2021 certainly saw its share of surprises that rippled through the industry, sparking fierce debate and sometimes condemnation.
Below are 10 of the major events that had people talking this year (listed in no particular order):
Naomi Osaka Withdraws From French Open
In late May, when tennis star Naomi Osaka announced she was withdrawing from the 2021 French Open — after being fined $15,000 for skipping a press conference due to anxiety — she ignited a heated debate about mental health, the expectations for athletes and the pressures of fame. While some rebuked Osaka’s decision, other athletes and her sponsor Nike voiced their support. And Osaka’s actions later inspired Olympian Simone Biles to prioritize her own health over medals at the Tokyo Olympics.
Lil Nax X “Satan Shoes”
In late March, Lil Nas X debuted the custom Nike Air Max 97 “Satan Shoes,” which were done in collaboration with MSCHF, during the music video for “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” that is replete with demonic imagery. Almost immediately after its release, Nike distanced itself from the custom shoes and in late March sued MSCHF Product Studio Inc. for trademark infringement, but quickly settled when MSCHF agreed to a recall and refunds for customers. However, that didn’t stop Lil Nas X from featuring the “Satan Shoes” in the trailer for his single “Industry Baby,” where he appears to be on trial for the controversial sneakers.
Tragedy at Astroworld
On Nov. 5, a crowd surge on night 1 of Travis Scott’s two-day Astroworld Festival in Houston resulted in the deaths of 10 people and hundreds of injuries, according to reports. In the wake of the tragedy, Nike postponed the release of its latest planned collaboration with Scott: the Air Max 1 x Cactus Jack. Beverage company Anheuzer-Busch also put Scott’s hard seltzer, Cacti, on hiatus.
Sha’Carri Richardson Misses the Olympics
Track-and-field star Sha’Carri Richardson wasn’t allowed to join Team USA at the Summer Olympics this summer after receiving a one-month suspension for testing positive for marijuana. The news shook the country, which remains philosophically split about the drug. But while the fan-favorite runner missed out on Tokyo, the controversy certainly raised Richardson’s profile, leading her to new destinations such as the red carpet of the ESPY Awards and the Met Gala.
Teen Vogue Editor Resigns
Days before she was slated to start her new job as editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, Alexi McCammond resigned the post under pressure from staff, readers and advertisers. The backlash was related to social posts from 2011, where McCammond tweeted comments that included derogatory Asian stereotypes and slurs for gay people. McCammond apologized for the tweets in 2019 and deleted them, but screenshots resurfaced following the news of her Teen Vogue appointment.
DaBaby Loses Deal With BoohooMan
Rapper DaBaby was ultimately dropped by his partner BoohooMan after video appeared on social media of the hip hop artist making homophobic comments while onstage at the Rolling Loud music festival in Miami. In a statement, BoohooMan condemned DaBaby’s statements and emphasized its support for the LGBTQ+ community. Singer Dua Lipa, who had collaborated with DaBaby in the past, also spoke out against his actions.
Nike North American Exec Resigns
In February, a Bloomberg Businessweek cover story profiling 19-year-old entrepreneur Joe Hebert — who runs a sneaker resale business called West Coast Streetwear — ignited a social media firestorm when it revealed Joe’s mother was longtime Nike executive Ann Hebert. Sneaker fans lobbed accusations of nepotism within the competitive resale business. And though Nike denied that Ann Hebert violated any company policies, the VP and GM of North America resigned from her role in March, just eight months after taking on the leadership position.
Dolce & Gabbana vs Diet Prada
It’s been over three years since Dolce & Gabbana canceled its Great Show runway event in Shanghai after being blasted by Instagram fashion watchdog Diet Prada for anti-Asian marketing and alleged racist DMs by Stefano Gabbana (the designer claimed his account was hacked). But the fallout continued into 2021. Hearings for D&G’s defamation lawsuit against Diet Prada finally began in an Italian court, sparking fresh debates about cancel culture and the nature of criticism.
Michael Avenatti Sentenced for Nike Extortion
Technically, this wasn’t a 2021 scandal since Michael Avenatti was first indicted in 2019 for trying to extort $22.5 million from Nike. However, the ongoing legal saga concluded in July of this year, when the celebrity lawyer — who came to fame for representing adult film star Stormy Daniels — was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in a New York federal court. According to reports, Avenatti was found guilt of plotting to siphon millions of dollars from the Swoosh by threatening to disclose evidence that Nike made illicit payments to elite student athletes.