In 2007, ANC [Advisory Neighborhood Commission] Commissioner Tijwanna Phillips was first,+
shocked, then infuriated when her son Jonathan purchased a pair of the non-descript tennis shoes called Prison Issue #23. The Velcro canvas shoes, manufactured by the Van's shoe company, were designed for and worn primarily by inmates in correctional institutions across the country.
"I found the shoes to be offensive. My son and other teenagers initially defended the shoes because it appears on the surface to be about nothing but fashion, but it goes to who we are as a people. I am aware of and feel the same about the Scarface t-shirts and items that glorify criminal activity, drug use and poor behavior. We have to reinforce that some fashion and fads are not acceptable for us as a people," said Phillips.
However, Vans' Public Relations Specialist Chris Overholser insisted that while Vans was sympathetic to some consumers' distaste for the name and popularity of the shoes among youth, the "history and heritage of the shoes makes clear they were never meant to be marketed to young consumers or glorify prison life."
While it took the African American community years to see the proverbial handwriting on the wall and come to the same conclusions as Phillips, the announcement by Adidas Originals, that they were releasing a new fashion tennis shoe with shackles on it, convinced many that racism was alive and well in consumer culture.
"Our children don't need anything that is enticing that would glorify prison. I have heard our [black] kids say that 'white kids wear them too,' but white children are not the ones in prison at alarming rates," Phillips said.
And just as Vans shoes considered the popularity of the Prison #23 series among civilian populations good for business, if not race relations, Adidas Originals, similarly released a statement saying JS Roundhouse Mid shoe "is nothing more than the designer Jeremy Scott's outrageous and unique take on fashion and has nothing to do with slavery. Any suggestion that this is linked to slavery is untruthful," the company said in a statement."
Far and beyond linking the shoes to slavery, Adidas also would have promoted the type of cultural consumer pathology that Phillips and others believe foster a glamorization of prison life.
The Roundhouse Mid, a high-top purple, orange and black sneaker, is designed with a plastic ankle shackle and chains and retail for $350. Fortunately, the uproar over the shoes, which were previewed on the Adidas Originals Facebook page two weeks ago, has stymied the August release. On June 19, Adidas released a statement: "Since the shoe debuted on our Facebook page ahead of its market release in August, Adidas has received both favorable and critical feedback. We apologize if people are offended by the design and we are withdrawing our plans to make them available in the marketplace."