Sneakers Unboxed

Controversial sneakers

4 August 2022

Besides all the beautiful, exclusive and sometimes ordinary sneakers, there are also many controversial sneakers. Some were banned, while others stir up very strong emotions, and then there are also lawsuits between makers and brands. The list with controversial sneakers is long; below a short overview with some of the most controversial ones.

Puma Tahoe
With 68 tiny brush spikes on the sole, the Puma Tahoe, released in 1964, offered more grip and less resistance than traditional running shoes on modern track surfaces. Several American athletes, including John Carlos, set world records wearing the shoes during training. Following pressure from Adidas, Puma’s competitor, the Olympic Committee declared the shoe to be dangerous and banned its use at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. As a result, previously established records were declared invalid.

A juicy detail: Puma and Adidas have always had a big fight between them, as they are the offspring of a family feud. In the 1920s, the Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik was founded by brothers Adolf (Adi) and Rudolf Dassler. During the Second World War, the brothers had an irreparable row, after which Rudolf started Puma in 1948. In response, Adolf had the brand Dassler renamed to Adidas. This rivalry was not only noticeable within the family, but also in the city of Herzogenaurach where both factories were located. Read more about the effect on this city, in the past but certainly also in the present, in this article (in Dutch).

“Satan Shoes”
In 2019, artist collective MSCHF, in collaboration with Nike, released a shoe that was quickly nicknamed “Jesus Shoes” due to all the Biblical references it incorporated. In March 2021, MSCHF decided to do a sequel to this shoe, but without Nike. Together with rapper Lil Nas X, they released the so-called ‘Satan Shoes’ in an edition of 666 pairs. The satanic version has human blood in the sole, a pentagram and a reference to Luke 10:18, in which Satan falls from heaven. The shoe evoked many emotions among consumers and even American politicians. Nike hastened to immediately announce that they had not collaborated on the sneaker. Shortly afterwards, this was reinforced by a lawsuit, because the Nike logo was visible on the shoe. The judge agreed with Nike and the sneaker can no longer be sold.

Nike SB x Staple NYC Dunk Low ‘Pigeon’. Photo Michael van Hal

Nike SB x Staple NYC Dunk Low ‘Pigeon’

The grey suede Nike SB Dunk Low with a dove as symbol for New York is a design by Jeff Staple and was sold in 2005 in his Reed Space store. Only 30 pairs were sold in the shop (150 worldwide), so devoted fans bivouacked outside the door and the release of the shoe led to a riot. Police had to escort shoppers in and out to prevent them from being robbed.

Many sneakerheads nowadays see this moment as the foundation of today’s drop culture. This is mainly due to the media attention one day later. Like the front page of the New York Post, that had the headline: “Sneaker frenzy”. In addition, the trainer was released in a very small edition, which had never been done before. A day later, the shoe was already offered for $1,000 on Ebay, while the original sale price was $300. The combination of the media attention, the small edition and the resell price got more and more people to pay attention to today’s sneaker culture. Designer Jeff Staple said the following about that turnaround in 2018: “Before the riot, sneaker culture was underground and kind of nerdy. After that, we had investment bankers coming into the store telling us, ‘We used to buy cigars and wine. Now we’re just going to buy sneakers.’ It changed overnight.

Fashion house Balenciaga has become infamous for their controversial designs, including the 2022 Paris sneaker. A seemingly completely destroyed sneaker, full of stains and tears. So-called destroyed sneakers, new shoes with signs of use, have been popular with brands and consumers for some time now, but Balenciaga really takes it to the next level with their fully destroyed sneaker. The remarkable appearance caused a lot of angry reactions on social media, especially in combination with the price tag of 1,750 euros.


The Dutch Leger des Heils, a foundation for people in need, immediately used the smeaker to draw attention to the homeless in the Netherlands with their ‘truly destroyed sneaker’. Which, in contrast to the original, is really worn by people living on the streets.

Nike Air Yeezy 2 ‘Red October’. Photo Michael van Hal

Nike Air Yeezy 2 ‘Red October’
In 2014, it was one of the most sought-after sneaker: the Nike Air Yeezy 2 ‘Red October’. It emerged from a collaboration between Nike and Ye (formerly Kanye West), but the whole process was far from smooth. It started in 2013 after the design was leaked and Ye started to wear the sneakers on a tour through the United States. Fans looked forward to the model immensely, but the release date was pushed back time and again.

Eventually, Ye decided to stop wearing the sneakers halfway through his tour and even lashed out at Nike on stage. After this, rumours quickly started to spread: the shoe would not be released anymore and Ye would even join forces with another brand. The latter was confirmed in December 2013, when Adidas announced its collaboration with the rapper. At the same time, fans knew that a stock of the Nike Air Yeezy 2 ‘Red October’ must still exist somewhere. Finally, on 9 February 2014, Nike posted a message on Twitter saying the shoe was on sale, without the usual announcement that is often made weeks or sometimes even months in advance. The highly anticipated shoe sold out within 11 minutes and remains extremely sought after to this day. Probably because of the limited edition and maybe also because of the now infamous story among sneakerheads.