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Nike went after MSCHF's Satan Shoes, but not its Jesus shoes

Quartz logo Quartz 3/30/2021 Marc Bain
The Nike swoosh logo is seen outside the store on 5th Ave in New York © Provided by Quartz The Nike swoosh logo is seen outside the store on 5th Ave in New York

Nike was not happy to learn that MSCHF, a team of product designers based in Brooklyn, used one of its existing sneaker styles to create what the group has dubbed “Satan Shoes” in collaboration with rapper Lil Nas X. The shoes are black Air Max 97s that MSCHF customized without Nike’s involvement, attaching a bronze pentagram at the laces, adding red embroidery, and injecting ink and “1 drop human blood” into the sneaker’s sole, according to MSCHF’s website, which put 666 pairs up for sale at $1,018 each.

Yesterday Nike filed a lawsuit against the company for trademark infringement and dilution, which is more action than it apparently took in 2019, when MSCHF released its notorious “Jesus Shoes”—customized white Air Max 97s with soles containing water from the Jordan River that MSCHF had blessed by a priest. Nike didn’t bother to disavow the shoes then, to the disappointment of at least one designer on MSCHF’s team who spoke to the New York Times last year. “That would’ve been rad,” he said.

Nike isn’t commenting on its new lawsuit, beyond providing a statement saying it has no connection to MSCHF or Lil Nas X and did not authorize the shoes. But its court filing offers a hint: This time the company is contending with public anger.

A screen capture from Nike's lawsuit against MSCHF. © Provided by Quartz A screen capture from Nike's lawsuit against MSCHF.

An exhibit from Nike’s court filing showing its original Air Max 97 sneakers next to MSCHF’s customized Satan Shoes.

Why Nike is suing MSCHF

Nike stated in its filing that “there is already evidence of significant confusion and dilution occurring in the marketplace, including calls to boycott Nike in response to the launch of MSCHF’s Satan Shoes based on the mistaken belief that Nike has authorized or approved this product.” It included screenshots of comments from social-media users expressing their outrage or vowing to never wear Nike again.

It also noted, “In the short time since the announcement of the Satan Shoes, Nike has suffered significant harm to its goodwill, including among consumers who believe that Nike is endorsing satanism.”

MSCHF is known for what are basically viral products, like its recent “Birkinstocks“—Birkenstock sandals made from Hermès Birkin bags. It originally conceived of the Jesus Shoes as a way to troll sneaker makers and their fans about the proliferating number of sneaker collaborations.

“We thought of that Arizona Iced Tea and Adidas collab, where they were selling shoes that [advertised] a beverage company that sells iced tea at bodegas,” Daniel Greenberg, the group’s head of strategy, told the New York Post in 2019. “So we wanted to make a statement about how absurd collab culture has gotten.” He wondered what a collaboration with Jesus would look like, and said that, being Jewish, the only thing he really knew about Jesus was that he walked on water.

The Satan Shoes with Lil Nas X were apparently a logical follow-up. They could prove costly though. In addition to asking the court to make MSCHF cease fulfilling orders for its Satan Shoes, Nike is also seeking damages.

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