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Monday, November 12, 2007

Air Force 1s: Commodifying ethnicity

Karl Marx might turn in his grave when he hears Big Boi from OutKast is about to score a $50k pair of diamond studded Nikes, compliments of Atlanta retailers Laced Up Boutique and Priyya and Chintans Diamonds. A mock-up pair of the shoes were displayed at the recent BET Awards in Atlanta and sparked dozens of inquiries. The customized shoes are Air Force 1 "So Cals" (to celebrate Southern California) and without diamonds, retail for $225 US. To add diamonds to the famous logo requires it to be cast in gold metal, then diamonds are studded in casings which are held together by fine gold stitching. It takes three to four weeks to complete the diamond studding. The first of a kind are being put together by Artisans in Mumbai, India and will be available show by the end of the month. Nike are hoping to establish expensive bling will become a must for all hip hoppers and gangsta rappers. Certainly if fiction can mirror facet after a recent episode of Entourage (HBO) when one of the characters was gifted a $20,000 pair of Nike Air Force 1 Fukijamas, shops across the US were inendated with people wanting to buy the same shoes. Behind the scenes Nike are using cultural “influencers” as a marketing strategy to attract new and brand loyal consumers. In the past Nike paid high profile sports personalities to endorsement their product but falls from grace with reports of antisocial misbehaviour has caused Nike and others to rethink. The Ath-leisure industry still maintains close contact with the sports world but greater links are now forged with trend setters like popular hip hoppers and other “under the radar” influencers. The Nike’s Air Force 1, stripped of bling, has become a common denominator linking often rival, ethnic inner city groups. The same phenomenon occurred in the 70s when ‘Skins’ and agents of law enforcement, both wore Docs. Urban anarchy was linked by the footwear the rival groups wore. To ensure cultural sensitivities in “ethnic pride” sneakers, Nike designers hired well-known graffiti and tattoo artists to create individual aesthetic appeal. Niche marketing ensures individual ethnic demographics are specifically catered for. For example, since 2002, Nike has released a new Chinese New Year AF1; Nike’s Handball Aztec Cortez was designed specifically to appeal Espanic Americans with an Aztec heritage. The Mexican Airforce with its green, white and red colouring has an obvious appeal to Mexican Americans. Similarly Nike have catered for West Indians population, with specific flags embossed on the shoes’ insole. There are also Jamaica, Philippines, and Puerto Rico Air Force 1s available. Nike have also introduced the Air Native N7 which has been designed to appeal to Native Americans and includes “heritage callouts,” such as sunrise and sunset patterns on the tongue and heel, arrowheads and feathers. Further the re-introduction of the white sneaker has been a deliberate marketing strategy to encourage “ethnic ownership.” When all else fails personalising trainers by dying, painting, or embroidering national colours or embossing them with other “cultural signifiers,” has ensured the product continues its appeal to inner cities, low socio-economic groups. Commodifying ethnicity has become a powerful sales strategy for Nike.

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