Washington Artist Turns Trash Into Air Jordans

We're way beyond sneaker recycling here

Andy Yoder - Jordan 5's
One of Andy Yoder's Jordan 5's.
Greg Staley

Sustainability in increasingly important when it comes to contemporary clothing. That’s entirely understandable — we’re more and more aware of the environmental cost of the things we make and consume, after all. And in 2020, it’s not at all surprising to see news about a sneaker made using an abundance of recycled materials. It’s not just state of the art — it’s a good business practice.

On the flip side of that is the art made by one Andy Yoder, whose work could easily be mistaken for standard-issue Nike Air Jordans from a distance. Yoder isn’t going full artisan shoemaker, however; instead, he’s an artist with a great sense of aesthetics and a resourcefulness when it comes to his materials. All of which is to say that these Air Jordans are made from trash — and they’re designed for a gallery wall.

At Smithsonian Magazine, Jennifer Nalewicki explored Yoder’s latest foray into shoe-themed art. (Yoder’s 2003 sculpture Licorice Shoes also involved the creation of shoes out of unlikely materials.) As Yoder explains on his website, he took inspiration for Jordan 5’s from a 1990 incident where 80,000 Nikes went missing at sea. “Combining this incident with the subculture of sneakerhead collectors brings attention to the impact of consumer culture on the planet’s environment,” he writes.

Smithsonian Magazine spoke with Yoder about his process for this work. Yoder found the trash around his neighborhood in Washington, DC and then got to work, creating 240 sneakers overall. Why sneakers? In part, Yoder says, it has to do with their shape. “[S]hoes are also amazing as sculptural objects themselves; the form of them and their curves, and the way the shapes wrap around them,” he said. “They’re a combination of form and function.”

Yoder’s work is something that art enthusiasts and sneakerheads alike can appreciate — the next level, perhaps, of the sneaker as object.

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