Guest editor Chris Danforth explores why Nike’s ACG Mowabb is all about fun in the great outdoors.
Mars-like, red-rock landscapes. Colossal sandstone arches spanning over hundreds of feet. Mesas and buttes eroded over thousands of years. Fossilized dinosaur tracks from the Jurassic age.
These are the breathtaking features that drew the likes of Mark Parker, Tinker Hatfield, Monty Mako and other Nike decision-makers to Moab, Utah in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Located in the eastern section of the state, the site is home to some of the most stunning geological formations on the planet.
It was no coincidence that these trips to Utah coincided with the planning period for Nike’s outdoor-oriented collection ACG (All Conditions Gear). Tinker Hatfield drew on his experiences in Moab and started to conceive an outdoor cross-trainer that took referential cues from Native American moccasins. After all, the first athletes in the Utah region were indigenous peoples, as Hatfield concluded. In fact, Utah’s influence on the ACG range was greater than just the Mowabb. There was even a silhouette named the Air Yewtah.
Tinker Hatfield drew on his experiences in Moab, and started to conceive an outdoor cross-trainer that took referential cues from Native American moccasins
The concept for the Mowabb was a shoe as multifaceted as the terrain of Moab, Utah. A design that was suitable for finding purchase on uneven, rocky terrain. For gripping dusty bicycle pedals. For approaching a scree-scattered slope. The Mowabb was for “running on trails, riding mountain bikes, climbing hills, jumping streams” and more, according to early ACG ads.
The Mowabb was designed to work with and conform to the outdoors, rather than to overcome them or beat them into submission. This idea is perhaps best represented in the shoe’s outsole design, which was conceived with the mantra of “leave no trace.” The Mowabb’s heel stabilizer speaks to its utility as a cross trainer, and the bootie-like upper was intended to keep out stray stones and pebbles. Eagle-eyed sneakerheads will notice these two aforementioned details are quite similar to another Hatfield design from 1991, the Huarache, which once again references indigenous cultures, more specifically a certain style of Mexican sandal. The Mowabb was also the first ACG model, and the first Nike shoe for that matter, to feature a speckled sole, which was inspired by rainbow trout that were observed by Hatfield in the nearby Colorado River. Reportedly, Tinker and his team had to speckle the first Mowabb samples by hand - think something along the lines of Jackson Pollock flicking paint onto a canvas - before they figured out a way to produce the look en masse. Rope laces and an ACG logo on the collar finish off the look.
The original Mowabb colorway - predominantly sandy hues, punctuated by hits of blue and orange, sitting atop the aforementioned speckled sole - has also become iconic in its own right. The color scheme has even been borrowed by other silhouettes like the Air Force 1, the LeBron 15, the Dunk High, and another Hatfield design, the Air Max 90, among others. Certainly it's a color combination that stands out in the ACG canon.
The Mowabb was designed to work with and conform to the outdoors, rather than to overcome them or beat them into submission.
In the fashion realm, the Mowabb has only been called to duty on a handful of occasions, and there really aren’t a plethora of collaborations to speak of, but Boston-based Bodega is one that we need to mention. Bodega co-founder Jay Gordon has become one of ACG’s most outspoken proponents, and he’s a huge fan of the Mowabb in particular. In 2017, Bodega (one of the longest-standing ACG stockists) served up two very limited “Sunset” and “Arctic” Mowabb makeups, inspired by Hatfield’s original sketches of the shoe (dated May 7, 1990) which featured Pendleton-blanket fabrics as accents. Afterwards, ACG x Pendleton options were even added to Nike iD for a short time, allowing users to design bespoke Mowabbs using Pendleton wool fabric.
Then in 2018, Nike offered the Mowabb to one of its most trusted and longstanding collaborators, COMME des GARÇONS. The esteemed Japanese fashion label re-imagined the Mowabb in the vein of its previous Nike collaborations, creating all-white and all-black versions of the cross-trainer. Crafted with a soft micro-suede, the shoe featured excess fabric on the upper, giving the collaboration a hand-finished, workshop-y feel.
The spirit of the Mowabb has always been about having fun. And the same can be said about the ACG range at large.
But the spirit of the Mowabb has always been about having fun. And the same can be said about the ACG range at large. Advertising spots for the Mowabb touted it as the perfect shoe for running away from bears. Vintage ACG T-shirts came with potty-mouthed slogans like “Take a Hike Air-Sole.” The ACG lawnmower man (found on the outsole of select ACG models) was certainly one big inside joke between the likes of Parker, Hatfield and Mako. Let’s not forget the successor to the Mowabb, the 1992 Air Revarderchi designed by Steve McDonald. Clearly, those guys were all about bringing joy outside. You have to love the sense of humour that is at the very core of ACG.
So get out, get lost, and don’t forget to have fun while you’re out there.
For its 30th birthday, the iconic Nike ACG Mowabb is returning in its original colourway - “Birch/Bright Mandarin-Hyper Royal-Rattan.” The 2021 edition features new updates in the form of a mini-Swoosh detail on the toe, while the shoe’s neoprene collar features two pull tabs and a Nike Huarache logo sitting front and centre.
The Nike ACG Mowabb 30th Anniversary edition is now available for registration on END. Launches.
Nike ACG Air Mowabb
Gravity Purple & Gold
Nike ACG AIr Mowabb
Birch & Bright Mandarin