These sneakers are not meant to be resold. They are not meant to be shrink-wrapped and stared at on a display wall or kept pristine in a box in the back of your closet.
“These are shoes that are meant to be worn to the ground,” says Alex Bruzzi, chief business officer at Los Angeles-based retail brand and sneaker boutique chain Undefeated. They are meant, the brand’s leadership says, to be crashed, to be put through the rigors of regular wear.
Undefeated is one of the most historically important sneaker shops in the world, its relevance owing partly to a deep catalog of special projects with Nike that stretches back almost 20 years. On Tuesday, the store released its latest Nike collaboration: a first proper retail offering of its rare olive green Air Max 97s that caused chaos at ComplexCon in 2017, and a new Air Max 97 colorway that blends in neon hits as a nod to the Air Max 95. Both are priced at $180. The hope is that people will put them on the streets instead of putting them up.
This goal aligns with the sneaker tendencies of Bruzzi, who started working at Undefeated a few weeks after the first location, in Los Angeles, opened in 2002.
“Personally, I never really collected sneakers,” Bruzzi says. “I just enjoyed them. Sure, I have enough pairs that you would think I’m a collector, but it’s something to wear.”
When he was growing up in Los Angeles, the Air Max 97 was a wild out shoe, the kind you’d switch into for extracurricular activities after a day of skateboarding. That history, part of a near universal enthusiasm for the model at Undefeated, made its first Air Max 97 project that released in 2017 an appropriate one.
“The 97 actually happened very organically,” Bruzzi remembers. “It was just a shoe that we all—ownership, everyone—loved growing up.”
The original set of Undefeated x Air Max 97s was more purposefully precious. The first to release were two patent leather pairs, one white and the other black, in September 2017. Their shiny uppers and red and green accenting channeled a luxurious air, seemingly referencing the 97’s status in Italy by linking it to the recognizable colors of Gucci.
Then there was the friends and family exclusive Air Max 97 that fall, a sneaker dressed in the classic Undefeated palette of orange and olive green. The plan was to release a limited number of pairs at ComplexCon in November 2017, but chaos at the convention forced the store to shut it down. Long lines immediately formed, scuffles broke out, and the release was canceled.
“I remember the first kid in line when everything got really bad,” Bruzzi says. “I had to literally grab him by the arm and get him out of the line because he was young and short, he was gonna get stomped out.”
After bouncing him from the line over concern for his safety, Bruzzi later tracked the kid down and let him buy the sneakers, even though Undefeated wasn’t supposed to sell any pairs at that point. The episode was conflicting—there was a palpable energy around the Undefeated x Air Max 97, but it was proving to be too much to contain. It’s a reminder that no matter a store or designer’s intentions, collectors will flock if stock is limited enough. And when a flock like that forms, disorder usually follows.
Years later, Undefeated is revisiting that elusive shoe by bringing it back today alongside the new black and neon pair. The team wanted to deliver on a product they were proud of and make the previously unattainable olive Air Max 97 somewhat more accessible. Undefeated even dropped a surprise two-pair pack release over the weekend, selling both shoes for $360 and offering buyers the chance to own a matching figurine.
It’s kept pricing for those looking to flip the shoes low, sort of thwarting those efforts by packaging the two colorways together. For some resellers, the pack rendered the black pair as a brick that’s barely going over its retail price on the secondary market. Then again, these sneakers were not meant to be resold. Undefeated designed them to be thrashed more than treasured.
“We just wanted to give a chance to kids that wanted it,” says Bruzzi.