Nike Stirs Controversy for Selling Balaclava, Which Some Say Cashes in on Gang Culture

It’s been a tumultuous few months for Nike, with its latest challenge going past the boardroom and into the sportswear giant’s very stores.

The Swoosh has recently come under fire for selling a head garment that critics have argued cashes in on gang culture in the black community. The product in question? A balaclava from the brand’s collaborative apparel line with Matthew M. Williams.

The item, which is characterized by minimal visibility of the face, features a pocket for small items as well as a foldable head that includes a carabiner. Modeled on the site by a black man with tattoos down his arm, the balaclava also has straps that some on the Internet have likened to holsters. It was designed in partnership with Matthew M. Williams, whose streetwear label Alyx has seen patrons from Virgil Abloh to Kanye West.

The online backlash came swiftly, with complaints that the balaclava exploits gang culture and concerns about the recent wave of knife attacks that has been spreading in London. “This is a disgrace… #knifecrime is out of control, especially in London. Gang Culture is becoming out of control. This is disgusting gang culture fashion for profit,” said Pete Price, a Twitter user whose bio describes him as a broadcaster, journalist and entertainer based in Liverpool, just over 200 miles northwest of England’s capital city.

Separately, in a video posted on Facebook, social media commentator Paul Mckenzie brought even more attention to the product, urging viewers to share their opinion on an item that he described as “menacing.”

“We look at images of young people on the streets, and they look menacing already,” he said. “So Nike decides to bring out a balaclava range, which looks absolutely menacing. Maybe I’m getting old, maybe I’m a dinosaur — but this balaclava range looks like it’s quite inciteful [sic].”

Although the product is no longer listed on Nike’s e-commerce platform, it can still be found on the Alyx website — albeit sold out at a retail price of $92.

In a statement sent to FN, a Nike spokesperson said, “These products were part of a wider Nike Training collection, styled on different models and available in multiple markets around the world. We are in no way condoning or encouraging the serious issue of criminal and gang culture.”

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