Sneakers, Sports Memorabilia & Modern Collectibles

Everything You Need to Know About Sneaker Samples

By Zoë Vanderweide
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When it comes to collecting Nike sneakers, sample pairs are among the most coveted. Far rarer than general release pairs, samples are produced and distributed in extremely limited quantities. What, aside from their rarity, makes these exclusive sneakers so special? Typically used either for promotional purposes or for testing various aspects of a design, sample styles feature subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) differences from the versions that hit stores. Other rare sneakers, like Player Exclusives and Friends and Family editions, never see a general release. These sneakers are gifted to project collaborators and their friends and family. In rare cases, a hype-worthy sneaker goes entirely unreleased, attaining instant grail status.

Read on to learn more about the main types of sneaker samples, and to discover our favorite sample pairs available for immediate purchase.

The 5 Main Types of Sneaker Samples

1 | Look See Samples

Look See samples are prototypes, typically in size M9 / W7, produced throughout all stages of Nike’s sample process. Used to determine the final look of a release pair, Look Sees animate a Nike sneaker’s colors and design. While the models are built for wear, they do not represent the final Nike shoe. For this reason, Look See samples are used exclusively in-house.

Nike Air Force 1 Low Look See Sample

This rare Air Force 1 Sample is from the year 2000, just ahead of the style’s 2001 general release. In this Look See sample, the iconic Air Force 1 Low silhouette is dressed in white monochrome, with reed colored accents on the outsole, lining and heel notch.

2 |Promo Samples

Before a sneaker’s official drop, Nike sends promo samples to key partners and salespeople. Because these Nike shoes are used strictly for promotional purposes and are not for sale, they are an enticing find for collectors.

Nike Air Trainer 1 PlayStation Promo Sample

Promo samples are also distributed internally for special collaborations. This Nike Air Trainer 1 promotional sample hails from Nike’s 2010 collab with PlayStation, celebrating the gaming console’s 10th Anniversary. The head-turning Nike Air Trainer 1s feature black uppers with green, orange, red and blue accents in the shape of PlayStation control buttons along the heel. The colorfully composed promotional sample differs from the shoe’s limited runs – given exclusively to Nike and Sony partners – in its special iridescent side panels.

3 |Friends and Family Editions

When an athlete, musician or designer teams up with Nike for a collab, exclusive sneakers are produced as gifts for friends and family, and for brand employees most intimately involved with the project. Because Friends and Family editions are never released to the general public, copping a pair of these rare sneakers is an ultimate flex.

Nike x OFF-WHITE, The Ten Air Presto F&F

This Nike Off White Friends and Family pair belongs to one of the most hype-worthy collabs of recent years: ‘The Ten.’ For this capsule collection, the late Off-White designer Virgil Abloh reimagined ten classic Nike shoes, including the Air Presto. Featuring a hand-cut and reconstructed build, Virgil’s revamped Air Presto appears “inside out.” Unique details like the added heel strap, TPU cage at the midfoot, tonal Swoosh on the mesh upper, and signature red zip tie make the Nike Off White shoes especially distinctive. Produced as a Friends and Family edition, these rare sneakers also come with an exclusive gift set, which includes 4 pairs of laces, a pencil case and a notebook.

Nike SB Dunk High Pro Quasimoto Promo Sample

A truly one-of-a-kind sneaker collab, these SB Dunk Highs were released in 2006 exclusively to friends and family of the indie music label Stones Throw Records. Celebrating the label’s 10th anniversary, the Quasimoto colorway takes its name from the animated alter ego of musician and producer Madlib, whose distinctive aardvark character is embroidered onto the lateral panel. Blue herringbone twill fabric covers the toe and mid-panel of the SB Dunk High, while tan suede overlays dress the forefoot, eyelets, collar and heel. A brown textile Swoosh adorns either side of the exclusive Nike shoes, and insoles feature the Stones Throw Records logo. With only 50 pairs rumored to be in existence, the Quasimoto’s rarity has made it a grail for collector’s globally.

4 |Player Exclusives

Nike’s partnerships with its athletes are legendary, producing some of the most iconic rare sneakers of all time. Player Exclusives – shoes designed exclusively for an athlete – rank among the most collectible Nike sneakers. Given only to the player and their close friends and family, PE samples are never released to the general public.

Nike Air Force 1 Carmelo Anthony Sample PE

While some Player Exclusives are made specifically for athletes to compete in, lifestyle models like the Nike Air Force 1 also get the custom treatment. This Air Force 1 Sample from 2004 was designed for ten-time NBA All Star Carmelo Anthony. The Air Force 1 Sample features dark green color blocking at the heel, replacing the light blue Denver Nuggets colorway on the classic Carmelo Anthony PE. The athlete’s signature ‘Melo’ is embroidered at the lateral heel.

5 |Unreleased Samples

Prized by collectors for their unusual backstories and exceptional rarity, unreleased samples are among the most sought-after Nike sneakers. There are many reasons why a shoe might never see release – from legal drama to behind-the-scenes creative differences – all of which add to a rare sneaker's special allure.

Nike SB Dunk High Tiger Woods Sample

As part of the 2006 “Collection Royale,” Nike set out to release a number of silhouettes commemorating great athletes, including superstars like LeBron James, Serena Williams and Michael Vick. The collection’s final installation, an SB Dunk High, was originally intended to honor longtime Nike athlete Tiger Woods. This rare Dunk sample from 2005 is dressed in vibrant red and crimson leather in homage to the golfer’s signature red polo shirt, and is adorned with motifs related to his sport. The lateral panel features a golf bag placed on the face of an Ace of Clubs playing card, and on the printed toe box, a small ‘TW’ logo can be found. The style, however, was never released – rumor has it that Woods rejected the design. Ultimately, Nike released a similar SB Dunk High commemorating MLB pitcher Dontrelle Williams, with a full patent leather finish instead of the matte finish found on the Tiger Woods Dunk sample.

Nike SB Dunk High Pro Heaven’s Gate Sample

Among the most talked-about Nike SBs of 2008, the Heaven’s Gate Nike SB Dunk High Pro never hit retail shelves. One of a small number of known pairs, this unreleased sample was inspired by Heaven’s Gate, a religious group known for committing mass suicide in 1997. 39 identically dressed cult members were found dead, all wearing matching pairs of black and white Nike Decades, with their faces covered by a square of purple cloth. Nike SB team rider Todd Jordan designed the Nike SB Dunk High Pros in black, white and purple as an homage to the infamous group. The shoes are dressed in premium materials, including soft black leather for the toe and side panels, black suede for the toe box and flap, and purple canvas for the eyestays and collar. The SB Dunk Highs feature an attractive light blue lining and accents on the purple mesh tongue, with a white leather Swoosh completing the look. The Heaven’s Gate colorway was never brought to market - a decision which has certainly added to the rare sneaker’s legendary status.

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