In 1985, Nike had factories across Asia and an office in Tokyo. 

Not only was Japan Nike’s biggest international market at the time, the company’s team in Tokyo was crucial for monitoring production across Asia.

“The Tokyo team worked as liaisons to the factories for the Jordan 1 in Indonesia and South Korea,” the Jordan Brand spokesperson says.

That job wasn’t left to Japan alone, though. Members of the original Air Jordan 1 team based in Beaverton, Oregon, including Bruce Kilgore, would travel to Korean factories in Pusan to fine tune products. Along the way, they’d often have layovers in Tokyo, where they’d visit Nike’s office to work alongside the Japanese staff, as well as with other US-based Jordan 1 team members. 

There, the American Jordan 1 team checked in on the Japanese basketball shoe market, learning from their Tokyo counterparts about consumer demands in the country and experimenting with new materials and designs for the shoe. 

According to Jordan Brand interviews with Kilgore, in Tokyo, they found Japanese consumers were drawn to unexpected colorways and preferred synthetic materials to leather. That included metallics. The Tokyo Nike team thought synthetic metallics would look good on the Jordan 1 and appeal to Japanese high school and club basketball teams. These insights, derived from Japanese marketplace demands, as well as Nike’s recent use of a metallic gold Swoosh on running shoes for the 1984 Olympics, led the international Jordan 1 teams to experiment with different color combos and metallic materials. 

Ultimately, they landed on the Jordan 1 “Metallic” series as we know it today.

“They did them in this synthetic metallic and that just came out of the creative minds of the liaisons in Tokyo and the factory partners,” the Jordan Brand spokesperson says.

Nike even sourced the synthetic metallic material from a Japanese vendor, which had been using it on soccer cleats. Design needs and simplicity drove the sourcing decision.

“That was part creativity and part practicality and resourcefulness,” the Jordan Brand spokesperson says.

With clean white colorways and metallic accents of navy, red, green, orange, purple, burgundy, or black on the Swoosh, Wings, and heel collar, the “Metallic” Air Jordan 1s also solved Nike’s collegiate basketball problem. The “Metallic” series meant college basketball teams across the United States could now wear Air Jordan 1s with their uniforms. 

“Colleges in the US got them, these Japanese high schools and club teams got them,” the Jordan Brand spokesperson says.

But echoing its unusual, lesser-known origin story, the “Metallic” line of Jordan 1s was produced in smaller quantities than other Air Jordan 1s, making it rare from the start. 

“Because they came in the second or third wave of colorways and they weren’t originally intended for scale at retail, they’re much more rare,” the Jordan Brand spokesperson says.

That rarity has made “Metallic” Jordan 1s coveted by collectors. Among the handful of original “Metallic” colorways, some have always been much harder to find, and thus more valuable. Black, burgundy, orange, purple, and green seem to be the rarest, with red and navy the most common.

The “Metallic Black” Air Jordan 1 was never released at all, remaining a salesman sample. Although it’s not as uncommon as that colorway, the “Metallic Burgundy” is believed to be among the rarest original Air Jordan 1s ever made.

That makes its June 22 re-release even more exciting, giving collectors a chance to buy a shoe that’s almost impossible to find in its orginal form.

‘A Very Unique Relationship’

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