Whether it's exorbitant markups on prices, drastically limited quantities on hyped fare, unfair practices as it relates to releases, or an overall lack of imagination when it comes to design, the current state of the sneaker industry is one awash in negativity.
Despite the aforementioned drawbacks, there have been current examples that show that sometimes brands and consumers alike can settle their petty differences in favor of putting philanthropy above capitalism and hype.
Most recently, Nike presented a colorful version of their iconic Air Force 1 silhouette that was released in conjunction with longtime TNT analyst Craig Sager's "Sager Strong" Foundation whose vibrant colors and paisley prints served as a rallying cry against cancer - as well as Sager's own battle with leukemia. If current eBay trends hold up, the initiative with make well over $100,000 for cancer research.
Nike's MAG is perhaps the greatest example of how the sneaker industry can do good. With the Back to the Future connotations cementing it in pop culture lore, the shoe has served as both a testament to Nike ingenuity, as well as their commitment to finding a cure for Parkinson's Disease after Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with the condition in 1991.
The 10-day eBay auction of 1,500 pairs of limited edition 2011 Nike MAG shoes topped $4.7 million USD and eventually made $9.4 million after Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, and his wife, Anne Wojcicki, matched the initial efforts.
Earlier this month, Nike offered everyone the chance to win a pair of MAGs by purchasing a raffle ticket for $10 USD. Nike raised $6.75 million USD for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
These two charitable products are not the end all, be all of sneaker philanthropy. There are just two of the latest. Here are some prominent examples.
adidas Orion "Terry Fox"
On November 3, 1979, a young Canadian, Terry Fox, wrote a letter to an executive at adidas requesting 26 pairs of running shoes, stating, "I am 21 years old, and I am an amputee. I lost my right leg above the knee two and a half years ago due to cancer. The night before my amputation, a former basketball coach brought me a magazine with an article on an amputee who ran in the New York Marathon in it. It was then when I decided to meet this new challenge head on and not only overcome my disability, but conquer it in such a way that I could never look back and say it disabled me."
Fox intended to inspire others with his "Marathon of Hope." He hoped to raise one dollar from each one of Canada's 24 million population at the time. The journey took him outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario, on a 143-day running odyssey which spanned 5,373 kilometers that was ultimately cut short after the cancer began to rapidly spread throughout his body. He died nine months later and became the youngest person ever named a Companion of the Order of Canada.
In 2005, adidas released a special edition running shoe to honor Fox's legacy. The adidas Orion “Terry Fox” was released in numbers of 6,500, with 100% of proceeds going toward cancer research and the Terry Fox Research Institure. A select number of these shoes were also publicly auctioned, after being signed by Terry’s personal inspiration Muhammad Ali and 11 great Canadian athletes including Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby, Cindy Klassen, Kurt Browning, Mike Weir, Donovan Bailey, Larry Walker, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Silken Laumann and Catriona LeMay Doan.
As of January 2016, more than $700 million has been raised for the Terry Fox Research Institute.
Nike Doernbecher Freestyle Collection
In 2003, Michael Doherty, Nike’s Creative Director, Global Brand Presentation, had just joined the board at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital Foundation in Portland and had been tasked with finding ways to raise visibility and support for the Oregon-based hospital. After discussing it with his son, Connor, he suggested that the children themselves staying at Doernbecher should serve as the chief designers for a collection.
So that's what they did.
Nominations for the Doernbecher Freestyle program are submitted by OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital, kicking off the 11-month process which results in a final list of six select patient-designers for Nike. From there, Nike taps its team for volunteers across footwear design, apparel design and product development.
Highlights include Michael Jordan's involvement in 2007 and Stefan Janoski’s support in 2013.
As of this year, the Freestyle Collection has raised over $14 million USD to help expand the hospital’s pioneering research, support clinical care, purchase state-of-the-art equipment, recruit new experts and subsidize the cost of care for families in need.
Now in its 13th year, the collection is set to return with a brand new batch of silhouettes including the Air Max Zero, Air Huarache Run Ultra, Air Jordan 7, Kyrie 2 and Stefan Janoski Max.
“What’s most amazing for me is that when I look at the shoes and apparel, I can see the individual kids and their personalities in the product. Each piece is so true, so authentic, to the kids that they begin to be known to the consumer by the patient-designer’s name,” said Michael Doherty.
Tobie Hatfield, the younger brother of Tinker, has been involved in a number of projects over the years that addressed Nike co-founder Bill Bowman's notion that "if you have a body, you’re an athlete."
Hatfield had specifically become enamored by an entry-and-closure system for athletes who have trouble getting in and out of shoes, and securing them. But he was determined that the system be scalable for mass production - and was specifically inspired by the story of Matthew Walzer, a junior in high school at the time, who was born prematurely and developed Cerebral Palsy as a result.
Although Walzer had overcome most of his physical limitations, tying his shoes remained one of his biggest struggles.
“My dream is to go to the college of my choice without having to worry about someone coming to tie my shoes every day," Walzer recalled. "I've worn Nike basketball shoes all my life. I can only wear this type of shoe, because I need ankle support to walk. At 16-years-old, I am able to completely dress myself, but my parents still have to tie my shoes. As a teenager who is striving to become totally self-sufficient, I find this extremely frustrating and, at times, embarrassing.”
Walzer decided to write a letter to Nike CEO, Mark Parker, saying, "I am always searching the web for any type of shoe brand that makes athletic shoes that provide good support, are self-lacing and are made for everyday wear or for playing sports. It is disappointing that no athletic brand has taken the creative initiative to design and produce athletic shoes in this category. I hope that by bringing this to your attention, Nike will consider being the forerunner in producing athletic shoes that will make the difference in the quality of so many lives."
The letter eventually made it to Hatfield who went to work on developing a prototype by looking at a number of existing Nike silhouettes, including the Nike Hyperdunk and the Nike Zoom Soldier, which aligned with Walzer’s favorite basketball player, LeBron James.
“LeBron’s footwear provided the ankle support Matthew needed, but of course getting into and out of high-top shoes can present its own challenges, so we focused not just on replacing the lacing system but also creating an easier entry system for the foot," Hatfield said.
In 2012, Nike delivered a Hatfield design to Walzer for wear testing - resulting in FLYEASE - a wrap-around zipper solution that opens the back of the shoe near the heel-counter, making it easier to slide the foot in and out. At the same time, the system provides sufficient lockdown and eliminates the need to tie traditional laces.
“Matthew inspired us at Nike to be able to bring something special that will not only be for himself but also for the masses,” LeBron James said. “The shoe and the inspiration he gave us is going to go way beyond Nike, Matthew and myself. I am very honored and blessed that my shoe is part of the whole process. This is an unbelievable story, and Nike has done a great job of being able to create something that’s so incredible and will last a lifetime.”
Nike Air Max Hyperposite “Statue of Liberty”
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy became the second-costliest hurricane in United States history after it ravaged the Eastern seaboard and resulted in about $75 billion USD worth of damage.
In an attempt to help the victims of the storm, Sneaker Pimps auctioned off an unreleased Nike Air Max Hyperposite “Statue of Liberty” with 100% of the winning bid price will go directly to the Red Cross.
NikeTalk Haiti Collection
Although the mere mention of a "message board" evokes thoughts of trolling and juvenile squabbles, NikeTalk spearheaded an endeavor to support the victims of the 2010 Haitian earthquake which resulted in 160,000 casualties according to University of Michigan study that same year.
NikeTalk teamed up with six sneaker customizers - Evolved Footwear, JGoods Custom Sneakers, 1of Customs, JBF Custom Shoes and Revive Customs, for reworked silhouettes of the Nike Air Force 1 Mid Supreme Air Max CB, Nike Air Force 1 Low, Nike Blazer, Nike Dunk High and Nike Air Trainer I. Additionally, NikeTalk matched all winning bids, up to $1,000 per pair to maximize the overall community contribution.
Nike Zoom LeBron Soldier 10 "Kay Yow"
In the sporting realm, pink has come to represent the hope and desire from athletes to seek out a cure for breast cancer which will impact one in every eight women in the United States during her lifetime and which in 2016 alone with result in 246,660 new cases.
Recently, Nike and LeBron James came together to celebrate the Kay Yow and Nike Think Pink campaign with his Nike Soldier 10 silhouette featuring an innovative three-strap system delivers strong, lightweight lockdown, Kay Yow logos on the heel and tongue tabs, and a colorway which signifies strength and unity.
Debuting them during the preseason against the Philadelphia 76ers, the choice also coincided with Breast Cancer Awareness Night at the Q - the Cleveland Cavs' arena.
To date, the Kay Yow Chancer Fund has allocated $5.28 million USD to women's cancer research.
Air Jordan XII "Wings"
Limited to only 12,000 pairs, Nike raffled off a chance at owning the Air Jordan XII "Wings" in April of this year using its The Draw system.
Those that were lucky enough to win saw their $225 USD investment blossom into a sneaker with over a $1,000 USD price tag on the resale market.
In a rather surprise move, Nike decided to donate 100% of the profits from the silhouette to their WINGS initiative, which works to instill the importance of education to youth around the globe.
"The WINGS program continues to focus on education and empowering kids around the world. The funds raised by the sale of the AJ XII 'WINGS' will allow us to continue this mission and fund programs that encourage kids to reach their greatness," Jordan Brand President Larry Miller said.
adidas D Lillard 2 "Stay Ready"
As an homage to where his journey with the Trail Blazers began on draft day, the adidas D Lillard 2 "Stay Ready" silhouette features elements that represent the three-piece suit Lillard wore that night with a heather gray upper, leather detailing, an iced blue outsole, red accents and gold hits for a clean, classic look.
A portion of the proceeds from the playoff shoe were donated to the Janus Youth Programs which is a leader in creating innovative, community-based services which enhance the quality of life for children, youth and families and fall in line with Lillard's own RESPECT program which was born from his own experience standing up for a fellow student that was bullied.
Nike #BETRUE Collection
Realized on reworked versions of the Free Run 5.0, Hyper Rev and Roshe Run, the #BETRUE Collection from Nike reflects both the diversity found within sports and Nike’s support for the LGBT community.
“Nike is deeply committed to diversity, inclusion and unleashing the potential of all athletes,” said Tim Hershey, Vice President of Global Merchandising for Nike and Executive Advisor to Nike’s LGBT Employee Network. “We’re rallying the world to embrace #BETRUE as a call-to-action for all athletes to be their most authentic selves in June and all year long.”
Nike donated a portion of #BETRUE sales to organizations empowering the LGBT sports community.
Ronnie Fieg x ASICS GEL-Lyte III & GEL-Lyte 3.1 "Super Green"
Released back in 2013 on just 300 pairs, the ASICS GEL-Lyte III and 3.1 were created in conjunction with footwear-centric charity Soles4Souls and given away to those less fortunate in Haiti. The bold color way is a reference to a Soles4Souls T-shirt colorway which was green and white and served as a point of reference for the collaboration.
Air Jordan Retro IV "UNDFTD"
Only 72 pairs were made as part of the collaboration between Jordan Brand and Los Angeles's UNDFTD. Inspired by the colorway of a classic MA-1 Flight Jacket, the retailer ran a raffle and auction in 2005 to give people a chance to own the rare sneaker with all proceeds going towards charity.
In 2015, Stadium Goods sneaker consignment store opened in New York City. At the time, they indicated that this shoe was their most expensive sneaker - with an estimated value of $24,500 USD.
adidas Pride Pack
Coinciding with June's Pride Month, adidas Originals took three of the brand's most iconic silhouettes and reimagined them for special delivery that showed support of the LGBTQ community.
Using the pride rainbow flag as the prominent motif, the Stan Smith, Slide and Superstar all benefited from the impression that they had stomped through a spectrum of color.
To help commemorate the launch, adidas donated a portion of the Pride Pack's sales to its hometown neighbor, Portland's New Avenues for Youth, a local advocacy group that helps empower homeless and LGBT youth to build life skills for a successful future.
Packer Shoes x New Balance “Boston Marathon” Collection
The 117th running of the Boston Marathon was a further reminder that terror can come at any time and in any form in the United States after a blast near the finish line killed three people - including 8-year-old, Martin Richard, and injured more than 180 including his sister, Jane.
To show their support, Packer Shoes announced that they would be donating all proceeds from the sale of their collection with New Balance to the Boys and Girls Club of Dorchester, Massachusetts — the hometown of Martin and his sister — in his memory and in her honor.
"We are fortunate enough to carry the New Balance limited edition collection that they have done in honor of the Boston Marathon for the past few years," a statement from Packer Shoes read. "In our world of retail, these shoes are ones that are creative and take the normal and turn them into something special and coveted. What we would like to do is take that creativity and use it for a noble purpose."
Nike KD V Elite “OKC Home”
After a string of tornados ripped through Oklahoma City in 2013, Kevin Durant sprung into action. But unlike other celebrities, he chose to keep his philanthropic nature a secret. However, when news broke that he had donated $1 million USD to various relief efforts, Nike decided to match his donation and also announced that all proceeds earned between May 23-June 15 from his KD V Elite "OKC Home" shoe would go to the Moore Public School Foundation and to a nonprofit group that rebuilds playgrounds.
"Grimm" Jordan X
Although NBC's supernatural drama, Grimm, was cancelled this year after six seasons, the show not only resonated with audiences, but also surprisingly with sneakerheads as well.
At the Grimm Gala, a fundraising event hosted by the show’s cast and crew earlier this year, their goal was to support The Grimmster Endowment at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. To raise money, Nike donated exclusive “Grimm” Jordan X shoes featuring ultra-premium leather and a herringbone collar lining, while the women’s version is in a brilliant white with a plush fur collar lining. Additionally, two pairs signed by Tinker Hatfield and Michael Jordan were available as well.
“We created these shoes to capture the duality that exists in the world that the show has created and in the lives of the children being treated at OHSU Doernbecher,” explained Tinker Hatfield. “The project is close to the hearts of many people at Nike and every year it fills us with emotion to be able to do certain things to support the fundraising for the hospital and The Grimmster Endowment."
This year’s gala grew the endowment by over $386,000 USD.
Pharrell Williams x adidas Stan Smith
To celebrate his new partnership with adidas, Pharrell Williams created a collection of 10 pairs of custom adidas Originals Stan Smiths featuring his own hand-drawn artwork which were sold at French retailer, colette.
The proceeds from the sales of these highly collectible shoes went towards Pharrell’s charity, From One Hand to anOTHER, whose mission statement states that they want "To change the world one kid at a time by providing them the tools and resources to meet their unique potential."
BAIT x Saucony "Cruel World" Series
During their collaborative history, footwear retailer, BAIT, and Saucony have donated over $100,000 USD to various charities as part of their “CruelWorld” series which returned this January for its sixth incarnation with a Saucony Shadow 5500 “Giant Leaps" model, which paid homage to the moon landing and specifically benefited the Follow Your Dreams organization in the United Kingdom who helps kids with learning disabilities pursue their dreams.
Previously, the duo presented the BAIT x Saucony Shadow 6000 CruelWorld 5 “New World Water” silhouette which referenced the world's water crisis - with a portion of the profits awarded to Water.org - while other ventures included building a totally animal product-free shoe, a global warming warning, and a look that was inspired by Los Angeles’s Midnight Mission, located in the heart of Skid Row, which holds one of the largest stable populations of homeless in the United States.
Eminem x Nike "Charity Series"
Beginning in 2006, Eminem and Nike began collaborating on a series of limited quantity shoes (64 pairs in total) with philanthropic intentions which benefited his Marshall Mathers Foundation.
In that first year alone, they released an Air Max 1 which paid tribute to Eminem's best friend and D12 affiliate, Proof, who was tragically killed, an Air Max 90, an Air Max 93 designed by D-12, a Nike Air 180 inspired by his Shade 45 radio show, an Air Max 95 "Goliath," an Air Max 97, an Air Max 360, and an Air Max 2003.
"We're always looking for new ways to try raise money and awareness for the foundation, so when Nike approached us we jumped at the chance," Eminem said. "When we got the info on ninemillion.org, it made even more sense. Who wouldn't want to design their own line of Nikes? And to do it for charity makes it that much better."