15 years ago this month, Nike released its first line of Nike SB Dunks, giving them to pros Richard Mulder, Danny Supa, Gino Ianucci, and Reese Forbes. It had been some time since Nike got back into skateboarding, since a failed attempt in the '90s. And the brand was doing it right this time. It took its 1985 Dunk sneaker and added a padded tongue and Zoom Air in the heel. The sneakers would go onto be a success and help reboot the idea of a sneaker "culture" and have a massive impact on creating a second wave of streetwear, thanks to their unique colorways and storylines. And Nike's bringing three of the four original sneakers back as hightops, along with the "Denim" Dunk by Reese Forbes.
We had the opportunity to talk to the four original riders about their early experiences with Nike SB, the inspirations behind their first sneakers, and their sneaker legacies.
What was the inspiration behind your original Nike SB sneakers in 2002?
Richard Mulder: My original colorway was based on the Nike Tennis Classic. I was inspired by a time on tour in 1994, before even having a shoe sponsor, when I was at a Nike outlet center in Chicago, and I picked up some Tennis Classics. They were white shoes with an Orion-blue stripe. I brought them home and started skating in them. Then fast forward to eight years later, and I was on Nike and they asked me to do a colorway. I didn’t even really think about it. SB was a super-micro department within Nike at the time. I came up with my colorway literally in one minute. I was like, “Hey, there was this pair of Nikes I was skating in in 1994, from an outlet center. I really liked the way they looked.” That was it. The funny thing is, then I saw Reese’s shoes with the denim, and Supa’s with the orange and navy, and I was like, “My God, those shoes are insane!” But I didn’t give much thought to my colorway. I didn’t think it would be a story like it is today.
Danny Supa: It was basically me being from New York and wanting to have the Knicks colors. That was pretty much it. I didn’t really know what to put on the shoe, I just wanted a certain colorway. I told them that, and that’s the shoe that came out, and I was pretty hyped on that. I liked it. I always liked orange a lot, like bright colors. I thought that was cool.
Do you think the Nike SB line changed the idea of what skateboard shoes could look like?
Mulder: For skateboarding shoes, absolutely. In 2002, the sneaker game was already coming out with these fun colorways. But if you walked into a skate shop, the only shoes you’d see were black, white, or grey. It was very uniform. People were very scared to step out of the box. At Nike, it didn’t click until I saw the SB shoes next to other shoes and I thought, “Wow, these shoes are really colorful.” Nike was able to do that because it wasn’t as much about the bottom line number. It was about having fun, coloring some stuff, and doing something super cool for skateboarding. Nike gave permission to other people to colorway shoes like that.
Supa: They’re always shoes that I really liked. The fact that we started skating in them back in the day is a really big thing to me. They were really good to skate in. Also, you could put all kinds of different designs on them, so each one wasn’t the same. It was dope. And the people who were skating in the Dunks, those were the only shoes that they were skating in at the time. It’s just a really good shoe overall.
How come you're bringing back the original Dunks from 15 years ago?
Gino Ianucci: Nike wanted to bring back the original lineup after 15 years. Nike SB has gotten so big and gone as far as they have over the past years, so why not do something special with the original shoes that we dropped with the original team? On top of that, we wanted to make a few tweaks, keep them up to date, make them high tops so they don’t collide with the original version too much. It’s just about respecting the past and respecting the future.
Fobes: They’re what started the whole thing. I think it’s important to revisit the roots of what made the platform and the blueprint of the brand. I was one of the first riders for Nike, and this was just an opportunity to celebrate the springboard of what made this thing happen.
Why do you think these original SB shoes had such a big impact and resonated with people so much?
Mulder: Aside from the colorway, I feel like people celebrated the personalities of the skaters. Nike could have picked the Michael Jordans of skateboarding right off the bat, but they brought in skaters who different personalities, looks, and styles. That authenticity and that formula, with the initial team was a well-rounded package. It was something that people really got behind and celebrated. People thought, “Hey, those guys are like me.” If you hire the Michael Jordans of skateboarding, sometimes people can’t relate. Not to say that the other guys weren’t top skaters, but I feel like our roster had more of a connection with the average street skater. And that was special.
Supa: People were pretty into Dunks back then. People just really liked them for some reason. And they started going for a lot of money. Maybe because it had to do with professional skateboarders and Nike getting back into the skate market again.
Ianucci: With the whole sneaker craze, particularly with Nike SB, the buying and selling and collecting was cool. I wasn’t really aware of it in the beginning, in ’02 or ’03 or ’05, when things really got big. But it’s cool, it’s nice. To be a part of anything that’s made a huge impact is definitely something that I’ve loved. It’s an amazing thing.
Why do you think sneakers are such a big part of skate culture?
Ianucci: At least for my generation, skateboarding was something that you did, and you understood it when nobody else did. If you didn’t skate, then you didn’t understand it. I liked that. When it came to skateboarding shoes, you knew what you were wearing, and no one else knew what you were wearing. I kind of loved that. Not to mention they wore good-looking shoes, whether it was Airwalks, Vans, or Etnies. Whatever brand it was, we wore them, we loved them. If you didn’t skate, you didn’t know about skateboarding, and all the better.
For me personally, shoes are the most important thing that I wear, not my clothes. My whole day is dependent on what kind of shoes I’m wearing, to be honest. If I’m wearing the wrong shoes and I’m not feeling comfortable, my day’s going to be shot. But as long as I have good shoes on I’m fine, I’m good. Shoes almost define a person. If you look at someone’s shoes, you can tell their story.
Forbes: When you look down at your board, you look down at your shoes, or walk out of your house, however you think or feel about fashion, the shoe’s important. If you feel really lame or wack and you’re going out for the day, and you want to be productive on your skateboard or have a good day, the shoe matters. For me, if I look down at my feet and I’m like, “Man, I hate these shoes, these shoes are disgusting,” I’m not really going to have a good day. It’s kind of a mindset thing. So aside from grip, functionality, and longevity, I think the way that it looks is important for a skater. I know it’s important for me.