Nike Won Its Motion Against Lil Nas X's 'Satan Shoes.' They Can Thank Trump [Updated]

Lil Nas X attends the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, Calif.
Lil Nas X attends the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, Calif.
Photo: Emma McIntyre (Getty Images)

The saga of Nike and Lil Nas X’s “Satan Shoes” continued on Thursday, with Nike scoring a legal win against streetwear firebrand MSCHF. Three days after Nike filed suit over the brand’s collaboration with the rapper—a customized Nike Air Max 97 featuring a pentagram pendant, reference to a Bible verse about Satan’s fall from Heaven, and most controversially, a drop of human blood—a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order banning further sale of the limited run of 666 pairs. The model was a co-branding with Lil Nas X, dropped in tandem with his latest single and provocative, Christianity-challenging video for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name).

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As reported by Business of Fashion on Thursday night:

A federal judge on Thursday sided with Nike Inc in ordering a Brooklyn company to temporarily stop further sales of “Satan Shoes” it produced in collaboration with the rapper Lil Nas X.

US District Judge Eric Komitee in Brooklyn ruled three days after Nike sued MSCHF Product Studio Inc, claiming that the black-and-red, devil-themed sneakers, which carry the Nike “swoosh” logo, infringed its trademarks...

Only 666 pairs, costing $1,018 each, were made. Lil Nas X, known for the song “Old Town Road,” was planning to select who gets the 666th pair, but that plan was shelved following Nike’s lawsuit filed on Monday. He is not a defendant in the case.

Lawyers for Nike and MSCHF had did not immediately offer comment to BoF on the suit, but in their defense of the “Satan Shoes,” MSCHF’s lawyers maintained the customized kicks were “not typical sneakers, but rather individually-numbered works of art,” citing the company’s 2019 “Jesus Shoes” based on the same Nike model, but including so-called “holy water” in the soles so the wearer could “walk on water.” Nike filed no suit over that interpretation of its design.

Also significant is the fact that due the demand on these limited edition sneakers, all but the 666th pair were sold within minutes of release, with no more planned for production. Nevertheless, attorneys for Nike—no stranger to having its iconic soles customized—maintained that a temporary restraining order was unnecessary “because shoe buyers would not think Nike was involved,” and “even ‘sneakerheads’ were actually confused by MSCHF’s shoes,” according to BoF. Attorneys also noted that “MSCHF had a ‘history’ of shipping infringing shoes faster than courts could stop it.”

As noted in our previous coverage of this already overwrought issue, the hypocrisy here is glaring. Not only did Nike not sue over a previous religious-themed interpretation of its shoe by the same brand, but, as pointed out by one of our more legally astute commenters, MattcannonTM:

...The First Sale Doctrine covers this exact issue. There is no law preventing me from buying something, modifying it, and then selling it for more money. As long as MSCHF is not claiming these are official Nike shoes, which they aren’t as they as they say they are customized Nike shoes, then Nike can’t do anything about it. Re-selling is 100% legal.

Furthermore Nike hasn’t gone after custom shoe companies in the past, including this one, which sets a precedent that it’s not something that’s ever affected them in the past, and therefore this shouldn’t either.

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Kinja commenter sTalkinggoat attacks! with Trollhammer for 14 DMG added more real-life context to the issue, offering the following analogy:

Think of this as like buying a modded out car. Honda doesn’t approve some garage to engine swap a Civic and put a crazy body kit on it. That garage is selling an aftermarket, modified product. Same thing with these sneakers. Most companies would kill to have a vibrant aftermarket community for their product because it’s free marketing

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Given Nike’s power in the marketplace, its decision to engage on this issue is telling...as is the judge who granted the restraining order. U.S. District Judge Eric Komitee is a former hedge fund attorney appointed to his federal seat by Donald Trump in 2019. While this no doubt will be one of the more trite (seriously, straight-up petty) cases Komitee’s likely ruled on to date, his endorsement of Nike’s hypocrisy even in the face of prior precedent (i.e. “Jesus Shoes,” among others) demonstrates the continued danger to just plain common sense posed by the thankfully now-former president.

During his four-year tenure, Trump appointed more than 200 federal judges, a predominantly white, male, and presumably conservative lot who now comprise more than a quarter of currently active federal judges (h/t Pew Research Center). Those judges now rule on myriad issues, from an obvious (and relatively minuscule) retail stunt involving a rapper to far more serious issues, like whether Crystal Mason will be convicted for mistakenly casting an illegal vote—or whether Georgia State Rep. Park Cannon will be convicted to years in prison for simply knocking on a door in her place of work to witness the signing of a bill that restricts voting rights in the newly (and tenuously) blue state.

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In this context, Nike’s suit over an already sold-out collaboration feels even more frivolous...especially when they could’ve just sat there and ate their food and waited for the “Satanic Panic” to dissipate, as the Bible-beaters would inevitably soon find somewhere else to direct their (equally manufactured) outrage. (May we volunteer Matt Gaetz as tribute?)

“Nike is playing themselves,” noted sTalkinggoat attacks! with Trollhammer for 14 DMG. “They look like fools for filing this [suit] and if they win then what? The aftermarket is going to abandon them and while that might not impact their profit margin a lot in the short term in the longterm they’re going to burn all the cool factor the have. For what? to placate Christian Right? Dumb, dumb, dumb.”

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As for Lil Nas X, who was not a co-defendant in Nike’s suit but indisputably at the center of it, who arguably still won in this dust-up due to the extra publicity, the typically troll-ready rapper expressed dismay over the ruling on Friday morning, tweeting:

“i haven’t been upset until today, i feel like it’s fucked up they have so much power they can get shoes cancelled. freedom of expression gone out the window. but that’s gonna change soon.”

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Updated: Monday, April 5, 2021, at 7:38 a.m., ET: In our prior coverage, we missed a statement by MSCHF released late last week, just after the judge’s ruling on Thursday evening, which was obtained by Women’s Wear Daily. Noting (as we did that there is legally no difference between Lil Nas X’s “Satan Shoe” and the previously released “Jesus Shoes,” the brand expressed that it was “honestly surprised” by the suit, further stating:

“We believe it is better to make art that participates directly in its subject matter. It is stronger to do a thing, than to talk about a thing. MSCHF makes artworks that live directly in the systems they critique, instead of hiding inside white-walled galleries...

“Satan is as much part of the art historical canon as Jesus, from Renaissance Hellmouths to Milton,” the statement continued. “Satan exists as the challenger to the ultimate authority. We were delighted to work with Lil Nas X on Satan Shoes and continue this dialogue.”

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According to WWD, MSCHF’s statement concluded with an indication that the company had hopes of resolving the suit with Nike in court, adding:

“MSCHF strongly believes in the freedom of expression, and nothing is more important than our ability, and the ability of other artists like us, to continue with our work over the coming years.”

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, co-host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door...May I borrow some sugar?

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