The Return of the Dunk: How Nike Dunks became the sneaker story of 2020

Shoe Laundry
December 4, 2020
7 minutes

If you’re a sneaker fan in 2020 , you’ve no doubt caught on to yet another Nike Dunk comeback. Only this time, the shoe has graduated from skate parks to runways. To understand how the Dunk’s return came to be, let’s take a look back at its story so far. 

The Drop 

The year was 1985. Nike dropped a little shoe called the Air Jordan 1. If you’re unfamiliar, check Michael Jordan’s feet. Later that same year, the Nike Dunk was revealed and quickly overshadowed by its big bro. 

Original 'Be True to Your School' print ad from 1985. Image via Nike.

The Dunk was released in conjunction with Nike’s college basketball partnership. Its “Be True to Your School” college pack featured colourways named after each campus. But compared to the gloss of MJ and the Bulls - even with a similar design to both the Air Jordan 1 and the Air Force 1 - the Dunk just didn’t hit the same. 

The Comeback

After that, the Dunk went into hiding for an entire decade before resurfacing for its turn-of-the-century comeback. This time it really hit. Nike had just formed its SB division and the Dunk became its segway into skate culture. 

Initial collabs with Supreme and pro skaters put Nike SB Dunks at the forefront of skate fashion. From Danny Supa to Richard Mulder, signature colourways and exclusive gems - like Supreme’s now coveted “City Series” - kept the Dunk on high demand. And as skating moved to the top of the cultural hierarchy, Dunks became must-haves for non-skaters, too. 

Image via Nike.

As trends go, things quieted down for the Dunk in 2010. Nike’s SB team kept dropping collabs, but mainstream fashion was moving in a different direction. 

The Renaissance   

That is until the sneaker lord himself, Virgil Abloh, got his hands on it. For his 2017 “The Ten” collab with Nike, Abloh revamped 10 iconic Nike classics in his signature style. Among these was the OFF-WHITE x Hyperdunk 2017. It featured all the Abloh staples: the red tag, the translucent upper, the words “foam” and “shoelaces” printed across the midsole and laces. The Dunk was officially back on the grid. 

Image via Nike.

Then again in late 2019, Abloh dropped the OFF-WHITE x Nike Dunk Low in colourways inspired by the original version. The market value of his “University Red” colourway alone (currently upwards of $700 CAD on StockX) proved that Abloh had potentially launched a full-on Dunk renaissance. 

The Slow Build 

But even Abloh can’t stage a one-man comeback single-handedly. OG colourways and new collabs of the Dunk have been creeping back into consciousness since “The Ten”. Releases no one cared about in 2016 have been adopting higher and higher price tags on resale sites. Culture creators like Travis Scott and Frank Ocean have been rocking classic SB Dunks on stage and in pap photos. 

Abloh may have started the Dunk conversation, but kicks culture has kept it talking. Sneakerheads love nostalgia, especially retros with a post-modern spin. The Dunk is a shoe that supplies that demand: it’s got all the gritty gloss of the 80s with a design simple enough to reboot for today. 

The Collabs & Colourways 

After being slept on, skated over, and Abloh’ed up, the Dunk has arrived at its 2020 refresh. Huge collaborations have been announced and released monthly, ever since 2019’s OFF-WHITE drop. From high fashion to SICKO MODE to Ben & Jerry's, the Dunk has reinvented itself with each partnership. And Nike is capitalizing on the revival by unveiling iconic colourways of its own.

Here are some of this year’s most notable Nike Dunk releases. 

Nike SB x Ben & Jerry's Dunk Low Pro

Image via Nike.

Lovingly nicknamed “Chunky Dunky”, this may be 2020’s tastiest collab. The Ben & Jerry’s Dunk rendition features hairy-suede cow print panelling, a swoosh that drips like a scoop of Half-Baked, stitched-on clouds under the heel tab, and a tie-dyed lining and insole. 

Nike Dunk Low “Brazil” 

Image via Nike.

Debuted in 2001, Nike brought back the “Brazil” colourway for the Dunk’s return. This retro features a yellow leather upper, green overlays, and a white midsole. 

Nike SB Dunk Low Grateful Dead

Image via Nike.
Image via Nike.

Deadheads and sneakerheads unite for this 70s-style release. Inspired by the band’s most iconic symbol - the dancing bears - the shoe features a bear-like faux fur and suede upper, a frayed Nike Swoosh, and a print of the bear on each tongue in three bright colourways. 

Travis Scott x Nike SB Dunk Low “Cactus Jack” 

Image via Nike.

Travis Scott’s much anticipated Dunk Low collab dropped in February and pretty much broke the internet. Sneaker Freaker even collected the most cringe resale account DMs from fans hoping to secure a pair. The shoe features khaki-toned uppers, bandana pattern overlays and tartan plaid detailing along the mid-foot panels.

Nike x Comme des Garcons Dunk Low 

Image via Nike.

This high fashion, unisex collab features transparent Nexkin textiles, Comme des Garcons all-over monogram print, and simple black detailing. 

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Image via Nike.
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