The edicts came from the tobacco company, not Nike—it didn't pursue him beyond its cease-and-desist. Forman didn't see the brand's response as vicious, especially since there was an element of confusion around his shoes.

"There's people that think this was a genuine Nike thing that got squashed and leaked out," Forman said on the Complex Sneakers Podcast.

Nike wasn't even that concerned with Forman taking its recognizable Air Force 1 silhouette, but more with his mutilation of its logo. This complaint is ironic now, given how Nike became significantly more prone to bending its branding in the 2010s. A Nike Blazer release from 2019 designed in collaboration with Italian boutique Slam Jam features upside-down Swooshes that are a few Photoshop skews away from looking like Forman's own flipped tick.

There was a time when the sacred geometry of the Swoosh was more protected by internal guidelines. Collaborators were not allowed to alter it significantly or remove it from shoes. When graffiti writer Stash first worked with Nike in the early 2000s, he wanted to do a shoe with a removable velcro Swoosh, but the brand wouldn't allow it.

Those rules have shifted; Nike's highest-profile collaborators now regularly reshape the logo. Tom Sachs tucked the tip of his behind paneling on the 2012 MarsYard Nikes. Virgil Abloh regularly distorts Swooshes on his Off-White x Nike collections. These shoes celebrated do-it-yourself craftsmanship and turned it into a hype aesthetic. Nike capitalized with similar inline styles and efforts to push consumers to rework their shoes. At its massive booth at ComplexCon in 2017, the brand let people tear apart Air Force 1s, chopping them up and removing or adding logos. That people like Lotas are now doing this on a bigger scale and without its permission shouldn't come as a surprise.

Nike Tom Sachs Mars Yard
The first Tom Sachs x Nike Mars Yard sneakers. Image via Nike

Not everyone modifying Nike's products and making serious money from it has been subject to lawsuits. Nike's claim against Lotas makes it clear that it finds some of these alterations acceptable—it makes a point to differentiate the Warren Lotas shoes, which are not produced in Nike factories, from "legitimate customizations." Custom sneaker creators like Mache and The Shoe Surgeon have been selling their remixes of authentic Nike product for years, even working with the brand in some instances, and have not been sued for it.

Supreme's mostly forgotten Downlow, a short-lived sneaker from 2001 that was very much a Swooshless Air Force 1, didn't preclude the brand from working with Nike on some of its most memorable shoes of the 21st century. Bape and its Bapesta sneaker, another clear copy of the Air Force 1, have avoided lawsuits around the design, despite the model's consistent popularity since its launch in 2002. 

According to one former Bape employee, company founder Nigo was able to get away with lifting the Air Force 1 because he first released Bapestas in a period when Nike let its trademark around the Air Force 1 lapse. The Bapesta shape has morphed over the years, perhaps in an effort to protect itself—the latest version has tweaks that further distance it from the original inspiration. The Bapesta was a mutation from the beginning, though.

The shape was familiar, but the styles were far flashier than what Nike was offering on the Air Force 1. Nigo was giving the retro model depth that Nike couldn't at the time, dressing it in shiny patent leather and playful, searing colorways. His Bapestas were significantly more expensive and harder to find than Air Force 1s.

"He's the man that created absolute luxury value in sneakers—no one else," said Forman, who was inspired by Nigo's work to make his own knockoff. Forman called his Menthol 10s a crime of passion. They were based on a reverence but also a cynicism around the relationship between Nike and its customers.