A small but growing number of Muslims are putting Nike’s feet to the fire.
Two weeks ago, someone who goes by the handle Saiqa Noreen created a petition calling on Nike to pull the Air Max 270 shoe immediately, because she noticed a small section of the sole that looked similar to the Arabic word for Allah. In her petition description, she said that the inscription was particularly offensive because it is on the bottom of the shoe, where it will “surely be trampled, kicked, and become soiled with mud or even filth.”
— BOC Intel (@blackopscyber1) January 29, 2019
Over the last day, the petition seems to have seen an significant uptick, perhaps because various news organizations caught on to it, including Asian newspapers like Indonesia’s the Jakarta Post and Singapore’s Straits Times, which have heavy Muslim readerships. At the time of publication, the petition had nearly 22,000 signatories.
At first glance, it’s hard for someone not familiar with Arabic to see the similarity. When Fast Company contacted Nike, a spokesperson provided the brand’s official response:
We take concerns of this nature seriously. The AIR MAX logo was designed to be a stylized representation of Nike’s AIR MAX trademark. It intended to reflect the AIR MAX brand only. Any perceived meaning or representation is unintentional.
The entire incident calls to mind a flub Nike made in 1997 when it created a logo that was designed to look like flames but ended up looking very similar to the word Allah in Arabic. Nike apologized, donated $50,000 to build a playground in an Islamic elementary school in the United States, and withdrew 38,000 shoes worldwide. In that case, even a casual observer could see how obvious the commonalities were.
In this case, the connection appears to be much more subtle. As of right now, Nike seems to be standing its ground. We’ll let you know if anything changes.