These days, the introduction of an athletic shoe needs to satisfy two groups of consumers. There’s the streetwear-forward guy who’s a bit of a collector, if not a die-hard sneakerhead, who wants something unique that no one else will have.
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Then, there’s the guy prioritizing performance and function, who also wants a bit of style on the court.
The desire and dichotomy, most might say, go back to the first pair of Jordans – a functional basketball shoe that, through bold color-blocking and limited-edition options, has developed into a bit of a collector’s item.
Yet, while some sneaker collaborations come and go and others spawn franchises, we’ve rounded up some of the strongest contenders from the past three years.
Vans x Fear of God
Jerry Lorenzo’s low-key luxury streetwear brand Fear of God doesn’t really do regular collections: lines are released without any defined pattern or schedule. Yet, buoyed by celebrity endorsements plus Lorenzo’s own approach when designing Justin Bieber’s merch a few years ago, Fear of God transitioned from a best-kept secret into one of the premier luxury streetwear brands.
Most, instead, might gravitate to the Vans x Fear of God collaboration that debuted in 2016 under the name Vans x F.O.G. and received a follow-up a year later. The Fear of God Vans, to some extent, are rather simple. They start off with the skateboarding shoe brand’s classic silhouettes, including the Mountain edition 35 DX, Era 95 DX, and the 47 V DX, and then incorporate a repeating Fear of God brand print alongside solid red paneling.
Yet, unless you take a closer look, they’re styles only a sneakerhead will truly recognize, so you escape the dreaded pit many collaborations fall into – being too on-the-nose and looking like an obvious cash grab.
Supreme x Nike SB Dunk Low Sneakers
These days, Supreme is the king of streetwear collabs, with an endless stream of capsule collections featuring other designers and sources of inspiration flowing throughout the year.
Yet, the Supreme x Nike SB Dunk Low collaboration goes back (almost) to the beginning for both brands. Supreme, in the early aughts, was still the punk skater brand borrowing Louis Vuitton’s logo print and getting sued for it.
Nike SB, meanwhile, was the new kid on the block in Nike’s lineup, also targeting skateboarders with its straightforward, performance-oriented shoes. Yet, a Nike SB version of the Dunk turned into a skate-basketball hybrid that, while not built to function on the court, attracted the attention of skateboarders and Supreme.
The first Supreme x Nike SB Dunk Low shoes dropped in 2002. Unlike the bold white and red sneakers you see today, these were a bit more subtle, starting with a gray colorway. This early effort morphed into a second collaboration a decade later, this time incorporating an etched crocodile pattern on the panels and contrasting overlays.
In 2019, the latest generation emerged. Showing they’re truly a pair of modern-day Supreme shoes, the colorway is a tad obvious: white and red sneakers gleam with a metallic finish and add to the luxe factor with a jeweled swoosh.
OFF-WHITE x Converse Chuck 70 White Canvas Sneakers
OFF-WHITE, Virgil Abloh’s grailed streetwear brand, has developed a reputation for its minimalism and straightforward, literally descriptive designs. So, a sneaker collaboration, considering OFF-WHITE’s customer, was definitely on the table, and among the brand’s efforts were two Converse high-top styles.
The first dropped in early 2018, as a limited-edition Chuck Taylor characterized by a see-through body, blue ombre outsole, and OFF-WHITE’s signature verbiage along the body.
The OFF-WHITE x Converse Chuck 70 was a more wearable follow-up. These white canvas sneakers stayed true to the original Chuck Taylor high-top, complete with a striped motif and signature “X” graphic, orange tabs, and co-branding along the insole.
Kawhi Leonard Shoes for New Balance
There’s debate about what is the first official Kawhi Leonard shoe. To reinvigorate its basketball line, after playing second fiddle to Nike and Adidas for a number of years, New Balance partnered with the current Los Angeles Clippers player to launch the OMN1S in 2019.
Although Leonard sported the OMN1S in games, the New Balance shoe never displayed his name. Instead, more as a starter model, these unofficial Kawhi Leonard shoes begin with a classic high-top silhouette with a mesh-paneled upper for breathability and a herringbone ribbed outsole for traction. On its surface, it’s strictly a performance shoe that never fully resonated with the sneakerhead community.
In early 2020, Leonard debuted what’s being called his first official signature basketball shoe for New Balance, called the KAWHI.
Now with his name on the product, these Kawhi Leonard shoes begin with the OMN1S template. Beyond being solely a basketball shoe, this pair zeroes-in on the visual aspect, playing multicolored embroidered elements off a white mid-height shoe and adding a grid pattern into the mix. Establishing that it’s the first shoe to bear his name, Leonard’s signature can be found on the heel tab.
Nike Kyrie 6 Shoe
In terms of kicks, Kyrie Irving and Nike have a long-standing relationship that, to date, has culminated in the Kyrie 6 shoes.
Irving’s partnership extends back to 2014, during his days in Cleveland, when he launched the Kyrie 1 and later the Kyrie 2, which he wore to win his first NBA title. Showing that they’re not content to have a single Kyrie Irving shoe, Nike has further released a series of upgrades to these initial models, as well as the value-priced Flytrap series and kid-centric sneakers, including a Spongebob-inspired line.
The Kyrie 6 was built by Ben Nethongkome and appeals to both the athletes and the sneakerheads out there. Retro style is at its core, yet Nike’s latest technologies, including responsive Zoom cushioning, take it out of the ‘80s. Showing it’s a true collectible, this Kyrie Irving shoe is available in a series of colorways, from solid black to styles influenced by patriotism, the NBA Championships, Bruce Lee, and Egyptian motifs.
Vans x Spongebob Shoes
Vans has been on a nostalgic streak, launching series inspired by the Peanuts gang, MLB logos, and, in 2018, the beloved cartoon Spongebob Squarepants.
Considering both adults and children watch the show, this collection now in the Vans Vault adds Spongebob-inspired prints to its classic skate silhouettes, including the Sk8-Hi, Authentic, and Slip-Ons in sizes for all ages. Rounding out the collection was a series of apparel and a skate deck.
Rather than just be inspired by childhood and a long-running cartoon, the team at Vans took influence from Nickelodeon’s animation process and how episodes and characters are constructed, resulting in several bright designs that capture the series’ essence and reflect the past three decades of skate culture.