For as long as sneakers have been around, regional-exclusives have always been a thing. While these types of country-specific releases can be an absolute pain in the backside especially when you live on the other side of the world, it's just one of the many reasons why the sneaker game is as fun as it is. Imagine you could cop your favorite sneakers from the comfort of your own home. There would be no thrill of the chase and your holy grail just wouldn't be as, well... holy.
When you think about it, Nike wouldn't even exist today without regional-exclusive sneakers. After graduating from the University of Oregon in the '60s, Phil Knight immediately traveled to Japan where he was particularly impressed by the Onitsuka Tiger. As these weren't available anywhere else around the world, Knight made it his mission to secure the distribution rights for the US, and the rest is history.
With all that said, we're going to take a second to look back at some of the best Asia-exclusive sneakers ever made. From limited edition Air Force 1s to ultra rare Jordans, you need to check these out!
In 2018, Tinker Hatfield and Dan Sunwoo teamed up for the special edition Air Jordan 3 Retro "Seoul." Not only did it celebrate Michael Jordan's slam dunk contest victory in 1988, it also commemorated 30 years since the South Korean capital hosted the summer Olympic Games. Inspired by the Taegukgi, the pebbled base and red and blue hits pay homage to the South Korean flag, while a healthy dose of elephant print surrounds the toe and heel. "Seoul" ins hangul is written on the inner left tongue, while the '88 Summer Games’ motto "Harmony and Progress" features on the other one. As regional-exclusive as it gets, this AJ 3 was only available at Nike Korea and the Jordan Brand store in Hongdae.
To celebrate the opening of his Shibuya flagship, Ronnie Fieg unleashed the Kith x Nike Air Force 1 "Tokyo" in 2020. A nod to CO.JP releases from the early '00s, these Forces are packed with stunning details that you would naturally expect from the New York City streetwear imprint. From the Kith monogramming along the side panels to the pre-aged Air midsole, these look like they've been pulled straight out of the archives. Of course, as this sneaker is exclusive to Japan, it takes heavy inspiration from the Hinomaru. Not only does the country's flag feature on the tongue tags, the white leather upper and red velvet sockliner combination is also anobvious nod to this.
Kanye West's Yeezy brand isn't really known for region-exclusive sneakers, so when the Yeezy Boost 350 V2 "Fade" was unveiled to be an Asia-only pair, sneakerheads from across the world were left aghast. One of the most underrated colorways in the adidas x Yeezy repertoire, it boasts an earthy Primeknit upper complete with a blue-ish monofilament mesh stripe that shoots across the lateral side. Originally released in 2020, we've got everything crossed that these will get a worldwide restock very soon. With that said, if you can't wait, you should grab a pair at Ox Street right now.
Back in 2019, Nike gave Sergio Lozano's signature sneaker a Japan-exclusive rework with the Nike Air Max 95 Premium QS "Mt. Fuji". While the AM 95 might not be that popular in other parts of the world, Japanese sneakerheads absolutely adore the silhouette especially due to its British roadman influences. In fact, while most countries think of France or Italy when the discussing the pinnacle of fashion, those in the Land of the Rising Sun believe that England is where it's at. Nodding to one of Japan's sacred mountains, this Air Max 95 boasts a snow white leather construction with "JUST" and "DO IT" printed on the lateral and medial sides, respectively. A graphic of Mount Fuji can be found on the tongue, while the bottom of the shoe is embellished with "Tokyo" in kanji.
Back in the early '00s, Jordan Brand had a habit of releasing ultra hyped colorways that were only available to the Japanese market, and the Air Jordan 1 High OG CO.JP "Midnight Navy" was one of them. Introduced in 2001, they boasted a leather and suede construction that was made to stand the test of time. They also arrived with a special jeweled winged basketball logo around the collar, and a metallic silver Swoosh on the lateral and medial sides. While sneakerheads outside of Japan watched in dismay, the highly-coveted AJ 1 finally received a global re-release 19 years later in 2020.
Nike is certainly no stranger when it comes to CNY-inspired sneakers. In fact, the Beaverton brand went above and beyond in 2020 with the aptly named Nike Air Max 1 "Chinese New Year." Taking design cues from traditional porcelain bowls, each leather panel has been intricately detailed with a variety of motifs and patterns that perfectly represent the Chinese art. This is all done up in patent leather as a nod to the glaze used in ceramics, and painted in a vibrant palette. Of course, you can't talk about this China-only AM 1 without mentioning the characters stamped across the pink mudguard, each one symbolizing luck, prosperity, longevity, happiness, and wealth.
During the height of Human Race NMD hype in 2018, Pharrell reunited with adidas for the Pharrell Williams x adidas NMD Hu "China Pack." Comprising of a total of four colorways, each one represented the four natural elements, including water, metal, fire, and wood, with "Peace," "Happiness," "Passion," and "Youth" embroidered across the Primeknit uppers, respectively. While these China-only sneakers were already extremely limited to begin with, the second colorway was definitely the most exclusive pair. Unlike the other three, this one featured gold-plated EVA plugs along the Boost midsole. Official numbers have never been announced, but we expect them to be well under 1000 units.
You've never celebrated Halloween until you've celebrated it in Japan. Renowned for its crazy parties and wacky costumes, citizens of Shibuya go the extra mile at the end of October, and to pay homage to this, Nike released the Nike Air Force 1 "Shibuya Halloween" in 2019. A masterpiece in materials, the AF 1 features bold orange pebbled leather along the front, clear paneling across the toe box and quarter panels, and glossy black patent leather around the heel. Speaking of which, "SBY" branding is embroidered here, complete with the district's skyline. These will probably never get a global re-release, but luckily, you can secure your size right now with Ox Street.
Back in 2004, Tokyo-based boutique Mita gave the Air Force 1 it's own spin on things. While this was long before many sneakerheads were even born, the retailer decided to do it again in 2017 with the Mita x Nike Dunk Low CO.JP "OnkoChishin". Based off one of the AF 1's original samples, it features an ostrich leather and glossy patent construction that was unlike anything we had seen before. Widely regarded as one of the best none-SB Dunks ever made, while a re-release doesn't seem very likely, never say never, right?
And last but not least, we have the CLOT x Nike Air Force 1 "Rose Gold Silk." Covered from heel to toe in genuine rose gold silk which wears and tears away over time, this Asia-exclusive creation from Edison Chen and Kevin Poon is still considered to be one of the best AF 1 collaborations even after two years. Decorated with ornate Chinese patterns across the upper, the result is a sneaker that blurs the line between a piece of footwear and a piece of art.