Sneakers are a staple of hip hop culture. Nike, specifically, has pretty much cornered the market on Hip Hop Fly. I am a conflicted but nevertheless willing participant in this phenomenon: I love kicks. I’m not the only one with this weakness: a quick Google search of “killed for Air Jordans” reveals a troubling number of incidents of assaults, murders, and armed robberies….all for sneakers.

My Beef With Nike

Rather than speculate about the complicated roots behind a culturally-prescribed obsession with Nike sneakers, I would instead like to discuss my own beef with Nike. They only make leather kicks. But they used to have vegan options! In fact, they used to have a whole list of non-animal footwear, made from mesh, synthetic leather, denim, and corduroy. I know I recently mentioned the issues with buying cheap synthetic leather shoes, but Nike is a respectable (expensive) brand, so their shoes all tend to be well-made and durable.

I wrote the customer service department about this, who responded promptly:

We no longer maintain a current Non-Animal footwear list. Our best advice is to look for shoes that feature synthetic leather, mesh, or other non-full grain leather materials. The Running and Cross Training silos are great places to start, as shoes that are designed to be lightweight will usually not include full grain leather. We cannot guarantee that a specific shoe is 100% non-animal.

So…only vegan running shoes? No thanks. I’m in this for fashion, not fitness.

Honestly, there are plenty of things to criticize Nike for. They’ve been accused of exploiting child labor, and Greenpeace has taken them to task for polluting waterways with toxins. If Jordans are not the most fitting symbols of capitalism, consumerism, and materialist status obsession, then they’re on the top-5 list.

But they’re so fly…

The Case for Vegan Kicks

As a hip hop head, Jordans might admittedly be my biggest vegetarian/activist growing pains, or wannabe guilty pleasures. I know I’m not the only one, either. Ever since rappers and hip hop groups have been headlining at music festivals, hip hop culture has collided with festival culture, breeding a new trend and its title: hip hop hippies. Tie-dye has made its way into the wardrobes of west-coast rappers. A few of Odd Future’s skaters toe the hip hop hippie line. Jay-Z and Beyonce both went vegan for a month. Snoop Dogg/Lion is now a (pseudo-)Rastafarian. De La Soul, Arrested Development and Tribe Called Quest have been toying with the hippy lean for years.

Many (or most) of these celebrities made their dietary and style choices for health or fashion, not ethics. Still, all that cultural crossover illuminates an important point—and companies like Nike should take note. “Hippy” lifestyles, and especially all the fashion choices that come with them, are not just for rich white hipsters anymore. If Nike came out with hemp Air Jordans they would fly off the shelves, not least because there are oodles of celebrities (hip hop hippies or no) that would joyfully market weed on their feet.

So Nike, the time has come. Won’t you please make us some vegan 1’s?