John Geiger, a sneaker customizer who’s built his own brand based on his GF-01 shoe, was sued by Nike last August, with the Swoosh claiming that his sneaker infringes on its Air Force 1 design. In response, Geiger filed to dismiss the allegation, writing in an Instagram post that he’s “been very clear through two years of manufacturing and selling the GF-01 that it was inspired by Nike, and also made sure that anyone purchasing the shoe is aware that it is a designer shoe crafted with higher materials and quality, along with [his own] trademark and changes to the silhouette.”
Yet neither that explanation nor further remarks from attorneys satisfied the lawsuit’s judge, who recently refused to dismiss the trademark infringement, false designation of origin, and unfair competition claims that Nike has set against Geiger, as The Fashion Law reports.
No Swoosh, no problem? — In a past interview with Input, Geiger had said he wasn’t concerned about getting sued by Nike, calling a lawsuit “impossible.” According to the designer, his work “changed [the sneaker] way too much,” using an original sole, new materials, and separate logos. As he said in his Instagram post, his GF-01 sneaker was a tasteful homage to Nike’s AF1 — not a bootleg copy.
Geiger and his attorneys maintained this narrative throughout the lawsuit, arguing that the similarities between the stitching on the GF-01 and AF1 were purely functional, keeping the shoes from falling apart. Per TFL, Geiger also argued — albeit unsuccessfully — that without Nike’s trademarked Swoosh, the GF-01 has little resemblance to the Air Force 1 sneaker. Overall, the court decided that while the GF-01 sneaker did not necessarily pose a threat to Nike’s AF1 sales, it was similar enough to continue the lawsuit.
Geiger’s supplier, La La Land Production and Design Inc — already named in another Nike lawsuit for producing allegedly illegal Dunk sneakers created by customizer Warren Lotas — will also continue to face allegations in the lawsuit, as Nike has claimed the production company attempted to capitalize on its designs.
Surviving the Swoosh — Nike is notoriously protective of its sneaker designs, setting a number of court dates in the past year to crack down on customizers and bootleggers. In only a matter of months, Nike has targeted MSCHF, a Brooklyn-based art collective working with Lil Nas X; Drip Creationz, a brand customizing fake Air Force 1s for more than 1 million followers on Instagram; and ineverheardofyou, an artist selling “middle finger” AF1 sneakers. Most recently, Nike has cracked down on resale site StockX for making unauthorized use of its sneakers as NFTs.
The Swoosh has gone after — and shut down — plenty of independent sneaker designers, with very few surviving Nike’s legal influence. Still, there are celebrated brands, like BAPE, that produce obvious tributes to Nike’s shoes and have never been hit with a lawsuit in the way that designers like Geiger and Lotas have. The difference may come down to who has the legal power to defeat Nike — and who doesn’t.