get a pair. You don't have to down 13 scoops of ice cream to earn them. There are no bots zapping up stock online. It's showing up at a local skate shop, one with a legitimate connection to the product, via a raffle for box price.
Unlike the old days, there is no physical lineup. There is, though, a throughline connecting the esoteric SBs of yesteryear and projects like this.