With surprise performances from Pa Salieu and Dreya Mac, Give Fresh Air: The Game show forms part of a new global community initiative from Nike

No item of clothing has birthed an industry as fevered and frenzied as the sneaker. Where boardrooms once begged top designers to create a must-have handbag, creative directors are now locking heads to produce the next it-shoe. Think Kim Jones’ Air Jordans or pretty much any Nike Dunk collab in recent history. 

No sneaker, however, has had as much impact on fashion and birthed as many iterations (51 and counting) as the Nike Air Max, which celebrated its 35th anniversary on March 26, otherwise known as Air Max Day. This year – alongside the release of three new Air Max 1 colourways – the Swoosh called on sneakerheads in London, Amsterdam, and Berlin to enter a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?-style game show, dubbed Give Fresh Air.

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Staged live in London and broadcast via the SNKRS app, the event was part of Nike’s global Give Fresh Air initiative, which aims to breathe fresh life into communities across the world – whether supporting local startups, restoring beauty in a local area or donating sneakers to charities.

Nike challenged contestants to all things sneaker culture, with the phone-a-friend lifeline coming courtesy of Patta, Overkill, Solebox, Footpatrol, and Offspring. Those hoping to live out the rest of their days on some kind of hypebeast yacht would have been disappointed, however, with the 40k prize money going straight to charity. Team London played for Caramel Rock, a UK-based fashion mentorship program, while Berlin picked up the baton for After School Hustle, a skill-building workshop, and Amsterdam for Favela Street, which empowers marginalised communities through football.

As for the event itself? Over 25,000 members of Nike’s global community logged onto the SNKRS app to watch the sparring cities go head to head for the crown. Hosted by photographer Ayshe Zaifoglu and Will Stowe, a three-act series of nail-biting challenges saw the teams construct their own Air Max designs, scramble for flying balls in blustery, cealed vaults, while – somehow – managing to steady themselves in order to complete a nerve-wracking buzz wire. Patriotism aside, all charities were just as worthy of patronage, and so it quickly became an intense couple of hours at Nike HQ.

That being said, participants did manage to catch their breath, thanks to three panel talks which came interspersed at one-hour intervals. Hosted by Footpatol, The Panel, and The Sandy, professionals from the sports and fashion industries dissected sneaker culture at large, gesturing to a more inclusive and democratic future. With Yu Fujiwara there to capture it all, it wasn’t long until Dazed cover star Pa Salieu and Dreya Mac took to the stage – performing hit records, “Frontline” and “Time”, respectively – and the studio’s blood pressure took another steep increase.

Despite Zaifoglu and Stowe both wagering their bets on Berlin and Amsterdam (they had to be democratic, you see) it was London that ultimately pipped its European compadres to the post with 560 points – landing a cool 40,000 for Caramel Rock. How callous, though, to leave Give Fresh Air with nothing, and as such, both Berlin and Amsterdam, who racked up 450 and 305 points, took home a runner’s up prize of 30,000 for After School Hustle and Favela Street. 

As the day came to a close and spectators began to funnel into Nike’s thunderous afterparty, a member of the audience asked Stephanie Hulbert-Thomas, founder of Women in Sneakers, if she had any advice for young people coming up in the industry. Her response? “Just do it”. Now… where have we heard that before?

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