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You don’t have to be a diehard Huarache fan to appreciate that the shoe holds a special place in Nike’s footwear catalog. The Huarache’s revolutionary neoprene bootie and rubber outer cage combination hugs the foot and locks it in place, while the soft, responsive Nike Air sole unit cushions and pads like no other technology.

To complement the now-beloved design, the original 1991 Huarache was also accompanied by a clever advertising campaign that posed the question – “Have You Hugged Your Foot Today?” Nine years later, the Huarache became further embedded in the history of early streetwear when Stüssy worked with Nike (the first partnership between the two brands, which is still ongoing today) on a Huarache collaboration in 2000.

Arguably the best thing about the Huarache, thought, is that it continues to evolve and adapt. As styles and trends change, the Huarache has changed as well. Let’s not forget this wild gladiator-style Huarache design from 2017.

Highsnobiety sat down with LeMar Anglin, one of Nike’s biggest Huarache advocates, to talk about their newest model – the Air Huarache Gripp. Over the course of our discussion, the origins of the silhouette came to light and we learned that the original model almost never saw the light of day. Read on to find out what saved it and made it the street style icon it is today.

First, what was your role in the Huarache Gripp project?

I’m the Product Line Manager (PLM). I get to work with a team of designers, developers and engineers to help oversee and manage the project to completion.

What are some of the features that make the Gripp unique compared to other Huarache models?

We started by looking at the Huarache concept, which is about hugging the foot and providing innovative fit. We also thought about the origin of the concept, which stemmed from Tinker waterskiing – he was wearing a protective bootie that keeps you locked in and as protected as possible from the elements. From there we utilized a new tooling from the Huarache Drift, which offers really comfortable CMP foam, plus a heel air bag and a clip that wraps underneath the updated rugged outsole for stability and comfort. Most other Huaraches or sneakers in general don’t have aggressive tread or a clip such as this to add stability and durability.

The Gripp also features an inner bootie that hugs the foot to help keep you dry and warm, plus an outer bootie for a second layer of protection from the weather. This is our way of really trying to keep you warm and dry to stay cozy. There’s an added seam taped zipper on the front for protection, when it’s zipped up, and a looser fit when it’s open. Finally, we added thick rope lacing to complement the beefier shoe and overt “Gripp” branding on the heel and at the medial ankle. There’s also the thick webbing that’s used for easier lacing.

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Where did the name “Gripp” come from?

“Gripp” is a nod to the shoe’s function. The bootie grips your ankle to keep you protected, the aggressive tread grips the ground to keep you going on your commute, and hopefully the aesthetic grabs people’s attention and makes them look down.

What makes the Huarache stand out from other silhouettes in general, and why is it such an important model for Nike?

The Huarache is a 28-year-old innovation that was released in ’91 and created a more personal fitting shoe, which led to the whole “Have You Hugged Your Foot Today?” campaign.

What’s remarkable is that the shoe almost never made it. If it wasn’t for Tinker, Sandy Bodecker, and two others that really believed in the idea of creating a more minimalistic shoe with an innovative fit, the shoe would’ve never launched. They didn’t have much support at all internally, to the point that no retailers had booked the first Huarache up until one pivotal moment in November 1990.

A product marketer that really believed in the Huarache concept ordered a few thousand pairs from the factory (definitely put his livelihood on the line big time, but that’s what you do when you believe in something). He had them sent to the New York City Marathon where he set up the “Scream Green” colorway at a table and just let people come up to try the sneakers on, and purchase them if they wanted. He sold out!

After that, people back at Nike and retailers caught wind of the shoes selling out and they ended up putting the shoes in the line for a 1991 release. There’s a powerful lesson to be learned there. Huarache is a shoe for the people that aren’t afraid to be different, and it’s for people like Tinker, Sandy and that product marketer, who are willing to push through challenges in spite of the hurdles in their path and lay it all on the line.

What does Tinker Hatfield think about the Gripp?

Tinker loves that the team is pushing it to new places! The Huarache to him has always been a concept and not just one shoe, so the fact that we’re trying to evolve the concept of fit innovation with things like the Gripp and things we have coming out in the future excites him. I show him everything we’re working on, so he’s very much aware.

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Was the Gripp designed for any particular person or athlete in mind?

To be honest, it was designed with function in mind. Lee Gibson, the designer, was thinking of people on the edges of culture and style, and was pulling together unexpected combinations and references in the process. He was inspired by people that are unapologetically themselves no matter what; those who are bringing unique ideas to the table. People like that are fearless, magnetic, and they draw others in. This shoe and all Huaraches are designed for them.

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Words by Drew Hammell

New York-based sneaker commentator perpetually stuck in the ’90s.

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