Over the past two decades, Nike’s Air Max Plus sneaker has become as fashionable as it is notorious, especially in Australia.
After making its debut on our shores in 1998, the shoe – widely known as the TN – was quickly embraced by problematic youth cultures and became the shoe of choice for ‘eshays’, groups of young men known for their antisocial behavior.
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But although the TN has been the subject of brazen attacks in daylight and even banned from some bars, that stigma has lessened as the TN has been embraced by shoe fans from all walks of life.
Which is not to say that the Air Max Plus is now universally loved. The over-the-top design and remaining stigma have ensured that it’s always the shoes that spark heated debate.
Despite this, the Air max plus has established itself as a favorite of so many Australians and people across the globe.
So where does it come from?
Then-rookie Nike designer Sean McDowell created the first sketches of the TN in 1997, looking to the Florida landscape he vacationed in for inspiration.
The shoe’s signature soft gradient made it look very different from any other Nike sneaker at the time and McDowell says he was inspired by the sight of palm trees swaying across the Florida sky.
“I hung out on the beaches of Florida and just thought and drew – that was one of my most creative times,” McDowell says.
“One evening, dusk was falling, so the very blue sky was starting to turn dark blue, and the palm trees were blowing in the wind.
“I sketched this and thought, ‘That might make a quarter panel, like you can hold your foot with those palms’.”
The original colorway conveys this theme of the sky, representing dusk with the black TPU lines representing palm trees.
The Air Max Plus was also the first Nike sneaker to use Tune Air technology – a huge leap forward in the company’s air cushioning technology.
But the shoe’s biggest impact came when it hit the Australian market and found itself on the feet of a wide range of people from all walks of life.
Soon after its arrival, the TN’s bright, bold and distinct aesthetic made it the sneaker of choice for a myriad of underground cultures and young people, from graffiti artists to hardstyle ravers.
However, the shoe has also been favored by troublemakers of all kinds and has been strongly linked to the “eshay lad” culture.
Eshay is a term commonly referring to hyper-masculine youths who typically hang out in groups and are prone to crime or violence, often identifying themselves by zip codes.
And the value thugs place on footwear has sparked brazen thefts and led to footwear being banned in some places.
In 2017, 12-year-old allegedly stabbed 10-year-old in an indoor building in Sydney with the aim of taking his TN.
And in April 2018, a 13-year-old was allegedly attacked and bitten at a busy food court in north-west Sydney in an attempt to steal his Nike TNs. Ironically, the shoes were counterfeits he had purchased in Thailand a few weeks earlier.
The incidents came a few years after the Bank Hotel, a busy pub on Newtown’s King St, in Sydney’s mid-west nightlife district, banned the shoe.
Of the 2015 ban, the venue said, “These types of shoes are most often worn by less than desirable customers. By that I mean they are gang members in the worst case, or just young men you think are gang members.
To this day, The Argyle Rocks specifically names the TN in its FAQs as unacceptable shoes, writing, “Please note that shoes such as Nike Air Max and Nike TN are not permitted on weekends.”
Despite the undeniable controversy, it’s not just troublemakers who appreciate the TN.
Like any cult classic, there are hardcore collectors of the finest and rarest pairs of TNs ever released.
There are Instagram pages and Facebook groups that have communities dedicated to buying, selling, or discussing TNs.
Tim Ingram, who runs TN Talk Australia, has experienced this stigma in the past, but now claims the Air Max Plus’s audience is growing exponentially.
“You wore a pair of shoes and went to a party or to school, people said ‘Oh there’s an eshay, he’s going to steal your stuff’…I’ve never stolen anything in my life” , Ingram said.
“It’s just crazy how the TN scene is exploding. We’re getting the recognition now. We don’t have such a bad reputation.
Although there have been many iterations of the Air Max Plus, most collectors stick with the original 1998 design.
With the sneaker still on offer on Footlocker shelves more than two decades after its release, the legacy of the Air Max plus TNs is a story that is still being written to this day.