How this Nike sneaker made its way into Australian street culture

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Over the past two decades, Nike’s Air Max Plus sneaker has become as fashionable as it is notorious, especially in Australia.

After making its debut on our shores in 1998, the shoe – widely known as the TN – was quickly embraced by problematic youth cultures and became the shoe of choice for ‘eshays’, groups of young men known for their antisocial behavior.

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But although the TN has been the subject of brazen assaults in the light of day and even banned from some bars, this stigma has lessened as the TN has been embraced by shoe fans from all walks of life. .

Which is not to say that the Air Max Plus is now universally loved. The over-the-top design and remaining stigma have ensured that it’s always the shoes that spark heated debate.

Despite this, the Air max plus has established itself as a favorite of so many Aussies and people around the world.

So where does it come from?

unique design

Then-rookie Nike designer Sean McDowell created the first sketches of the TN in 1997, looking to the Florida landscape he vacationed in for inspiration.

The shoe’s signature soft gradient made it look very different from any other Nike sneaker at the time and McDowell says he was inspired by the sight of palm trees swaying across the Florida sky.

“I hung out on the beaches of Florida and just thought and drew – that was one of my most creative times,” McDowell says.

“One evening, dusk was falling, so the very blue sky was starting to turn dark blue, and the palm trees were blowing in the wind.

“I sketched this and thought, ‘That might make a quarter panel, like you can hold your foot with those palms’.”

Original designer Sean McDowell explains the iconic Air TN logo found on the heel of the Air Max Plus. Credit: Provided

The original colorway conveys this theme of the sky, representing dusk with the black TPU lines representing palm trees.

The Air Max Plus was also the first Nike sneaker to use Tune Air technology – a huge leap forward in the company’s air cushioning technology.

Sean McDowell's first sketch of the Air Max Plus from 1997.
Sean McDowell’s first sketch of the Air Max Plus from 1997. Credit: Nike

But the shoe’s biggest impact came when it hit the Australian market and found itself on the feet of a wide range of people from all walks of life.

Cultural impact

Soon after its arrival, the TN’s bright, bold and distinct aesthetic made it the sneaker of choice for a myriad of underground cultures and young people, from graffiti artists to hardstyle ravers.

However, the shoe has also been favored by troublemakers of all kinds and has been strongly linked to the “eshay lad” culture.

Eshay is a term commonly referring to hyper-masculine youths who typically hang out in groups and are prone to crime or violence, often identifying themselves by zip codes.

Common “eshay” memes portray TNs in stereotypical outfits.
Common “eshay” memes portray TNs in stereotypical outfits. Credit: Provided

And the value thugs place on footwear has sparked brazen thefts and led to footwear being banned in some places.

In 2017, a 12-year-old allegedly stabbed a 10-year-old in a building in inner Sydney in an attempt to take his TN.

And in April 2018, a 13-year-old was allegedly attacked and bitten in a busy food court in Sydney’s North West Mall in an attempt to steal his Nike TNs. Ironically, the shoes were counterfeits he had purchased in Thailand a few weeks earlier.

The incidents came a few years after the Bank Hotel, a busy pub on Newtown’s King St, in Sydney’s mid-west nightlife district, banned the shoe.

Of the 2015 ban, the venue said, “These types of shoes are most often worn by less than desirable customers. By that I mean they are gang members in the worst case, or just young men you think are gang members.

To date, The Argyle Rocks specifically names the TN in its FAQ as unacceptable shoes, writing, “Please note that shoes like Nike Air Max and Nike TN are not permitted on weekends.”

big fans

Despite the undeniable controversy, it’s not just troublemakers who appreciate the TN.

Like any cult classic, there are hardcore collectors of the finest and rarest pairs of TNs ever released.

TN Talk Australia Founder Tim Ingram's Extensive TN Collection
TN Talk Australia Founder Tim Ingram’s Extensive TN Collection Credit: Based

There are Instagram pages and Facebook groups that have communities dedicated to buying, selling, or discussing TNs.

Tim Ingram, who runs TN Talk Australia, has experienced this stigma in the past, but now claims the Air Max Plus’s audience is growing exponentially.

Any iteration of the Air Max Plus
Any iteration of the Air Max Plus “Hyper Blue” is considered a must have for a TN collector such as Tim Ingram. Credit: Provided

“You wore a pair of shoes and went to a party or to school, people said ‘Oh there’s an eshay, he’s going to steal your stuff’…I’ve never stolen anything in my life” , Ingram said.

“It’s just crazy how the TN scene is exploding. We’re getting the recognition now. We don’t have such a bad reputation.

All iterations of the Air Max Plus, from the TN II to the TN X.
All iterations of the Air Max Plus, from the TN II to the TN X. Credit: Provided

Although there have been many iterations of the Air Max Plus, most collectors stick with the original 1998 design.

With the sneaker still on offer on Footlocker shelves more than two decades after its release, the legacy of the Air Max plus TNs is a story that is still being written to this day.

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