Nike sued Japanese fashion brand A Bathing Ape, also known as BAPE, in New York on Wednesday for allegedly copying some of its most famous shoes. For years, many have speculated about why Nike hadn’t taken aggressive legal action against Japanese streetwear brand A Bathing Ape, BAPE, after it had released several sneakers that appeared to be clear derivatives of its own designs. The question regained momentum over the past few years, as Nike targeted independent sneaker companies that sold an ‘inspired’ Air Jordan 1, Air Force 1, or Dunk-like model.
The shoe giant’s Manhattan federal court lawsuit said BAPE’s footwear business “revolves around copying Nike’s iconic designs,” and that some of its shoes are “near verbatim” copies of Nike’s Air Force 1, Air Jordan 1, and Dunk sneakers.
Representatives for the companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
BAPE, founded by designer Tomoaki Nagao, is owned by Hong Kong-based I.T. Ltd. According to the lawsuit, BAPE began selling products in the United States in the mid-2000s. Nike said BAPE’s U.S. sales of the shoes were “sporadic” until 2021, when it “drastically increased the volume and scope of its infringement.”
“BAPE’s copying is and always has been unacceptable to Nike, and because BAPE’s infringements have recently grown to become a significant danger to Nike’s rights, Nike must act now,” the lawsuit said. Nike also said BAPE “refused” to stop the alleged violations when asked. The lawsuit said BAPE’s designs will cause confusion among potential customers. It cited secondary-market sellers who referred to the BAPE shoes as “Air Force 1s” or “Dunks.”
Nike asked the court to order BAPE to stop selling the shoes and requested an unspecified amount of money damages. The case is Nike Inc v. USAPE LLC, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 1:23-cv-00660.
A graphic chart in the lawsuit submitted by Nike compares Bape’s Bape Sta to the Air Force 1, Bape Sta Mid to the Air Force 1 Mid, Sk8 Sta to the Dunk, Court Sta High to the Air Jordan 1, and Court Sta to the Air Jordan 1 Low. Originally released in 2000, the Bape Sta is Bape’s flagship sneaker. Taking cues from Japanese streetwear culture, the shoes were generally styled in vibrant colors and often featured patent leather builds. While resembling the Air Force 1, the Bape Sta (and other Bape sneakers) is marked by the company’s ‘STA’ logo.
Addressing why it waited as long as it did to take legal action against BAPE, Nike says that’s not exactly the case. According to the lawsuit, Nike met with BAPE in 2009 to discuss the designs, resulting in the company diminishing its U.S. activities and closing most of its stores in the country. BAPE re-designed the Bape Sta in 2016 to less resemble the Air Force 1, but reintroduced its original version of the silhouette in 2021. That’s when Nike says BAPE “drastically increased the volume and scope of its infringement.” BAPE also allegedly refused to stop selling the infringing shoes when asks. Now, the question about Nike’s apparent reluctance to go after BAPE is no more, as the two are finally heading toward a courtroom showdown.
In other news, the Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG True Blue has recently released.