The Pride Flag as we know it today first debuted at San Francisco’s Pride Parade in 1979. Over the course of the past 40 years, the six-striped design has become a powerful symbol of unity and solidarity for the LGBTQIA+ community. But here’s the thing—it’s not the original design.
The first-ever Pride Flag made its way into the world in 1978, courtesy of political activist and designer Gilbert Baker. He made it by hand, right down to the dyeing and sewing. And the first iteration had not six but eight stripes in colors that each represented something specific. Pink for sexuality, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic, blue for serenity, and violet for spirit.
Gilbert unveiled his creation to the community at the Pride Parade, and the organizers took note. They commissioned Baker to create a series of 400 flags to line the ’79 parade route. But when it was time to produce those flags, the company he was working with couldn’t come up with enough pink fabric. He had to remove it.
Removing the pink presented an issue, though: The seven-striped flag would be hung from the lampposts of Market Street, and those posts would obscure the center stripe. For the sake of symmetry and visibility, Baker also removed turquoise. And that, right there, is how the six-color Pride Flag made its monumental first appearance.
Now, 40 years later, Nike has teamed up with the Gilbert Baker Estate to create a collection that pays homage to the design that existed before logistical demands forced him to alter it. There’s a mix of apparel, accessories, and sneakers in the lineup, and all feature the original eight-stripe design. It’s all part of the brand’s annual BETRUE initiative.
BETRUE first started in 2012, led by Nike’s own employees. It’s since grown into an annual collection that launches in June in celebration of Pride Month. And this year is an especially relevant one, seeing as it’s the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, which sparked a surge in the movement for LGBTQIA+ civil rights.
The collection includes four sneaker designs, and we’ve got an up-close-and-personal look at our two personal favorites: the Air Max 90 and the Tailwind 79. Both, of course, feature the eight colors of Gilbert Baker’s first Pride Flag. Still, they’re vastly different when it comes to the overall vibe.
The Air Max 90 is the bolder of the pair, which makes perfect sense considering the sneaker’s overall aesthetic. A multi-layer swoosh brings in the core colors in proper order, while hits along the midsole, mudguard, heel, laces, and outsole continue to tell the story. It all comes together for a look that demands attention.
If subtlety is more your game, though, the Tailwind 79 manages to push the narrative forward in a quieter way. The bulk of the upper comes in low-key white suede and mesh, with an oversized black swoosh. A pink tongue doesn’t shout out loud, and while it’s unlikely that anyone will miss the Pride stripes at the heel, they’re an altogether more understated homage to Gilbert Baker’s legacy.
Whichever one strikes your fancy, you don’t have long to wait until these sneakers hit the market. The BETRUE collection launches at select global retailers on June 1, the first day of Pride Month. The whole thing rolls out in North America on June 8, on Nike’s site, the SNKRS app, and at select stores.
Gilbert Baker passed away in 2017, but the legacy of his creation lives on. If you’re looking for a way to honor it and get some stylish new sneakers at the same time, your chance is (almost) here. Mark your calendar.