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How and why Nike has relaunched the Dunks

An iconic silhouette brought back by Virgil Abloh and Travis Scott following an old business model

How and why Nike has relaunched the Dunks An iconic silhouette brought back by Virgil Abloh and Travis Scott following an old business model
Nike Dunk SB Low CONCEPTS "Yellow Lobster"
Nike SB Dunk Low Travis Scott
Nike Dunk SB Low Stussy Cherry
Nike Dunk SB Low "NYC Pigeon"
Nike Dunk High Pro SB Unkle
Nike SB Dunk Low Richard Mulder
Nike SB Dunk Low Reese Forbes Wheat
Nike SB Dunk Low London
Nike SB Dunk High Reese Forbes Denim
Nike SB Dunk High Danny Supa
Nike Dunk SB Low Supreme White Cement
Nike Dunk SB Low Supreme Black Cement
Nike Dunk SB Low Paris
Nike Dunk SB Low Diamond Supply Co Tiffany
Nike Dunk Low Pro SB Futura
Nike Dunk Low ID Stash x Futura

One of the adjectives that are most used to define the nature of fashion is 'cyclic': what alternates on the catwalks and on the street is only a recurring and periodic return of trends and obsessions of the past, revisited, updated, made significant again, with a cumbersome and interesting past that increases their value. 

After a first unsuccessful attempt, the recent return and renewed success of the Dunk, both of the sneakers of the Nike mainline and of the SB line, is perhaps the best example of how the Beaverton giant was able to revive the silhouette that most of all contributed to shaping the sneaker market as we know it today. To explain this disruptive success we have to bring into play three names, two very well-known, the last a little less. There is no doubt that Virgil Abloh and even more Travis Scott are the most influential architects of the return of the Dunk, but what Nike is doing is nothing more than using once again the strategy and marketing operations with which Sandy Bodecker made the Dunk (and the entire Nike SB line) a hit and a staple name as we know it today. 

Bodecker joined Nike in 1982 as a product tester and later became the mind behind the exponential growth of the Nike Soccer division in Europe before being appointed to the helm of Nike SB starting 2001. The genius intuition with which Bodecker launched the Dunk line and the sneaker started from the sport that most of all had proved akin to the silhouette, definitively turning what was a basketball shoe into the skate sneaker par excellence. The Dunk relaunch plan consisted of different elements, all complementary to its success. To the technical innovations and improvements on the shoe, aimed at making it more comfortable for skaters and able to grant more grip to the deck, there was the release of the sneakers of the four members of that original team (Gino Iannucci, Danny Supa, Reese Forbes and Richard Mulder), together with a "tight" distribution, making the releases exclusive to independent skate shops all over the world. This sales model proves to be winning for all the players involved: the link with the skate shops, first of all, ensured secure profits for them, credibility and respect in the culture for Nike, and a feeling of exclusivity for the final consumer. The period of regional releases began, with super limited editions different from continent to continent, making them instant grails, together with new iterations reworked by world-renowned artists, such as Piet Parra, Stash or Futura. More generally, collaborations became an important element in the history of the Dunk, not only with artists, writers and rappers, but also with the skate shops themselves, not necessarily well known to the general public, as Supreme was in the early years, or as CONCEPTS, Stussy, and Diamond Supply Co. - who unexpectedly created one of the most beloved and sought after Dunks of all time, the Tiffany. The climax of the success and fame of the Dunk was reached in 2005, with the (in)famous release of the Nike Dunk "NYC Pigeon" by Jeff Staple, the release that triggered that sneaker frenzy that we know today, kicking off the proliferation of sneakers magazines, campouts, meet-ups, communities and groups of enthusiasts, and above all giving a strong boost to the growth of the secondary market. After reaching its peak, a slow decline began, which was perhaps more of a settling of the SB line in general and the Dunk in particular, with great relief and a certain joy of the OG skaters and collectors. 

Nike SB Dunk High Danny Supa
Nike SB Dunk High Reese Forbes Denim
Nike SB Dunk Low Reese Forbes Wheat
Nike SB Dunk Low Richard Mulder
Nike SB Dunk Low London
Nike Dunk SB Low Paris
Nike Dunk Low Pro SB Futura
Nike Dunk High Pro SB Unkle
Nike Dunk Low ID Stash x Futura
Nike Dunk SB Low Diamond Supply Co Tiffany
Nike Dunk SB Low CONCEPTS "Yellow Lobster"
Nike Dunk SB Low Stussy Cherry
Nike Dunk SB Low Supreme White Cement
Nike Dunk SB Low Supreme Black Cement
Nike Dunk SB Low "NYC Pigeon"

Not taking advantage of important anniversaries, such as the Dunk's thirtieth birthday and Nike SB's fifteenth, which went a little muted, the last three years have proved to be the right moment for the revival of the Dunk. After the reissue of the Pigeon in 2017, at the end of 2018 Nike hired James Arizumi, a former Nike SB designer, as head of the skate division. What Arizumi did is nothing more than re-proposing the business model inaugurated by Bodecker, with the only difference that Abloh, Travis Scott and that giant that has now become Supreme co-sign the partnerships today. The return to the origins of the Dunk starts primarily from collaborative editions, first of all, the one with Supreme, through which, with the (then) imminent opening of the first Milanese store, and with the images shot in Milan Centrale, reaffirmed its deep connection with the subculture that had shaped the brand. The tribute to the purest skate culture continued with the Dunks designed by Parra, Concepts, Diamond Supply & Co., Eric Koston, another skater from the Nike SB team. In the endless lists that every month decree which are the most awaited sneakers by fans and sneakerheads, and consequently those with the highest reselling prices, to occupy the top positions are almost always Nike Dunks. 

Making the Dunk prices skyrocket, opening a huge new audience to this sneaker is the master of hype par excellence, who has always worked on historic and iconic Nike silhouettes, redefining the concept of 'archive fashion'. After taking them to the catwalk during the Off-White™ SS20 fashion show, in the version designed by Futura, in December 2019 the partnership between Nike and Abloh's brand saw the release of a new Nike SB Low, available in three different colourways. But it's with Virgil Abloh's take on the Dunk Viotech that the sneaker has reached new, endless fame. Released initially in 2002, the Off-White™ one is a faithful re-edition of the first coloured Dunk, with that shade of purple that has remained in the hearts and eyes of fans ever since. As nss magazine wrote a few months ago, released before Bodecker's creation of the Nike SB division, the Viotech model perfectly represents that brief moment of transition, interpreting that feeling of pure creativity, of hybridization between the various cultures involved and simple fun. A shoe that stood out without taking itself seriously and that introduced one of the most iconic colours ever created by Nike. 

And then there is him, the most representative embodiment of the power of celebrity culture. The interest in Nike Dunks, especially from his audience, started from his Instagram profile: it is here that Travis Scott regularly posts photos of archival Dunks, real grails that are worth thousands of dollars, pictures that have contributed to making the reselling price of the sneaker go even higher, as well as having created a new, unexpected passion for the sneaker. After devoting himself to the Jordan I, Jordan VI, and the classic Air Force 1 models, Scott turned his attention to the Dunk. The Nike SB Dunk Low Travis Scott fits perfectly into the Nike SB Dunk sneaker line characterized by different and sometimes contrasting patterns, reflecting at the same time the eclectic and multifaceted aesthetic of Travis Scott

Nike SB Dunk Low Travis Scott

The release of this Dunk was the apotheosis of Brodecker's business model since the sneaker was not available on SNKRS, as it usually happens with highly anticipated releases like this, but only in Nike SB retailers and therefore in skate shops. It is not surprising that the first images and videos that portrayed the shoe were posted on the Nike SB Instagram profile, a decision aimed at reaffirming the deeper identity of this Nike division, showing its skaters on the board with that same sneaker that the collectors today keep behind a glass case. 

In this sense, the return of the Dunks has been organic. As skate culture gained new spaces in the mainstream fashion imagination, even bringing some of its best-known representatives on the catwalks of Paris, Nike returned to work closely with the small skate shops scattered all over the world, leaving them the release of the most anticipated sneakers. A calibrated and well-planned operation that undoubtedly should have reached its peak with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, an edition that would have seen skate as one of the participating disciplines for the first time, reaching the official status of 'sport', the one with which Bodecker had always approached this world, but above all it proved to be a more than favourable opportunity to continue to push and promote Nike SB products. It is no coincidence that the uniforms of the various national teams sponsored by Nike SB would have been designed by Patta himself. 

The postponement of the Olympics to next year, the announcement of the release of a new Dunk designed once again by Virgil Abloh, together with the anticipated release of the Nike Dunk Low SP "Brazil", the Nike SB Dunk Chunky Dunkys in collaboration with Ben & Jerry's, and the COMME des GARÇONS x Nike Dunk Low, do nothing but confirm that the sneaker market will continue to be dominated by the Dunks, at least for a while.