Jordan 5’s

Bristol Board and reclaimed packaging

13 x 9 x 5 inches each

Photo Credit: Greg Staley

About thirty years ago five shipping containers fell off a freighter during a storm, dumping 80,000 Nikes into the Pacific. As they washed ashore on the coast of Oregon and Washington a network of beachcombers collected and resold them. An oceanographer got word of this and collaborated with the beachcombers to create data, leading to an important study of the ocean’s currents. The news media picked up the story and the oceanographer became a celebrity, making appearances on late night talk shows. Nike embraced his work and invited him to speak to employees about what became known as “The Great Shoe Spill of 1990”. I learned about this while researching ideas for a solo installation at CulturalDC’s Mobile Art Gallery, created out of a repurposed, solar-powered shipping container. I’m a big believer in the possibility of second chances, which is why this story appealed to me.

Most of the sneakers are made from materials I pulled out of recycling bins, echoing how Nikes were collected on the beach, and the MAG’s shipping container was pulled from the salvage yard. I’ve made hundreds of sneakers by now, many of them commissions that incorporate photos, packaging or other materials with significance to the owner. Preserved leaves, cards, clothing and even a jigsaw puzzle have found their way into sneakers, along with anything else that comes my way. All of them are based on the Jordan 5, a classic shoe introduced in 1990, the same year as the spill.

PBS Newshour Feature

The year 1990 saw the “Great Shoe Spill” where tens of thousands of Nike shoes fell into the Pacific. The accident led to some scientific discoveries, and now, whimsical art packed with an eco-friendly message. William Brangham plunges into an exhibit called “Overboard” for our arts and culture series, CANVAS.