It’s that time of year: companies are trying to go gay to get rainbow pay.
Some companies will do it better than others, yes, and many will fail as they attempt to appeal (Or steal?) to our culture in order to sell to our culture. It’s an interesting time to be alive, with money in hand.
My favorite incarnation of this is in footwear. Nike has long been a leader with their Be True campaign, a limited edition rainbow tinted shoe line that benefits fuzzy (i.e., no specifics on organizations) queer causes. This is their sixth year making for queer people who wear shoes. That’s big, in some way.
Not one to be outdone, adidas has finally gotten in on queer footies with their Pride Pack, a collection of gay shoes that similarly apply rainbows to successful shoe styles. This appears to be their third try despite my not hearing about the effort until now. The effort previously helped New Avenues for Youth which is great and specific although indirectly queer.
My question, in looking at these two queer capitalist thirst traps, is which attempt is gayer? Which truly is rainbow? Which embraces what it means to be queer? Which feels most “us”? Let’s run through the shoes and investigate, analyzing each drop to fully understand these rainbow dollar efforts.
ROUND ONE: adidas Pure Boost DPR Pride VS. Nike BETRUE Epic React Flyknit
STYLE: adidas Boosts with some of those under-the-eye pregame things that athletes wear (but on the cheek of the shoe, in “skintones”) while Nike Flyknits are given a night treatment with a strong glowing undercarriage that reminds of those cars from the nineties that had neon lights underneath them.
QUEERNESS: Some of the most understated of the bunch, these two shoes opt to make queerness two diferent ways: one goes for the body and the other turns it into a subtle nightclub. No, I guess we don’t want to be wearing full fucking rainbows (Or do we?) but I see nothing LGBTQ+ in adidas’ shoe while Nike is at least suggesting an after hours eroticism.
WINNER: Nike. I just don’t see anything queer about this adidas shoe.
ROUND ONE: Nike BETRUE Vapormax Plus VS. adidas Originals Deerupt Pride
STYLE: A shoe that could be a sea creature from Nike and a fenced in party from adidas.
QUEERNESS: Is this even a contest? The Nike shoes are like a faggy fever dream where I am a real fairy from the future and each of the articulated purple-pink parts on the shoe are tendrils to pleasure myself and others. The subtle yet forward rainbow and use of shapes is also very interesting, making this shoe stand for not only our inherent weirdness but our shapeshifting ways. Meanwhile adidas offers a good effort with extreme pinstriping of the rainbow caught behind a cotton lattice. I like these shoes – I do! – but the idea of “fencing” in the rainbow seems more reminiscent of gays in Auschwitz than celebrating. Why wasn’t the fence rainbow instead? Unsure. Still, these are both brands flashiest shoe.
WINNER: Nike. Easily. They went there or whatever.
ROUND ONE: adidas Originals i-5932 Pride VS. Nike BETRUE Air Max 270
STYLE: The classic tri-stripe adidas walker meets the most forwardly runner focused – Yet streetwear cool! – Nike footie.
QUEERNESS: adidas takes the lead here with a subdued, abstracted, distant recreation of the rainbow. The muted color palette does irk me (Why should queers ever be understated?) but it works here because the colors are actually visible and we almost get the full spectrum. Needs more purple though. This Nike shoe is cool but feels the most distracted: circular pattern, pink details, rainbow heel, black and white and gray – it’s a lot. I don’t hate it, no, but I wish it could have somehow been more extra instead of seeming like a bit of clashing.
WINNER: adidas! This is a sweet little shoe.
ROUND ONE: Nike BETRUE Zoom Fly VS. adidas Originals Campus Pride
STYLE: More futuristic jellyfish feet meets vanilla classics. Both aren’t that exciting but Nike has a smaller edge because of their space aquaticness.
QUEERNESS: Both of these shoes are boring and not-gay but Nike “did that” by adding the pink triangle. This is such a little thing, yes, but the pink triangle is our reclaimed noose: it was the symbol used in Auschwitz and Nazi Germany to denote queer people. Do I like that a brand is co-opting this? Not at all. However, it is radically queer – and that takes some chutzpah to pull off (versus tiny rainbow striped diamonds that would be hidden under the cuff of a pant).
Nike. By a very thin, almost problematic margin. (Updated, May 31: As Act Out points out, the brand should donate to…Act Up, since they were sited as a source. They’ve also incurred a backlash from this usage.)
This really wasn’t even a competition. Nike’s shoes are more exciting, hands down. They’re gayer, they’re more fun, and they make people turn heads as queer people should always do. However, both brands fail because they both opted for subtlety this year. I’m not asking for neon rainbow (Yes, I am.) but these could be “normal” shoes. Save for the pink triangle, none of these shoes are aggressively homo. When a brand tries to pander to us, they should also be trying to teach or educate or inform a buyer about a culture and a history. The pink triangle suggests that in an exciting-but-gross way. That shoe, independent of all these designs, gives Nike the queer edge because they literally put our history on the skin. Corporate rainbow dollar grabby, sure, but I’m glad they’re at least not being coy with the truth of their wearers.