The Nike Trial of Warren Lotas: Bootleg Dunks and Other Counterfeit Sneakers


If it looks like a Dunk, sells like a Dunk, and is colored like a Dunk, then it’s probably a Dunk. If it looks too much like a Dunk, generates some of the same hype, but was actually produced and sold without the permission of the original sneaker manufacturer, then a lawsuit is likely to come. Warren Lotas, a 25-year-old designer based in Los Angeles, must have known this was coming.

Its versions of the Nike Dunk, an iconic sneaker that debuted in 1985 and lives on as a retro, are just degrees away from the facsimile. Although they are often prevented from achieving real commercial success by lawsuits, sneakers like these have already seen success. Some seek to imbue existing designs with flavors that Nike wouldn’t; others strive to undo the grip of brand marketing forces. Unlike the most memorable bootlegs of the past two decades, the Warren Lotas shoes, which are now the subject of a legal battle initiated by Nike in October, aren’t entirely clear in their message or intent.

“Initially, we didn’t even intend to sell a shoe,” says Lotas.

Before the Dunk episode debuted in 2019, the designer tried to sell legitimate Nikes he had customized. He even tried, unsuccessfully, to get pairs directly from the brand at wholesale prices. With no real Nike connection, he bought shoes at retail to remake them with his horror movie graphic hits.

“I would go to Foot Locker and buy Air Force 1s,” Lotas says. “I was taking the Swoosh off and taking them to a cobbler, on a Nike product. It wasn’t the most lucrative business in the world.”

His next muse was the Nike SB Dunk Low, a version of the Dunk designed specifically for skateboarding that was first released in 2002. Rather than physically modifying the shoes, he posted an image on Instagram of a sample SB Dunk Low from 2006 made in the colors of Jason Voorhees. , replacing the curved endpoint of the Swoosh with a hockey mask à la Friday 13 character. It was Lotas’ attempt to introduce the macabre imagery of his eponymous brand to the world of sneakers. But just having the image was not enough.

The first Warren Lotas design based on Dunk. Image via Warren Lotas on Instagram

“We have to try to bring that to life,” the designer recalled in 2019. “I want to wear them. I want to have a hockey mask on that low-top sneaker.”

He started the long process of figuring out how to make and sell the shoes from there. Warren Lotas shoes are a far cry from their obvious source material. The shoes are stripped of the word “Nike”, occurrences of the brand name are replaced with the designer’s initials. The four designs he sold reference rare and authentic SB sneaker colorways, like Stussy’s from 2005 or the Heineken pair from 2003. Lotas began selling this first Voorhees design in November 2019, charging $300 per pair on what he said was an initial set of 1,000 pairs. Less than a year later, Nike filed a lawsuit. Somewhere in there, whatever substance the shoes had become obscured in.


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