A Brief History of UNDEFEATED x Nike Sneaker Collaborations
Founded in 2002 by Eddie Cruz and James Bond, LA-based streetwear and sneaker boutique UNDEFEATED have blazed a trail within both realms for close to 20 years.
Expanding their empire, UNDEFEATED have ventured across the Pacific to build a presence in Asia, with locations across Japan and China. Clearly, they aren’t afraid to broaden their connections, and that explorative ethos comes through in their extensive catalogue of sneaker collaborations, most notably with Nike and Jordan Brand.
With nearly two decades of projects together, the Five Strike squad and Team Swoosh have built one of the most prolific partnerships in the sneaker game. Here’s an ephemeral look back at some of the highlights.
Made famous in New York City, the Air Force 1 has also been a favourite silhouette for the West Coast sneaker stalwarts. Unveiling their first project on the iconic sneaker back in 2006, UNDEFEATED’s initial collaborative colourways have since gone on to become some of the most sought-after AF-1s in existence.
Kicking things off with the 500-pair AF-1 Low Inside/Out ‘Shemagh’ release (inspired by a Middle Eastern headdress) in 2006, UNDEFEATED took things to a new level with their Entourage-inspired ‘Fukijama’ colourways. The first rendition (blue) never actually saw a general release IRL, but it’s rumoured that 100 pairs were made and given to the cast and crew of Entourage. A second version (gold) was released three years later in the summer of 2009, and featured lasering by Mark Smith.
As LA natives, UNDEFEATED’s love for the Lakers and the late Kobe Bryant has been clear for all to see. They took a while to tap into the performance basketball realm, but the super popular lineup of Kobe Bryant signature collaborations continues to grow to this day.
In fact, UNDEFEATED’s first project involving Nike’s Kobe line debuted on ‘Mamba Day’ (August 24) 2018, well after the Mamba’s NBA retirement. Consisting of vibrant camo-clad Kobe 1 Protros, the inaugural collection reminded us that they were more than happy to have a little fun with their militaristic designs. However, it was the camo-less, tonal releases from that drop that ended up being the most sought-after, most notably the purple F&F number, and the AJ4-inspired ‘Flight Jacket’ colourway.
Subsequent Mamba Day drops followed, with multi-colourway packs of the Kobe 4 Protro (2019) and Kobe 5 Protro (2020). In 2021, UNDEFEATED have saluted the legend once again, releasing a special edition Kobe 5 Protro ‘Hall of Fame’ dressed in regal gold, nodding to Kobe’s penchant for collecting silverware throughout his career.
A Dunk Dynasty
It’s safe to say that the Dunk is the sneaker that started it all for UNDEFEATED. In 2002, just months after opening their doors to the sneaker world, the retailer was hooked up by a Friends and Family Dunk High from Nike. Keep in mind that this was right before the launch of Nike SB, and the consequential ‘Golden Era’ for the Dunk, so the release was more a case of IYKYK. Unsurprisingly, the simple white colourway was re-released with an added Five Strikes logo on the tongue in 2013.
Continuing their fondness of rare Dunk Highs, UNDEFEATED dropped follow-up collaborations in 2003 and 2005: a military-inspired colourway, and a multicoloured No-Liner (NL) project, both with less than 1000 pairs releasing. They eventually went with a wider distribution in 2016, finessing a Dunk High Lux with oversized branding.
However, despite their evident love of the High, it’s perhaps the Dunk Low that holds the most notoriety within the UNDEFEATED ranks. It all started with a graffiti-inspired ‘Splatter’ colourway in 2003, with things reaching a zenith in 2008 via the Nike Dunk Low Premium ‘Splatter’ Hyperstrike (only 24 pairs released). The latter was originally thought of as an UNDEFEATED collaboration, since the shoe released exclusively at the Los Angeles store. However, it was actually a special project for LA-based fashion print publication Metro.Pop.
Taking Flight with the Jumpman
This is the story of one of the most coveted sneakers of all time…
In 2005, UNDEFEATED became the first sneaker boutique to design an exclusive collaboration with Jordan Brand. Taking to the Air Jordan 4, the LA crew naturally gravitated towards their familiar military aesthetic, drawing inspiration from the iconic MA-1 Flight jacket. Constructed with olive nubuck throughout the upper, plus black and orange accents, the sneaker is capped off with a velcro tongue patch to highlight the flight jacket theme. Limited to only 72 pairs, the collaboration released via an in-store raffle, and with some dropping via online auction. Of course, UNDEFEATED made sure their Friends and Family also got the hook-up.
To date, pairs have sold for as much as $18,500! Now that’s one expensive jacket.