Year of the Snake Sneakers Arrive As Nike Preps Its Black Mamba, Again


With the Year of the Snake dawning, Nike’s zodiac cycle is complete: The approaching Chinese New Year will bring what Nike claims is a 12th version of its special edition zodiac animal-themed shoes.

In 2001, Nike had just one zodiac offering, the Air Force 1 Low 3M “Snake.” In the ensuing years, some Nike zodiac shoes were better than others. (Air Max 1 Year of the Ox, anyone? Nike Dunk High pigs?).  This year, with a better creature to work with, and as it had with last year’s Year of the Dragon, Nike —along with its Jordan brand — has introduced a collection of serpentine shoes.

Nike isn’t alone: Shelves of shoe stores in China are about to be filled with scaly offerings that would make Indiana Jones shudder. [more]

According to Nike’s release — not counting the Jordan Year of the Snake product — the Swoosh is releasing seven different snake year models under both the Kobe and Air Force tags. Beyond snakeskin patterns, Nike is incorporating Chinese words like “蛇” (shé; snake) and “癸巳” (guǐsì), which Nike calls a term from the “Chinese sexagenary cycle.”

Nike’s Air Jordan brand will offer the snakeskin Year of the Snake Air Jordan 11. Jordan has also released images of its Melo M9 “Year of the Snake” shoe. Nike will also offer add snake revision s to some of its classic street shoe models. As with the Year of the Dragon, Nike’s snake collection includes jackets and other gear.

Meanwhile, there are rumors that Reebok will release a version of the Reebok Question “featuring a Black base with a Invisibility Cloak-like detailing along with snakeskin mudguards.” And Adidas has its own serpents: The Adidas D. Rose 3.5 “Year of the Snake” as well as versions of its street shoes.


Stussy is hitting the pavement with its own Year of the Snake street shoe design (snakeskin motif, natch). Converse’s iconic Chuck Taylor line has a few Year of the Snake designs. Puma also threw together some models. Need one even ask if both involve snakeskin? And one of Asics’ new models does not carry the “Year of the Snake” tag, but it does, fortuitously, feature snakeskin.

Then there is the Year of the Snake New Balance 574s.

Also available in grass snake green.

Avery Booker, editor of China luxury industry chronicler Jing Daily, said that while some Chinese consumers will see so many snake items as a bit of pandering, “shoe collections tend to do better in China than the over-the-top luxury watches or autos, as they’re relatively affordable and accessible, still limited-edition, and not quite so ‘loud.'” He also noted that, Chinese market aside, Year of the Snake shoes “really are geared toward the kind of die-hard sneakerheads who’ll buy anything limited-edition that these brands put out.”

But for Nike, the opportunity presented by the Year of the Snake is multiplied. Obviously, finding an angle to appeal to Chinese consumers is desirable, and Nike is doing the “snake thing” like everyone else. But Nike is also the home of an NBA star who is one of the admired in China: Kobe Bryant, a.k.a, “Black Mamba.” (Yes, a black mamba is a snake.)

Obviously, Nike is taking advantage and releasing the “Black Mamba” Nike Kobe 8s (top) along with extras like the Year of the Snake Black Mamba Destroyer jacket. But at times, it seems Nike has gone a little overboard with its attempt to draw connections between its Black Mamba spokesman and Chinese culture. As if the Year of the Snake-Mamba was not enough, Nike states of its Kobe 8 System: “In connection with the victories of the Purple and Gold Dynasty led by Kobe, the KOBE 8 SYSTEM Year of the Snake special edition is inspired by the Chinese kung-fu representing Kobe’s bold, aggressive style.”

Unfortunately for Nike, the brand has already used the idea. In 2010, the brand released the Nike Zoom Kobe VI, designed to capitalize on his Black Mamba personality. The shoe featured, duh, a snakeskin pattern.

Nonethless, Nike is in the best branding position to capitalize on the Year of the Snake.

Oddly absent from the Year of the Snake is Chinese brands Peak and Li-Ning. Last year, Li-Ning released a range of Chinese culture-themed Dragon year shoes. Maybe the brand was too busy creating special 31st birthday edition shoes for its new spokesman, Dwayne Wade, to bother with the Year of the Kobe Bryant Mamba Snake.


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