If it looks like a Dunk, sells like a Dunk, and is colored like a Dunk, then it probably is a Dunk. If it too closely resembles a Dunk, generates some of the same hype, but was in fact produced and sold without permission from the sneaker's original manufacturer, then a lawsuit is probably coming. Warren Lotas, a 25-year-old designer based in Los Angeles, had to know it was coming.
His versions of the Nike Dunk, an iconic sneaker that debuted in 1985 and lives on as a retro, are a few degrees shy of facsimile. Though they are often kept from true commercial success by legal action, sneakers like these have been successful before. Some seek to imbue existing designs with flavors Nike wouldn't; others work to undo the constricting grip of the brand's marketing forces. Unlike the most memorable bootlegs of the last two decades, the Warren Lotas shoes, which are now the subject of a legal battle initiated by Nike in October, are not completely clear in their message or intent.
"Initially, we didn't even intend to sell a shoe," Lotas says.
Before the Dunk episode began in 2019, the designer tried selling legitimate Nikes that he'd customized. He even attempted, to no avail, to get pairs directly from the brand for wholesale prices. Sans an actual Nike connection, he bought shoes at retail to remake with his horror flick graphic hits.
"I would go to Foot Locker and buy Air Force 1s," Lotas says. "I would take off the Swoosh and take them to a cobbler, on a Nike product. It wasn't the most lucrative business in the world."
His next muse was the Nike SB Dunk Low, a version of the Dunk designed specifically for skateboarding that first released in 2002. Rather than physically altering the shoes, he posted an image on Instagram of a 2006 SB Dunk Low sample done in Jason Voorhees colors, replacing the Swoosh's curving end point with a hockey mask à la the Friday the 13th character. It was Lotas' attempt to bring his namesake brand's ghoulish imagery into the world of sneakers. But just having the image wasn't enough.
"We gotta try to bring this to life," the designer remembers thinking in 2019. "I want to wear these. I want to have a hockey mask on that low-top sneaker."
He began the long process of figuring out how to actually make and sell the shoes from there. The Warren Lotas footwear is distanced from its obvious source material. The shoes are stripped of the word "Nike," the instances of the brand name replaced with the designer's initials. The four designs he's sold reference the colorways of rare, real SB sneakers, like the Stussy one from 2005 or the Heineken pair from 2003. Lotas started selling that first Voorhees design in November 2019, charging $300 per pair on what he said was an initial run of 1,000 pairs. Less than a year later, Nike filed a lawsuit. Somewhere in there, whatever substance the shoes had became obscured.