Nike’s ‘Panda’ Dunk Had a Wild 2022, But Why Has This Shoe Been Everywhere?
Every so often, pop culture will experience a tipping point when a trend, song, or product breaks a threshold and spreads like wildfire. This year, the Nike Dunk ‘Panda’ hit that tipping point, transcending the nuances of sneaker culture to become a shoe you might spot at the mall, and a shoe that some say was ruined by Tik-Tok.
New Balance 990s, Nike Air Force 1s, FILA Disruptors, and now Panda Dunks are but a few footwear designs that have been sucked into the mainstream vortex in the last few years. The reason people love these shoes evokes a question that is one of the biggest sneakerhead dilemmas: does your sneaker choice make you stand out or fit in? Gen Z sneakerheads may gravitate toward the latter, as developing personal taste is ultimately a lifelong journey, but when you’re younger, sometimes you just want what everyone else is wearing.
This year’s flavour of the month, especially for younger sneakerheads, is the Panda Dunk.
They. Are. Everywhere.
So why are we so obsessed with this seemingly mundane shoe?
Keep It Simple, Stupid
Sneakerheads are notoriously obsessed with details, materials, shapes, and the artistic factors that come with sneaker collaborations. Plus, a shoe is more akin to artwork when it’s limited, creating an innate appeal in owning an object that no one else has. In a recent interview Sneaker Freaker conducted with A.P.C. founder Jean Touitou, the designer shared a sentiment that many sneakerheads could surely relate to, ‘To me, sneakers are a minor form of art.’
So how does the Panda Dunk fit into this equation?
Its appeal is the opposite of that.
It’s not art. It’s not an ‘if you know, you know’ type of sneaker collaboration that may be intimidating or esoteric due to overstated design features or expressive colour. Its simple look makes the shoe ubiquitous and wearable. It’s simple, and it’s got a big Swoosh, so you know it’s a Nike. That means it’s got a ton of appeal for unboxings and Insta ’fit pics.
The Cult of Black
The appeal of a monochrome garment is as hard to quantify as the intrinsic aesthetic nature of black-and-white photography or a marble sculpture.
Yohji Yamamoto once mused about black by noting, ‘Black is modest and arrogant at the same time. Black is lazy and easy – but mysterious. But above all, black says this: “I don’t bother you – don’t bother me.”’
All-black and all-white colourways have a special kind of subliminal appeal to sneakerheads. From ‘Black Cat’ Jordan 4s to all-white Vans, sneakerheads often love to see the ‘all-black’ or ‘all-white’ version of their favourite shoes.
The Panda Dunk couldn’t be more simple, and the no-brainer black-and-white colourway just gives it some kind of appeal that tickles the sneakerhead brain.
Knowledge is Power
Sometimes, being ‘into’ sneaker culture requires pre-requisite knowledge, and honestly, that can be intimidating.
Sure, you might look at a fragment design collaboration and think it’s a cool shoe at face value, but when you know the background of Hiroshi Fujiwara, the product gains some new and valuable context. On the one hand, Panda Dunks are perfect for someone who doesn’t have that context or who might understand the cultural credibility of the Dunk but doesn’t have access to more limited or expensive versions. But there is no barrier to entry to wear the Panda Dunks, and without a story, it’s still just a cool-looking shoe. No more, no less.
At the end of the day, it’s difficult to pin the shoe’s trajectory on a single reason, and after the tipping point, there’s no going back, as the Panda Dunk’s inertia still seems unwavering at this point. Now the shoe is going for significantly above its $110 price tag on sites like GOAT and StockX.
If you can get your hands on a pair, then maybe shoes like this are a gateway that brings newcomers into sneaker culture, people who can add new ideas and perspectives and eventually be meaningful voices. For some, maybe the Panda Dunk was the first pair to spark a passion. And in that case, maybe we need more shoes like that.