Nike has a long and recently fraught history of creating Puerto Rico-themed sneakers. In 2000, the sportswear giant paid homage to New York City’s Puerto Rican community and its love of the Air Force 1, often referred to as the “Uptown.” A crisp white pair of AF1s with red and blue accents as well as the Puerto Rican flag dropped in limited numbers just a week before the city’s annual Puerto Rican Day parade.
Periodic boricua AF1s have since followed, with an Air Trainer 1 following in 2015. Beginning in 2019, Nike has attempted to make Puerto Rico sneakers an annual tradition, but the inclusion of very much not Puerto Rican design elements have seen not one, but two releases scrapped. That first year, a Panamanian print called mola made a bewildering appearance on the Air Force 1. The very next year, a re-release of the OG Air Force 1 "Puerto Rico" from 2000 had to be canceled because the Puerto Rican flag was printed backwards on the tongue.
There haven’t been any design issues since, a trend that hopefully continues with this year’s planned Air Max 1 “Helados” pack. One issue that lingers, however, is a neglect of the actual island of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican sneakerheads in the U.S. have access to the themed kicks and the wider Nike slate, but The Swoosh doesn’t cater to the U.S. territory nearly as well as it does the 50 states. With shipping not available through the U.S. store and a lack of a domain to call its own, Puerto Ricans on the actual island are limited to Nike Factory Stores, aka outlets, and third-party retailers such as Foot Locker and Finish Line.
Carli Pacheco was born in Puerto Rico and is a co-founder of Mofongo Kicks, a Spanish-language sneaker blog. He’s lived in New Jersey for seven years now but says the landscape for releases in Puerto Rico hasn’t changed much since he left. Puerto Ricans have to hope the more hyped releases are stocked at a retailer like Foot Locker, a prospect that’s become more unlikely in recent years as Nike prioritizes direct-to-consumer sales.
“When the Puerto Rico releases started in 2000, it was a way of honoring the Puerto Rican community in New York City, and it was well-received.” Pacheco tells Sole Retriever. Back then, sneaker culture in Puerto Rico was niche. But now the culture in the island has evolved, it has grown and the average person is much more aware and educated about the sneaker culture. I think Nike has failed to recognize that shift in Puerto Rican sneaker culture, which is frustrating, and it taps into this complicated relationship that Puerto Rico has with the U.S.”
Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but because Puerto Rico is a territory and not a state, its residents don’t have a representative in Congress, can’t vote in general elections (although they can in primaries), and don’t have to pay federal taxes. This status places Puerto Ricans in a sort-of nebulous “other” category of Americans — a treatment that extends to how companies do their business on the island.
The United States Postal Service does classify Puerto Rico the same way it does all 50 states, although shipping costs are more expensive. The same could be said for Hawaii and Alaska, however, and Nike will still ship to the two states. Both Puerto Rico and the two states have 70-pound weight limits in place for the USPS, meaning everything heavier would need to be shipped through a private carrier such as UPS.
To be fair, it’s a mixed bag when it comes to sneaker brands shipping to Puerto Rico. adidas doesn’t ship to Puerto Rico, although it has made exceptions for some Bad Bunny collaborations released through the Confirmed app. Both New Balance and Reebok treat Puerto Rico the same as it does Alaska and Hawaii: the former offering free shipping for orders over $75, the latter charging $22 per pair.
The primary difference between Nike and each of these brands is that none celebrate Puerto Rico as much as The Swoosh. Nike did have a dedicated webstore for Puerto Rico, but only for two years and not since March 31, 2023. Now, the Nike PR landing page points users to look for a Nike store — but the only such options on the island are Factory Stores. Third-party retailers remain an option, but they don’t receive the same scope of Nike products that they once did.
Nike didn’t respond to requests for comment, including questions about why it shut down the Puerto Rico webstore and if it has any plans to resume direct sales to the island in the future.
While he doesn’t operate on nearly the same scale as Nike, Pacheco does offer shipping to Puerto Rico for the products he releases under the Mofongo Kicks brand. It costs a little bit more, but it’s a necessity when so much of Mofongo’s identity revolves around Puerto Rico. When it comes to its Puerto Rico-themed sneakers, though, it seems Nike is drawing a clear line between Puerto Ricans on the island and those in one of the 50 states. While celebrating one group, The Swoosh is shutting out another — making Puerto Rico sneakers a bittersweet proposition.