Normally, the people approaching wearers of Off-White x Nike Air Max 90s are sneakerheads and hypebeasts. The man who struck up a conversation with Justin Bieber about his sneakers this week, however, had a very different idea in mind.
On Wednesday, Bieber took to his Instagram Story to describe how he'd just been approached by a police officer who seemed to think the Biebs, a global pop star worth an estimated $265 million, had stolen the shoes—since they still had designer Virgil Abloh's signature zip tie (which, admittedly, does resemble some sort of security marker) attached. "Virgil, my God, bro. You freaking—you're killing me, man! I just had a cop come up to me and ask me why I still had the security tag on my shoe. What the…!" Bieber said in his Story, over a zoomed-in shot of his Desert Ore shoe, with the pale blue zip tie tag in question looped around the laces.
"I had to tell him, 'Bro, it's just fashion, I don't know.' He's like, 'It sure looks like a security tag.' I'm like, 'Nah, bro, you can check it out. It looks like it, though,'" he continued, telling Abloh, "But you're getting me in trouble!"
Unwitting police officers aren't the only ones confused by Abloh's habit of attaching zip ties to the sneakers and apparel he designs. In fact, back in 2017, Off-White released an instructional video explaining what to do with the zip ties, presumably after noticing the flood of confusion they'd caused in the fashion community. Per the video, your options are either "cut the tie" or "leave it alone." Helpful.
Though the brand hasn't gone into much further detail—about, say, why the zip ties are there—Abloh did acknowledge at least one purpose they serve. In 2018, when a sneaker that hypebeasts initially assumed to be a brand-new colorway of the Off-White Nikes turned out to be a knockoff, Abloh noted on Twitter that "the 'zip-tie' is the fastest way to tell if they are real or not...." (Unfortunately, knockoff versions of the zip ties themselves are also readily available online, perhaps throwing a wrench in their authentication abilities.)
Besides serving as an anticounterfeit tool, the tags have also been characterized simply as a design flourish referencing Abloh's early career in industrial architecture, or as a tribute to his commitment to offbeat, one-of-a-kind details (see: his much-memed overuse of quotation marks). For its part, in a 2017 post, the brand referred to the tags merely as "branding with a degree of difficulty." Bieber, however, probably summed up the zip ties and their purpose best: "Bro, it's just fashion, I don't know."