Eight years after the highest court in the country handed down its 9-0 decision, the streetwear brand finally returned earlier this month, relaunching its “signature” Sweet Series sneaker collection.
The lineup includes four flavor-inspired sneaker designs bearing founder Tex Moton’s original artwork, and matching headwear. The shoes feature a rubber sole, transparent sole art inlay and an extra pair of contrast color laces. Each of the four styles is part of a limited-edition drop, YUMS said, “with more recipes to come soon out of the oven.”
The founder and Dallas street artist launched Yums—short for You Understand My Style—back in 2007. The young brand’s snack-inspired sneakers soon found an audience large enough to put it on Nike’s radar. The footwear behemoth, however, didn’t care about the shoes’ colorful artwork, but the silhouette on which they appeared. The design, it alleged in a 2009 lawsuit against Yums parent company Already LLC, violated the trademark it held for its popular Air Force 1 sneaker.
In response, Already filed to cancel its legal rival’s trademark on the grounds that it made it difficult for the fledgling footwear upstart to continue selling its shoes. Apparently concerned by the danger of this counterclaim, Nike dropped its suit and promised it would not assert any claim or demand against any existing or future Already shoes that represented a “colorable imitation” of its then-current products.
Given this promise, Nike moved to dismiss Already’s counterclaim as moot. The Yums owner, however, resisted and continued to pursue the cancellation of the Air Force 1 trademark. It offered affidavits from potential investors saying they would not consider investing until the trademark was invalidated. An executive claimed Nike had intimidated retailers into refusing to carry Already’s shoes.
The court, however, sided with Nike and dismissed the suit. Already then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which upheld the decision. The company appealed once more and, in June 2012, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. The following January, it issued its unanimous decision: the case was, indeed, moot.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, in which he agreed with the appeal court’s assertion that Nike’s promise not to sue made it “hard to imagine a scenario that would potentially infringe [Nike’s trademark] and yet not fall under the covenant.”
“If such a shoe exists, the parties have not pointed to it, there is no evidence that Already has dreamt of it, and we cannot conceive of it,” Roberts wrote.
“It sits, as far as we can tell, on a shelf between Dorothy’s ruby slippers and Perseus’s winged sandals,” Roberts added.
Despite this seeming rebuke, Yums now looks at the decision as a win. The relaunch of the Sweet Series sneakers, it claims, was “made possible by the Supreme Court’s decision… and Nike’s first-ever covenant not to sue, which Nike Inc. issued to Yums, and the Supreme Court applied.”
“This moment has been a long time coming, and we couldn’t be more excited,” Moton said in a statement. “During a pivotal moment in society where nostalgia provides a sense of relief, Yums is a true testament to what is possible for small businesses and creators. Our flavorful designs are made to inspire all who wear them, and are the secret ingredients to the streetwear industry’s recipe for success.”
Nike’s legal battle with Already and Yums seems to have left the footwear giant unwilling to pursue similar litigation. The Time and Tru White Platform Sneakers, available at Walmart for just $15, also bear a striking resemblance to Nike’s Air Force One. The similarities inspired TikTok users to follow up last fall’s trend of painting real Air Force 1 sneakers by using the much more affordable Time and Tru shoe.
The #walmartshoes tag racked up more than 33 million views. The videos frequently likened the all-white sneakers to Nike’s Air Force 1s, including one video that described them as “Walmart AF1s.” Though the fad generally saw participants create custom designs, some took on popular colorways of the hit silhouette. In one particularly well-executed instance, a user remade the Air Force 1 Valentine’s Day Love Letter colorway, going so far as to print out and attach Nike swooshes and logos.