The sneaker scene is also the place where you can find the most examples of fake culture. In the past, we’ve shared two articles talking about this scene, but today we’ll go back to the shoes that started it all. The beginning was in the early nineties; the shoes we’re talking about are the Air Jordan 1 model. Mr. Kamamoto, who suggested to us before that Japan was the place where fake culture for sneakers got started, explains how the digital era played a big role in this development.
--- What was the reason the Air Jordan model became so famous?
“The Air Jordan I model went for sale around 1985. At the time they were made as basic basketball shoes, but some famous people commented in magazines that ‘these are the shoes of the moment’ and ‘[the shoes] are great for skating as well’; this ended up turning the Air Jordan I and DUNK into a fashion item. At the time, I was still living in Aomori so I don’t know anything about the real situation back then, but I hear people would dirty up their newly made shoes intentionally to make them look more vintage, or wearing shoes slightly above their size to make their feet look bigger. As the rage was back then, the shoes themselves were fairly simple in shape, which worked just right. They became even more popular as fashion items when they had the actual signature of Michael Jordan on them.”
--- Were there already fake shoes in circulation back then?
“The fakes started circulation around ’94, ’95. The vintage boom had a large influence on the fake culture. In the America of the time, the trend was the exact opposite of Japan; everything that was new was good, the newer the better. So if you’d try to sell fake items over there you wouldn’t have a market because they’d just be seen as old shoes. A good example of this is that when the Air Jordan I model was brought out again in 1994 it was actually sold for a lower price. When I went to the US in ’98 wearing my original DUNK shoes, the local people looked at me and asked ‘Why are you wearing such old shoes?’. The vintage boom in Japan occurred because a lot of people have a spirit to enjoy nostalgy and like to collect items. So when this second-hand item and vintage boom got to a certain level, people started appearing selling fake Air Jordan I’s or DUNK items. There wasn’t that much information available at the time, so people didn’t really know what the normal price or the market price were. All the stores would decide on the prices by themselves, so you would see some models sold for prices like 50.000 or 60.000 yen. I was a student at the time, so I longed to have my own pair of Air Jordan I’s or DUNKs; but then again, they were always pretty close to me, because all stores would have them in a very easy to see place, next to the register.”
--- Did you realize already back then that some might be fake?
“As for the Air Jordan I model, I had some moments that I was doubting whether they were real, but the DUNK model was really difficult. They never did a revival model of that one, so you’d only have the original, but I’d never actually seen the original so I had no idea, really. I didn’t have the money to buy them, but I might’ve done so if I had the money to do so. So I think it’s completely plausible that people slightly older than me might’ve bought those fake items at the time.”
--- How do we recognize a real Air Jordan I?
“The easiest point to look at is the quality of the leather. The biggest reason people were deceived back then is the fact that they didn’t know what the original item was like, so they had no way to compare the two. Another thing to look are the shape of the sole which might be different, but that would be hard to find out for the layman still. The people making fake items would make their own moulds and create colour variations from those, so fake items would look exactly the same as other fakes. Because there were probably more fakes in circulation that the actual item, there would’ve been a lot of people mistaking these for the real thing.”
“This is an older fake item; the difference is easy to understand at a glance, but because the people making fakes keep upgrading their fakes all the time, these days there’s a lot of items where you can’t tell the difference based on just the quality of the product. In the time where you weren’t able to compare, Japanese people might be suspicious but still buy the items because they simply wanted to wear the shoes, so fake items would sell like hotcakes. Especially at events like flea markets you would find a lot of those. These shoes I have here are from a friend who I first met at a flea market back then; when I asked him how he bought these shoes he told me the real story behind them.”
--- What kind of model is this?
“Those in the know will agree when they hear this Air Jordan I Black Gold Patent model is an amazingly rare item; if you manage to find the real item, it would sell for in between five and 10 million yen, so goes the story that is told amongst fans. It was made as a sample limited to only twenty pairs, and no more shoes were ever made of this model; if there would be any real items left out there, the main office at NIKE would’ve probably already bought them. Around 1995, there was someone in Harajuku, Japan, selling this insanely rare model at a flea market for 98.000 yen in all different sizes; when asked where he got them, he told people he found several tens of pairs in Korea. Apparently, these fake shoes were made by the person who ran the Korean NIKE factory in the 1980’s.”
--- How did the shoes become so famous when there were so little and there was so little information?
“I think the magazines were the biggest factor. You’d find commercials of this Black Gold Patent model, of course with fake photos, in a lot of magazines; back then it was fairly normal for fake items to appear in print. The consumers themselves didn’t have much information to begin with so they’d never even stop and ask themselves whether the info printed in nationwide magazines could be wrong; they just couldn’t believe that. Of course, the first item to be presented in an article would be the real deal. And with the original item being expensive like that, the people making fake items would grab onto it really quickly. So I think there’s actually quite a lot of people above forty who own a pair of this Black Gold Patent model. There might even still be people out there who think they own the real item.”
--- So could you say the Air Jordan I is the biggest item in fake sneaker history?
“In between ’93 and ’94, there were a lot of fakes circulating at the same time; Air Jordan I in Red/Black, Blue/Black, White/Red/Black, Black Gold Patent, but also the DUNK HIGH model in Deep Blue/Yellow or Yellow/Black. This was the starting point for fake culture, and I personally think these were the world’s first fake NIKEs. Seen from the perspective of the world, at that time Japan was one of the few places where vintage sneakers were loved, and so the fake shoes were also made with the intention of selling them to the Japanese. But after twenty, thirty years, the US and Europe also started looking at vintage items, and the Japanese started wanting more and more new items. Basically, their taste changed into the direct opposite. Of course, the passing of time also played a big role in that. It probably meant that younger people slowly started to take not just Japan but the trends in the whole world into consideration.”
--- I see now that the Air Jordan I has a long history as a fake as well.
“In the ten years after 1985, when the original Air Jordan I model was launched, the fake market grew at an astounding pace. Where a culture evolves, people imitating that culture are bound to follow; this was proven twenty-five years ago. Especially the Air Jordan I model had a lot of revival and collaboration models, so fake items have continued to be produced for about thirty years. Above all, these few years fake items are being made before the actual item is even launched, so the times are getting even rougher. Things that no one thought were possible back done can now be done very easily because our society has become digital and reliant on information. These days fake items are being produced that even professionals have problems recognizing as such; the only real advice I can give (which I have already repeated several times) is ‘buy at an official store’ and ‘find a store you can trust’.”
This shoe culture was born from the character of Japanese people, a people that loves to go through all kinds of older models and collect them. These days, that movement has spread worldwide, and the fake culture has spread with it accordingly. “The easier it becomes to look up stuff online, the more important it is to be able to use offline tools as well”. This is what Mr. Kamamoto tells us. Behind a beautiful development are people trying to take advantage of it. We would like you to become knowledgeful about how to find not just items you can believe in, but also people and stores; that’s a thing digital tools cannot help you with.
Business hours: 11：00～20：00
Address: Tokyo, Musashino, Kichijoji Minamicho, 1 Chome−18−1
D-ASSET Kichijoji 1F
Born in 1978 in Aomori Prefecture.
Owner of sneaker shop “SKIT”. Currently has four locations in Japan.
Carrying rare items at reasonable prices,
SKIT is being noticed by sneakerheads from all over the world.