My 9 favorite sneaker collaborations that I own

OPINION: Some of my favorite shoes in my collection are collaborations with companies big and small.

A portion of Panama Jackson's sneaker collection. (Photo: Panama Jackson)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I’m a sneakerhead. I buy shoes with reckless abandon. Though I’m writing this sentence, I’m really thinking about a pair of shoes I’ve been debating purchasing from GOAT for about a week. I’ll probably buy them and then sit by my window for the next few days—I only buy shoes that are pre-verified and have the “Instant” option and then select the “Next Day” shipping option. At this point, it’s pretty much tradition. 

Doggone it, I just purchased them. They should be here (allegedly) tomorrow. Shouts out to Black creatives and collaborations with sneaker brands. I’ll update this list then because that pair absolutely belongs. 

Seeing as I’m thinking about shoes all the time, that also means I watch a lot of unboxing videos and read books and articles about shoes. So when I was sent GQ’s latest article titled, “The 50 Greatest Sneaker Collaborations in Nike History,” I knew I was going to not only read it but spend a significant amount of time I could be using to make the world a better place to debate (with myself) whether or not I agreed with their list. And then, because I, too, have a ton of shoes—my collection is dwarfed by many people I know, but I have several hundred pairs of shoes; some of my shoes are even in a storage facility—I decided to check out my own collection and see what some of my favorite collaborations are. Sharing is caring so I decided to share with you 9 of my favorite sneaker collaborations from my personal collection.

A note here: I am going to try to stray away from the most popular collaborations where I can unless the shoes are legitimately favorites of mine, which is the case with two shoes in particular. Maybe three. Ugh, we’ll see how this goes. Shoes are listed in no particular order. 

1. Salehe Bembury x Crocs “Crocodile”

(Photo: Panama Jackson)

A few years ago I wrote an article about how I turned the corner on Crocs and even made them a part of my rotation. At this point, Crocs are just part of all of our lives. So when Salehe Bembury, a shoe and fashion designer whose New Balance collabs are to die for, teamed up with Crocs and created a WHOLE NEW CROC, well, he had me at hello. I particularly wanted this “Crocodile” colorway because it was available at a reasonable resale price, but also because it stands out, and if you’re going to wear Crocs, you might as well do it loudly and proudly. 

2. Joe Freshgoods x New Balance 990v3 “Outside Clothes”

(Photo: Panama Jackson)

For starters, I’m a huge fan of Joe Freshgoods; I’m pretty much a huge fan of any Black designer as you’ll see with this list. But also, I love New Balance (which you’ll also see) and his “Outside Clothes” 990v3 is an amazing shoe. Not only is the shoe amazing as a piece of art and design, it comes with SEVERAL laces and I am a sucker for multiple laces. True story: If a shoe has a second set of laces (at least), I’m probably more inclined to be interested. I’m always disappointed when a shoe doesn’t have extra laces, because why not just add more options? Anyway, this shoe is one of my absolute favorites in my collection and I only break it out when I want people to stop me and say, “yo, those are amazing.” You know, weddings, funerals and red carpets. 

3. Conversations Amongst Us New Balance 574 

(Photo: Panama Jackson)

This one is cheating a little bit. Joe Freshgoods (see above) creative-directed this campaign with the Black Soles, a New Balance-employee-led community focusing on increasing representation and amplifying Black voices at the company and in the shoe industry. So it’s a collaboration in spirit even if the company’s employees created the products that Joe helped get out into the community. I wrote about this campaign some months ago. Anyway, the New Balance 574 is probably my second favorite shoe silhouette ever (behind only the Nike Air Max 97, though I only really like the “Silver Bullet” and “Gold Bullet”–I own both pairs) and the colorway on this is amazing. They’re fly and they come with multiple laces. 

4. Ruohan Wang x Nike Blazer Mid ‘77 Flyleather

(Photo: Panama Jackson)

I’m also a sucker for an artsy box and packaging. And Ruohan Wang, a Berlin-based visual artist, the box for her collab with Nike (which also included an Air Max 90, Air Force 1) is amazing. It’s the kind of box you can put on display and people will ask about it, not to mention the shoes themselves are an absolute work of art. It looks like a mural…for your feet. And yes, extra laces. I also own the Air Max 90s but, oddly, those don’t come with extra laces even though they’re begging for them. Anyway, I love these kicks with my whole heart. 

5. Denim Tears x Converse Chuck 70 Hi and Low

(Photo: Panama Jackson)

Denim Tears is a brand founded by Tremaine Emory whose fashions and pieces you’ve seen on all of your favorite celebrities, trust me. His collaboration with Converse that essentially turns the classic Chucks into the David Hammons African-American flag is both political and stylish AF. For one, red/black/green as a color combination is super powerful and taking one of the most classic American shoes and making it a Black statement is about as revolutionary as you can get on a shoe and for that, I appreciate the concept and the execution. So much so that I bought the Hi and Low, and yes they come with multiple laces and a redesigned box. Art, art everywhere. 

6. Staud x New Balance 574

(Photo: Panama Jackson)

This Staud collaboration doesn’t have any real significance to my soul other than it literally checks off all of my boxes. For one, it’s a New Balance 574. Second, it’s a gray New Balance 574. Then it’s colorful and as you can probably tell I really like colorful shoes and it comes with, like, eight shoelace options. Staud is a clothing brand that I’m not that familiar with; it doesn’t seem to really be my speed, but they killed it with this New Balance 574 in particular. 

7. Off-White x Nike Blazer Mid “Grim Reaper”

(Photo: Panama Jackson)

Interestingly, I own quite a number of Nike Blazers despite feeling like they’re easily one of the top 3 most uncomfortable shoes of all time, including whatever Jesus and ‘nem were wearing. I feel like Jesus would have passed on the Blazers, for lack of arch support and I’m only kind of joking. How anybody played basketball in them is beyond me. Be that as it may, I own many pairs of Blazers but this “Grim Reaper” pair is by far my favorite. They’re the second generation of the original Nike “The 10” collection of deconstructed classic shoes curated and designed by Virgil Abloh (and his Off-White brand), who at this point, needs absolutely no introduction. Hell, even the Nike x Off-White collaboration doesn’t need an intro at this point; non-sneakerheads were dropping ducats to rock the vaunted hang-tag on their shoes in an attempt to rack up cool points. They came with black laces in the shoe and an additional white pair, but one of the homies gave me his orange laces from his Off-White Blazers and now my shoes are cooler than yours.  

8. Concepts x Nike Air Max 1 “Mellow”

(Photo: Panama Jackson)

Concepts is a lifestyle retail store founded in Cambridge, Mass., with stores all over the world now. Nike Air Max 1s are some of the most classic shoes. In 2021, the two brands came together to create a three-pack set of Air Max 1s that are inspired by the Summer or Love. The “Mellow” pair (much like the others) is a mish-mash of materials that speak directly to the vintage aesthetic. This colorway in particular is my favorite and gets the absolute most burn of the two I own. I also love a good shoe box AND THE MULTIPLE LACES!

9. Disney x Adidas Stan Smith “Mickey Mouse”

(Photo: Panama Jackson)

 Adidas Stan Smiths are some of the most classic shoes of all time. They go with everything everywhere at all times. They come in all different colors. Well this particular collaboration with another billion-dollar brand, Disney, is one of my personal favorites because Mickey Mouse is the homie but also because of the black-and-white colorway that also goes with everything. I just like these shoes a lot. Thank you for coming to my PanamaTalk.

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download here.