The HIDDEN History of Nike ACG

The outdoors-oriented line techwear heads and sneakerheads can agree on.

Technical gear is one of those apparel categories that captures a very broad cross section of enthusiasts. Of course you have your outdoor clothing acolytes who can tell you everything about denier, closures, and taped seams, but then you’ve got your techwear heads who worship at the altar of designers Errolson Hugh, Taka Kasuga (longtime designer of VEILANCE), and Arnar Mar Jonsson, and then there’s Nike ACG.

An acronym for “All-Conditions Gear,” the line debuted in the late ‘80s after Nike noticed a certain group of rock climbers named The Stonemasters were turning climbing into a subculture with its own unique style codes. They wore their hair long, climbed in carpenter pants, and opted to rock Nike running shoes instead of boots and other footwear meant for rocky terrain.

One of the most prolific minds of street culture who saw the cross-generational, multi-disciplinary appeal of techwear and ACG early on was the late Gary Warnett, who passed away at the young age of 39 five years ago. His Gwarizm blog remains a huge inspiration for what this newsletter strives to be, connecting the dots and highlighting the details that people might miss.

Take for example, a blog post titled “BANGERS” covering the 2014 relaunch of Nike ACG at the London NikeLab store. Warnett’s mind drops gems like how the line’s design input was actually formed by Patagonia designers, and highlighting early gems like the GORE-TEX Cervino parka and the Snowpatch Spire Pullover, an anorak with a neon color scheme that screams ‘90s sportswear.

Warnett’s well-documented love of all things GORE-TEX isn’t just all over his blog, which remains a treasure trove of information and musings written in between projects and articles for everyone from Complex to Highsnobiety. But his appreciation for the weatherproof material was commemorated by the folks at adidas, who created a special collection of GWAR-TEX shoes and garments in his honor shortly after he passed.

Of course, the ACG line also introduced several footwear silhouettes that remain sought after today. The Tinker Hatfield designed Mowabb just saw a proper retro, after its iconic colorway was referenced on numerous other silhouettes, while two monochromatic versions in 2018 elevated the silhouette to a high fashion level courtesy of COMME des GARÇONS (flipping ACG to CDG was so chef’s kiss perfect).

Originally released in 1991, the sneaker itself fused Hatfield’s Huarache design with elements of the Wildwood, and the speckled sole is meant to be an homage to the scales of the rainbow trout. For an even deeper diver into the history of ACG, there’s a particularly good read by Basement Approved featuring vintage ACG head Louis Holsgrove. He focuses on the evolution of the line in the late ‘90s through the early-2000s, a time when the aesthetics of the label went from brighter to more urban-inspired colorblocking.

“Jackets became more tech heavy. As well as building on Nike’s 30 year relationship with GORE-TEX (Nike was one of the first companies to acquire commercial orders in 1979), ACG introduced their in-house Storm-FIT in 1996,” says the Basement article. “Storm-FIT, a microfibre layer of polyester coated with breathable laminate, functioned similarly to GORE-TEX, but thanks to in-house production, was cheaper, and therefore opened up different markets. In a situation where GORE-TEX’s full capacities weren’t necessary, Storm-FIT would suffice. Still waterproof, still breathable, but a fraction of the price.”

Designers like George Nelson took the line to new heights in the mid-2000s, implementing technologies like RECCO into the “Sabotage” jacket, which allows for skiers and snowboarders to be successfully located should they disappear in an avalanche.

“We could kind of do whatever we wanted at ACG. We had a saying: It’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission,” Nelson says to Basement.

ACG’s next big designer came from Errolson Hugh of ACRONYM, who took the reins in 2016. He carried on the darker, tactical direction of the label, but obviously inserting his well-known codes and design systems into the mix.

“Nike is obviously Nike, but we have the same kind of design ethos, the same kind of goals as far as technicality and quality and delivering the absolute best that’s possible,” says Hugh in a 2016 interview with Sole Collector. “I didn’t have to do any explaining, you know? We wanted the same thing.”

Hugh already had a few ACRONYM x Nike collaborations under his belt, and given his long career of working for other activewear labels like Burton, it’s evident he can freely toggle between designing for a more conceptual label and designing within a certain corporate paradigm. The advantage is the latter affords you the ability to take creative risks at a grander scale.

“The great thing about it for us is that it’s quite difficult for us to make something that’s anywhere near what Nike can deliver in terms of affordability, so it gives a different level—a different type of consumer,” Hugh says to Sole Collector. “It’s like a nice introduction to the brand and it’s really cool to make something that can get out onto the street in that kind of quantity. Acronym is super specialized in the manufacturing—every aspect prevents it from kind of becoming that widespread—so it’s great to have that opportunity.”

The upcoming HIDDEN drop takes the slightest bit of inspiration from this era of techwear. The half-zip anorak and returning cargo tech pants are made of a 4-ply nylon with details like taped seams, sealed zippers, and laser-cut edges. Sort of a way to pay a small homage to that area where everyday gear and All Conditions Gear meet in the middle.

Hugh and ACG’s partnership only lasted a couple of seasons, as it was announced in 2018 that his iteration of the storied sub-label was coming to a close. However, his successor found a way to bring the line back to its roots without erasing the modern appeal.

Enter James Arizumi, a veteran Nike designer who has previously put Nike SB on the map in a brand new way (you can thank him for the Hawaii Dunks, What The Dunks?, Three Bears pack, and other iconic models), returned as the creative head of SB and ACG.

“The best part about Nike being a part of ACG or us being a part of Nike is that we can take the best innovations and technologies that are designed for other sports, like basketball, baseball, football, soccer, and everything in between, and apply it to a new space, the outdoors,” Arizumi tells Highsnobiety. “We're connecting with people [because ACG doesn't] fit the mold of what outdoor clothing or gear is supposed to look like. I look at the apparel, footwear, and gear that we build for ACG as vehicles or bridges to get people to do stuff they normally wouldn't do in the outdoors.”

In essence, ACG was one of the first ostensible “outdoors” labels to realize its true constituents weren’t necessarily mountain climbers and avid nature enthusiasts, but the kind of gear heads that are more familiar with Stone Island than the Stone Masters. As a result of decades of well-made, thought-out apparel and footwear, the line inspired by an unlikely subculture has become one in and of itself.