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Dunk Panda

The very first Nike Dunks came in a set of two-tone designs that exhibited a powerful colour-blocked aesthetic. Initially, this helped to grow the popularity of the shoes as their colours represented teams in the college basketball leagues of the mid-1980s. Later, this uncomplicated look drew more fans to the Dunk, both in its High and Low builds, as it provided them with a versatile styling option for everyday wear and sporting pursuits. The epitome of this style was the black and white Dunk, which came out early in the history of the sneaker, but which endures to this day. Despite, or maybe because of, its simplicity, this design, which traditionally consists of black leather overlays on a white background atop a white midsole and a black rubber outsole, has stood the test of time to become one of today’s most sought after sneakers – the Nike Dunk Panda.

The first time a pair of Nike Dunks was given the name Panda was in 2008 with the limited release of the Premium Ueno Panda. A high-top with a white faux pony hair upper and black leather overlays, it was made to honour Ling Ling – a giant panda at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo. A low-top version followed in 2014, but it was another five years before the next Nike Panda Dunk came out. This was Jeff Staple’s 2019 skating collaboration known as the SB Dunk Low Pro Panda Pigeon. A skate shoe following in the footsteps of his earlier Pigeon designs, it references the media furore that accompanied the release of the original NYC Pigeon back in 2005 via newspaper clipping graphics on its outsole. Beyond that, it features a black and white upper with hints of green on the branding, a bamboo print on the insole and, of course, a pigeon embroidered into the lateral heel.

Two years later, in March 2021, the classic Dunk Retro Panda was launched as a low-top version of the colourway in both men’s and women’s sizes. Fans of high-top Dunks had to wait almost another year until January 2022, when the High release added a splash of red to the tongue branding to go with the familiar two-tone upper. Incredible demand for both Nike Panda Dunks led the brand to restock the colourway multiple times in 2022 alone, with more being produced in 2023 as well. Due to its immense popularity, the shoe has now been released in the full spectrum of Nike’s range, including kids’ sizes, so there is a version of this iconic colourway for everyone.

The early 2020s was a prolific time for both Panda Dunk Lows and Highs as many new styles were created, each one bringing something new to the look. The Dunk High SE Vintage Panda is one such sneaker, its off-white midsole and exposed foam tongue lending the shoe a retro feel. The World Champ Dunk, also known as the Panda 2.0, is a luxurious version with touches of gold on the tongue and heel branding along with a golden lace lock and textured black leather overlays. Meanwhile, the Black Panda altered the colour scheme by giving the shoe more black than white; the former tone on the majority of the upper and the outsole, the latter only on the swooshes, midsole and laces. This sleeker version was updated in 2023 with the release of the Black Panda 2.0 – a model with a similar black construction but highlighted by additional hints of white on the insole branding as well as the body of the heel panel and tongue label, which helps to make the black text embroidered upon each stand out more.

There has also been a collection of Nike Dunk Reverse Panda models, all of which mix up the colour arrangement of the shoe in some way. The Air Dunk Jumbo edition, for example, completely flips the palette of the original, with white on its exaggerated overlays and black as the base layer, while another version of the Reverse Panda released both as a High and a Low comes almost entirely in white, with black accents on features such as the swooshes and heel branding. Some Panda colourways have added another tone to the traditional silhouette, starting with the Red Swoosh Panda. As the name suggests, the swooshes extending down its flanks are red, but it also has a heel panel and tongue branding in the same bright hue. Vibrant lime green text highlights the upper of the Reverse Panda Neon, and 2023’s Red Panda dons the reddish-brown tones of its namesake across its suede rear overlay and heel panel. It also has greyish brown suede through the midfoot and toe box alongside off-white leather on the swooshes, forefoot mudguard and eyestay. A black midsole and dark brown rubber outsole complete the look.

Returning to a more conventional colour scheme is the Nike Dunk Panda Next Nature, a sneaker with a very similar appearance to the 2021 edition but made with at least 20% recycled materials by weight. Its upper incorporates synthetic Flyleather – an eco-friendly alternative to more traditional materials – but the most visually striking thing about the shoe is its bright lime green insole, which is adorned with Nike’s Move to Zero pinwheel logo. Elsewhere, the Low Disrupt 2 Panda maintains the colourway’s black and white heritage while also playing around with the structure of its components by adding extra overlays and swooshes alongside embroidered sidewall logos and the words “Nike Dunk” written boldly across the tongue. Its predecessor, the eccentric Dunk Low Disrupt, has also had the Panda treatment, as has the Twist – another 2020’s model that altered the silhouette by putting TPU bands around the toe and heel. Around the same time, another new model known as the Nike Dunk High Up came out in a range of colourways that included the classic black and white Panda.

Throughout the history of the Nike Dunk, the Panda colourway has established itself as one of the most popular in this vast collection. Owing to its broad appeal, it has been recreated in all sorts of different designs, but has always maintained the overall aesthetic of the iconic original, making it a standout sneaker in the brand’s extensive catalogue.

Rank the Nike Dunk Panda

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