What Absolutely Cannot be Changed on the Air Force 1

It’s hard to believe that as footwear technology and tastes in fashion evolve, a 35-year-old sneaker remains a favorite. But the Nike Air Force 1, a performance basketball model-turned-lifestyle look, has managed to remain a staple in consumers’ sneaker collections since 1982.

To celebrate the iconic sneaker’s anniversary, Nike invited media to an event in Los Angeles last week to discuss the Air Force 1’s history, as well as shine a light on its future.

Following the event, Footwear News spoke with Charles Williams, the VP of men’s footwear at Nike, to discuss what changes to the shoe for new iterations or collaborations are allowed, as well as his personal favorite colorway of the shoe.

For collaborations or new iterations of the sneaker, what cannot be altered on the Air Force 1? Is anything off limits?
“If you would have asked me that about a year ago, I would have told you a myriad of different things. [But] I have a new generation of folks that work on my team that have helped me dream and see possibilities. That’s why you’re starting to see things like the SF AF1, you see what Virgil [Abloh] has done. Overall, it just has to be authentic to the culture that we’re trying to talk to. As long as it’s a two-way conversation, the sky is the limit. We’re talking 35 years and it’s still going, we still have new iterations coming within the next two years and four years and six years.

Virgil Abloh x Nike Air Force 1 Low
Virgil Abloh x Nike Air Force 1 Low

How has the Air Force 1 been able to stay relevant for 35 years? And how can Nike continue to keep it relevant?
“We don’t keep it relevant, the consumer does. It’s been in existence for 35 years because the consumer always comes and tells us, or works with us, and says, ‘This is right, we want you to do more of that.’ That’s what makes it relevant. We don’t get a chance to say, ‘This is relevant, it’s going to be here forever,’ because it will die. Generations of consumers have adopted it in their own way. We’re smart enough to know that we don’t get to dictate that. Back to the two-way conversation, as long as we’re connecting in an authentic way, I think it continues to grow.”

What is your favorite Air Force 1 of all time?
“Hands down, white-white OG low. I’ve worn it to funerals, I’ve worn it to weddings, graduations, every day. It might not be in fashion, but I was always stylish. It always works.”

Nike Air Force 1 Upstep Premium Low Bread & Butter
Nike Air Force 1 Upstep Premium Low “Bread & Butter”

Could anything be done to the Air Force 1 to make it basketball court relevant again?
“I don’t think it should be [court relevant]. That’s what we were doing 35 years ago. We have an innovation team that makes products better and technologically advanced that’s far beyond what we could do 35 years ago. We’ve always got to move forward. We don’t need to make a new Air Force 1 for the court. We just need to make sure that this is always about the culture of basketball, the culture of hip-hop, the culture of sneakers — all the things that are interconnected with the consumer from those subcultures.”

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