Picture this. It’s the year 2001 and another insanely rare Nike Co.Jp shoe was just released exclusively in Japan. Of course, you didn’t read about any of this on social media, as it would be another few years before the earliest forms of it would come into existence. Determined as you are to grab anything from “Concept Japan,” there are no breadcrumb trails to follow on release date. Sneaker blogs aren’t around to Tweet links and you’d be lucky to sniff anything out on eBay. Stadium Goods is still 14 years away from becoming your go-to for all of your sneaker and streetwear needs. The hunt is indeed very real.
You see, sneaker life in the dial-up internet era isn’t as easy as mashing your credit card information into the keyboard quicker than the next hopeful. Securing anything from Nike Co.Jp requires knowing someone in Japan or having an ally on a message board like NikeTalk who has the means to source you a pair. If you’re lucky. Little would you know 15 years later, that “Concept Japan” would ultimately shape the foundation of sneaker culture.
If any of this sounds remotely familiar, we too wish that we could rewind the hands of time to simpler days. Simpler in the sense that our greatest worries were what we described in the last paragraph. But here we are, older, wiser, and still in love with our sneakers. When life gives you lemons as an adult, you make lemonade. And you reminisce or familiarize yourself with Nike’s way-too-ahead-of-its-time Co.Jp initiative.
In the ‘90s, Nike gave some of Japan’s preeminent sneaker boutiques like Chapter—which later turned into atmos—the ability to special-order Nikes in custom colorways known as SMUs (special make-ups.) The word “collaboration” springs to mind, and Nike’s Co.Jp series can be seen as the archetype to this now-common phenomenon. In a way, shoes like the Nike Air Force 1 Low “Linen” from 2001 were just embryonic forms of what we now consider sneaker collaborations.
The boutiques whose walls were lined with Nike Co.Jp sneakers were breeding grounds for innovation in other ways. Prior to Nike going full-tilt with its “SB” segment dedicated to performance skateboarding shoes, it tested the waters in Japan with its Pro B line of Dunks. Nike Co.Jp saw the Dunk being issued in new tantalizing colorways like the “Plum” from 2001’s “Ugly Duckling Pack.” The Pro B Dunks reeled in the skateboarding demographic who was equally enamored with the model’s upgraded materials and fat lace-design. In totality, Nike’s Pro B Dunks from two decades ago would form the guidelines in which Nike SB continues to follow in 2020.
One of the ways that Nike Co.Jp products differentiated themselves from other retail releases was that, in the case of the Air Jordan 1 Co.Jp “Silver Metallic” from 2002, they came in specially designed packaging. For the release of this extremely rare Japan-only shoe, Jordan Brand did away with a traditional cardboard shoe box and instead packed it inside of a suitcase. They would pull off a similar move stateside when the Air Jordan 17 “College Blue” was released in coincidence with Michael Jordan’s return to the NBA in the Fall of 2001.
Close your eyes and imagine sneaker culture in the early 2000s when Nike Air Force 1s in two-tone colorways largely reigned supreme. Now, picture seeing this Nike Dunk Low “Viotech” for the first time. What would your reaction be like? You may have liked what you saw in the “Viotech” Dunk, but it was certainly a jarring explosion of color to say the least. Unlike today, brands didn’t mix clashing colors on sneakers when the “Viotech” was released in Japan in 2001, making it all the more ostentatious.
As much as we talk about “Concept Japan” and the interesting twists of fate behind the series, there’s a model like the Nike Dunk Low “Samba” that exists because, well, someone thought pairing a navy blue leather base with contrasting silver leather overlays and a fiery red Swoosh looked cool. And it did. It still does, in fact, and Nike is bringing the colorway back in true-to-original form for the first time since 2001 this week. As we’ve seen again and again, you just can’t put a timestamp on nostalgia.