Nike quietly altered the packaging for a sneaker collaboration with artist Tom Sachs in 2017, scrubbing the box of his NikeCraft Mars Yard 2.0 shoe of the phrase “work like a slave” before the project launched that year, sources tell Complex. The shoes nearly made it to retail with the phrase on the inside of the lid of the box before Nike moved to have the text removed, sources say.
Sachs is one of Nike’s highest-profile collaborators; he came to work with the sneaker brand through his friendship with former Nike CEO Mark Parker and has released four separate Nike models since 2012. Sachs is under scrutiny this week in the wake of a report from Curbed that described his New York studio as a cult-like workplace where the artist is prone to violent outbursts and lewd comments.
The Curbed story says that Sachs once appeared on a Zoom call with women employees at Nike wearing just his underwear. In response, Sachs’ studio told Curbed that “virtual fittings” were a “normal part of the design process.”
Nike did not respond to Curbed’s request for comment on its story about Sachs.
The Tom Sachs x NikeCraft Mars Yard 2.0 was one of the most coveted sneakers of the last decade, a modern classic that presently fetches over $4,000 on the resale market. When it was first released, the shoe was immediately a target for resellers, who will sometimes pay well over a limited shoe’s retail price to secure stock from the Nike-partnered stores carrying it.
One reseller who was able to buy early pairs of the Mars Yard 2.0 from a retailer before the shoe released in 2017 says they had to return their pairs at the request of the store stocking them, as Nike had sent out a notice that the boxes needed to be altered.
The reseller requested anonymity so as not to jeopardize their access to early pairs from retailers, which Nike keeps under tight control.
“They’re recalling back all the shoes; we need to get them back,” the reseller remembers being told by the store that sold them the shoes. “There is a problem on the box.”
Nike apparently thought better of releasing a shoe in a box with a reference to working like a slave.
The original box for the Mars Yard 2.0 sneaker from 2017 had a quote from Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi on the inside of the lid reading, “Work like a slave, order like a king, create like a god.” Sachs’ website mentions Brancusi, saying that Sachs first learned of Brancusi during his formative years in college and developed “a personal relationship” with the sculptor’s work.
One source tells Complex that one of Nike’s fixes for the shoe boxes featuring the offending phrase was to apply duct tape to the inside of the lid where the quote was printed. The duct tape was used to rip off the thin layer of cardboard where Brancusi’s quote appeared and then re-applied. A box with a panel covered in duct tape, which some of the Mars Yard 2.0s arrived in at their first release, would look shoddy on most Nikes, but gels with the scrappy aesthetic of Sachs’ work.
The writing appears to linger just barely on the box for my personal pair, which I purchased from the NikeLab 21 Mercer store in 2017. After peeling back a few inches of duct tape I can make out underneath the faintest suggestions of a W, two Ks, and the word “create.”
The writing persists on some of the boxes for fake versions of the Tom Sachs x Nike Mars Yard 2.0. In YouTube videos like this one showing off the replicas, the text is printed in full in the same font modeled after Sachs’ handwriting that appears elsewhere on his Nike releases.
This week, Complex reached out to a vendor selling fake pairs of the Mars Yard 2.0 and requested a photo of the box. The photo they provided showed the box’s inside lid with the full Brancusi quote.
If a factory were producing fakes of the shoes, it tracks that it would base them off the original specs for the box and not have the updated, last-minute instructions from Nike to remove the text.
The new allegations against Sachs could threaten his relationship with Nike and their upcoming product collaborations. Nike has distanced itself from partners over similar issues in the past, and just last year cut short its deal with longtime endorser Kyrie Irving in the wake of his controversial support of an anti-Semitic film on social media.
Nike did not address Complex’s specific questions about the “work like a slave” text on the Mars Yard 2.0 box, but did issue a statement on the allegations made against Sachs.
“We’re deeply concerned by the very serious allegations,” a Nike spokesperson tells Complex. “We’re in contact with Tom and his studio seeking to better understand this situation and how these issues are being addressed.”
Sachs’ studio did not respond to Complex’s request for comment.
Nike is working on a Tom Sachs x Nike Mars Yard 3.0 shoe, according to internal brand documents viewed by Complex. No images of the upcoming Mars Yard 3.0 have leaked, and Nike has not publicly confirmed that the shoe is coming.
The third version of the Mars Yard is said to be distinct from the rubber-toe-capped 2.5 design that was distributed via a wear-test program in 2021, and also significantly different from the 2.0.