On July 14, 2021, Nike is set to release one of its more controversial shoes—the Nike Air Force 1 Experimental “Postal Ghost.”
Nike has always been known to push the envelope with its unique sneaker and clothing designs. (Sorry for the bad pun.) As part of its “Experimental Pack,” Nike is set to outfit one of its most iconic and classic sneaker silhouettes, the Air Force One, with a unique United States Postal Service (USPS) colorway. Similar to the brand’s United Parcel Service (UPS) design, the sneaker was made to look like one of the postal service’s flat rate shipping boxes. However, upon seeing leaked, non-authorized images of the shoe, USPS was quick to call the sportswear giant out for using its branding to sell its shoes.
In a statement in late April, the Postal Service proclaimed that the sneaker was “neither licensed nor otherwise authorized by the U.S. Postal Service.” Further, the government service continued:
The Postal Service, which receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations, protects it intellectual property…Officially licensed products sold in the marketplace expand the affinity for the Postal Service brand and provide incremental revenue through royalties that directly support it.
The Postal Service was quick to point out the irony in Nike using someone else’s branding without its permission to make a profit. In October 2020, Nike brought a “trademark and anti-dilution” suit against the popular streetwear designer, Warren Lotas, for more or less ripping off its brand. Nike specifically said that the lawsuit against the designer was “to protect its intellectual property and to clear the confusion in the marketplace by setting the record straight.” Then, this past April, Nike brought suit against MSCHF Product Studio for the company’s “Satan Shoes,” designed by pop superstar Lil Nas X. The sneakers came with the hefty price of $1,018 a pair. (They’re currently selling for over $1,800 on eBay.) The company quickly settled the suit, voluntarily “recalling” the shoes.
It is pretty funny (at least, to me) that the company is so quick to “protect its identity” and bring suits against any entity that uses anything that remotely resembles its famed swoosh, but yet doesn’t see the problem with using other entities’ branding. For example, the brand’s upcoming “EMB Pack” rips off the “big three” Los Angeles sports teams: the Lakers, Dodgers, and Kings. (As a Pitt alumnus, I was hoping they’d do a Royal Blue/Yellow colorway for the Rams.) Although, Nike does produce the merchandising for the Lakers and Dodgers through partnerships with the NBA and MLB, they oddly don’t use the team’s logos, rather they use the teams’ respective typefaces, or something close to it, to emblazon “Nike” on the heel. It seems to me that Nike is doing exactly what it hates others doing: using a storied brand to make a profit for itself. But I digress.
In any event, things have seemed to cool off between Nike and the Postal Service. The two entities have settled the lawsuit and USPS will officially license the “Postal Ghost” sneakers, which are set to be released on July 14. The details about the licensing deal between Nike and USPS are unknown. However, there is nothing about USPS on the sneaker’s page on the Nike website, rather just information about the Air Force One’s design.
All in all, it is interesting to see what will happen next with Nike—the brand never seems to sleep.
3L & Editor-in-Chief of the Buffalo Environmental Law Journal. Sad fan of the Philadelphia sports teams and Tottenham Hotspur. I enjoy writing and learning about the intersection of sports and business law, with a focus on the NHL. H2P!