Designer John Geiger calls Nike’s Air Force 1 design ownership ‘unreasonable’

There’s no confusion between his AF1 lookalike sneaker and Nike’s, he says.

The litigation between Nike and John Geiger concerning the designer’s lookalike Air Force 1 sneaker has escalated. After a California judge refused to dismiss the trademark infringement, false designation of origin, and unfair competition claims that Nike set against Geiger, the designer’s attorneys have filed a counter claim against Nike’s lawsuit.

According to a court document filed on February 22, as first seen by Complex, Geiger’s attorneys seek to “invalidate and cancel” what they argue are unenforceable trademarks. The designer and his team have maintained throughout the lawsuit that his GF-01 sneaker has little resemblance to Nike’s Air Force 1 sneaker, pointing out the shoe’s original sole, new materials, and separate logos.

Recognition vs. replica — Geiger’s counter claim now responds to each statement made in Nike’s initial complaint, which also added the designer to an existing lawsuit against La La Land Production & Design Inc, a supplier for both Geiger and previous Nike defendant Warren Lotas. According to Geiger, La La Land Production “merely created a GF-01 prototype based on the design Geiger provided” and is not involved in the manufacturing — leaving the designer to take full accountability for his sneakers.

US District Court, Nike v John Geiger Co

Much of Geiger’s defense follows up on his earlier argument: The trade dress of the Air Force 1, including the exterior stitching, paneling, eyelets, and ridge-patterned outsole, is not the same as his GF-01. His counter claim cites recent modifications of the Air Force 1, including Travis Scott’s 2019 Cactus Jack collaboration and a Serena Williams-inspired iteration, as examples of Nike deviating from its own trade dress — making the brand’s trade dress protections too vague, according to Geiger’s team.

Getting down to detail, the designer’s counter claim offers a side-by-side breakdown of the Air Force 1 and GF-01 sneakers. The slope of the toe box, height of the midsole, curvature of the heel, and the pattern of the outsole all differ between the shoes, the breakdown shows — and, most notably, Geiger’s shoe lacks a Nike Swoosh. According to the comparison, the designer’s GF-01 is made of higher quality materials, too: “Moreover, the GF-01 is constructed with premium leather and, on certain models, fuzzy chenille ‘G’ branding that is more luxurious than the materials Nike uses on the Air Force 1,” the counter claim reads (rather pettily).

US District Court, Nike v John Geiger Co

“Unreasonable” confusion — These design differences, along with the GF-01’s higher price point and stockist exclusivity, make it unreasonable for customers to confuse the GF-01 and AF1, Geiger argues. For good measure, the designer has also made mention of other Air Force 1-style designs — including BAPE’s Bapesta sneaker — which Nike has not taken legal action against.

As part of the counter claim, Geiger asks that Nike’s Air Force 1 trade dress registration be ruled invalid and unenforceable by law, an argument that other designers may use against the Swoosh in its fight against customizers. Geiger also seeks restitution for the case, which began last August, alongside reimbursement for attorney’s fees.

“Our shoes speak for themselves… Sneakerheads are sophisticated consumers who know [Geiger’s design] and will never be confused between the two,” reads a statement from the Geiger brand to Complex. “Nike is Nike and JG is JG.”

Update: This story has been updated to reflect the fact John Geiger filed a counterclaim, not countersuit, against Nike.