Yemi Bamiro explores the rise of Nikes Air Jordan’s and the effects of having a chokehold on supply vs demand in the fascinatingly balanced One Man and His Shoes.
A sportsman with once-in-a-generation talent, Michael Jordan was held up as a symbol of Black progress; he had his own phenomenally successful trainer brand that made Nike one of the most profitable companies in the world. Bamiro deftly charts the rise of Jordan against 80’s and 90’s pop-culture milestones. Hip hop, Spike Lee, the emergence of the mega-watt and mega-rich sports personalities. He also highlights how brands became savvy manipulators of youth culture. By stoking America’s toxic obsession with consumerism and celebrity in a climate of increasing class and race inequality.
Back in 1884 Nike boldly put all of their eggs into the Michael Jordan basket after his draft pick to the Chicago Bulls. They promoted and shone a light so bright on Jordan that he simply had to succeed. Luckily for them and Jordan, he had the skill, belief and determination to shine brighter than they could ever fathom.
You would be forgiven especially if you are European for not knowing the full detail behind Michael Jordan’s contract and beginnings with Nike. Here filmmaker Yemi Bamiro guides us through the story of just how a basketball players name on some shoes became a billion-dollar idea. Early on you become aware that this is not going to be an overly glossy documentary, noted by the fact that some key people are not included in it.
Still, this look into the early stages of Air Jordans is greatly interesting for the layman. So much foundation was built in the opening years to make the product what it is today. Thanks to playing off a rebellious feel to the shoes and not the cheesy paint by numbers feel to shoes. Air Jordans would become banned for a while in the NBA, only boosting the demand and showing that these were THE shoes to get.
Learning that Nike shrewdly chose to push the purchase costs high and bring a low quantity of shoes to sale to cause a surge for demand was brilliant. This was usually only done for the super-rich in society, but by having the shoes at just about affordable (putting the lower-income person under strained financial circumstances all the same). It meant that they would almost always sell out. As stated, it was hoped that the first Air Jordan’s would make only a few million dollars in their first year. They made $126 million. Great for Nike and Jordan. But, potentially disastrous for those who were lower-income fans and supporters of this new black athlete. The status symbol of owning a pair of these shoes meant everything to the target demo and as such issues would arise.
This is where One Man and His Shoes detours from celebrating the Air Jordans and those involved in it’s creation to showing the effects of their bold marketing campaign. Robberies, jail time and death would follow a lot of the people who were desperate to own a pair. Owning a pair meant everything to urban children, teenagers and young adults. Bamiro who was generous to celebrating the shoe is equally as critical of the cause and effect of them.
Social pressures of not owning what your friends have can be massive on youngsters and socioeconomic pressures led people down the saddest and desperate of roots.
Jordan memorably never spoke out about the violence that centred around the trainer with his name on it. Would it have helped? Most likely not given that the idea of Air Jordan’s had grown beyond the man himself. One Man and His Shoes poses the question onto Jordan and specifically Nike on whether they had responsibility. As they were selling the product could have done more and if the reason for them not doing more was due to the profits they were seeing. Was capitalism above humanism a moot idea?
Many will have their thoughts on who to blame, the corporate entity, the person who it is named after or the families and society as a whole for taking in on the power of the marketing. In truth, some blame resides amongst everyone, but certainly more so on the brands themselves.
A word has to be said for how fair Bamiro tries to be through his documentary, he doesn’t want to portray Nike or Jordan as the evil entity. They merely tried to get in the market where they were struggling to help their company grow. Similarly, Jordan was young and took the deal of a lifetime, but could their responses have been better to the violence? Here in the later end of the documentary we are told of an instance of Jordan reaching out to a family of a murdered son. Murdered for the shoes he wore in the most tone death fashion possible. Bamiro has responses to this, showing just how balanced this documentary is.
One Man and His Shoes is a culturally important documentary and while it centres on the Air Jordan’s. You can effectively take any major product and see similarities in how people treat it now.
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