Air Jordan 1 vs. AJKO: What’s the Difference?
You’re probably all familiar with the history of the Air Jordan 1 and it’s little brother the Nike Dunk. If not, be sure to check out the Jordan 1 High, Mid, and Dunk comparison here. But did you know that the Dunk wasn’t the only cheaper alternative to the Jordan 1? Even though the 1 didn’t sell nearly as well as Nike would have hoped, there were a number of brands who did blatant rip-offs of the design to sell for less money. Take a look at these “Volleys” sole collector found.
As you can probably guess, Nike did not like seeing their Jordans sit on shelves, while off-brand sneakers moved. What could they do, though. Sue the companies? Push the Dunk harder?
No, they decided to create their own knock off – the AJKO. And, when I say knock off, I mean it literally. AJKO stands for Air Jordan Knock Off.
Taking away most of the things that made an Air Jordan an Air Jordan except the style, the AJKO was able to be sold at a more affordable price point for those who might not be able to drop $65 on the real thing.
With the AJKO coming back – at a price a lot higher than $65 this time – let’s take a look and see what the differences are between the Air Jordan 1 vs the AJKO.
(By the way, the Jordan 1 being compared here is a high OG)
At first blush, the AJKO and the Jordan 1 look fairly similar. On both you’ll find a colored toe guard, midfoot straps, etc. However, once you get closer, you’ll find that they differ quite a bit. In fact, with so many Nike basketball sneakers sharing a similar design in the mid-80’s, if the AJKO didn’t have the wings logo it could easily have been its own model.
The first, and most obvious, difference is the materials used. We’ll go more in depth in its own section later, but the AJKO is made up primarily of canvas, where the Jordan 1 is made up primarily of leather. With a really coarse weave, it’s impossible to miss.
The proportions of the panels are also all a bit different. The toe guard is lower on the AJKO, leaving more white than on a Jordan 1. The midfoot straps are wider as well. When you combine the two, the front of the AJKO feels much “heavier.” It’s where your eye goes first.
Flipping the script on the back, the Jordan 1 has a heel cap (typically in the primary color) and multiple layers of material. The AJKO instead has no heel cap at all. These design features mean the Jordan 1 pulls your eye to the back of the shoe, instead of the front.
Speaking of the back, the Jordan 1 is much taller. The AJKO is really more of a mid – similar to a Dunk high or Jordan 1 mid. While Jordan actually played in mids, these are noticeably lower if you typically wear highs. While we’re up here, another similarity the AJKO shares with the dunks are that its ankle straps are not attached like they are in the Jordan 1.
Finally, the AJKO says just that on the wings logo.
Mid- and Outsole
In order to keep costs down, the AJKO wasn’t able to use the fairly expensive (for the time) tooling from the Jordan 1. Instead, it used the mid and outsole from the Nike Vandal.
This was probably a good decision from Nike. From a few feet away, they don’t look all that different. Both feature concentric circles under the forefoot, a star pattern along the toe, and a Nike logo in the middle. It’s really only the back where major changes can be seen – with the AJKO having more stars and circles, and the Jordan having blocks.
The AJKO has one feature that most people will like for daily wear. On the Jordan 1, the entire outsole is flat. This is great for grip when on a court, but less great for walking around. The AJKO has a slight carve out on the back of the heel, which gives a bit of a roll when you walk. It’s a trick that everyone from Sketchers to Yeezy are using today.
While both outsoles are stitched on, the AJKO has less “stitches per inch.” Or, in other words, the sole is directly attached to the upper at fewer points. This isn’t a huge deal – it’s glue that is really keeping the two together – but a higher stitch count is generally preferred.
Fit & Comfort
While I’d say that you’ll probably wear the same size in both the Air Jordan 1 and the AJKO, the definitely don’t fit the same. The Air Jordan 1 is already pretty narrow, the AJKO takes it to another level. It’s not too bad around your heel, the AJKO is as narrow as the Nike Blazer at the forefoot.
If you have anything wider than average feet, I’d be very worried about the AJKO. I’d say that a lot of people simply won’t be able to wear the AJKO at all. Including myself.
When it comes to comfort, the AJKO has definitely earned it’s Knock Off name, as it isn’t really a close comparison. Last aside, the Jordan 1 feels like a more premium product in every way.
First, and maybe most importantly, the AJKO has no air unit. While the whole calling-your-shoes-a-knock-off thing was probably why it was actually shorted, the official reason why it’s “AJ” instead of “Air Jordan” is that it doesn’t have any air. The AJKO feels like a Dunk underfoot. Not that the air unit in the Jordan 1 is doing much, but it is doing something.
Speaking of Dunks, the AJKO shares more than just the underfoot feeling. Where the padding in the Jordan 1 is fairly dense but not that thick, the AJKO padding is less dense, but thicker. Personally, I find the Jordan 1 solution a more comfortable option – just like when comparing the Jordan 1 and the Dunk – but that is all preference.
There are a few areas where the knock-off does beat the original. First, as already mentioned, the curve of the outsole makes these easier to just walk around in. Second, the canvas upper is much more breathable. If it’s a hot summer day, a high-top leather sneaker can get pretty swampy. That isn’t an issue in the AJKO.
Materials & Construction
This is where you’ll find the biggest difference when comparing the Jordan 1 vs. AJKO.
It’s been mentioned a few times here before, but the first thing you’ll notice between these two shoes is that the upper of the Jordan 1s are (almost) always leather, and the upper of the AJKO is always canvas. But the materials difference doesn’t stop there.
Around the collar, the Jordan 1 will have leather ankle straps and plasticky black collar that at least has a bit of effort put into it. On the AJKO, both the straps and the padded area (along with the swoosh) are incredibly cheap feeling plastic. Nike is able to get away with it today because that is how the originals were, but if they launched something with this material today, they would be laughed out of the room.
The canvas upper also required a few additional changes. In order to keep the canvas from fraying, the eyelets need metal grommets put in, and all of the panels need another cloth edge piece.
Of course, both the Jordan 1 and the AJKO have rubber cup soles. But where the Jordan 1 has an EVA-encased air unit, the AJKO is just a thin layer of foam between you and that hard rubber.
Underfoot, the AJKO hides one secret that is actually really surprising. Unlike the Jordan 1 High OG, the AJKO is board lasted. This means that the shoe is constructed using a fiberboard as the base, rather than a soft felt-like strobel. Almost every modern sneaker uses a strobel construction, so building the AJKO with a board – like they did in the 1980’s – actually cost Nike a few extra bucks.
At retail, there isn’t all that much in it between the Air Jordan 1 and the AJKO. The Jordan 1s typically retail at $170, and the AJKO are at $150. Cheaper, sure, but still a lot more than something like a Dunk. To be fair, the construction of the AJKO adds a good bit to that price. To get a Jordan 1 with similar construction you need to jump to the 85 Cut – which is a $200 MSRP.
When it comes to resale, pricing is all over the board depending on colorway. Take the Georgetown colorway. On these, the AJKO typically runs around $400, where the Jordan 1 85 cut is closer to $300. On the other hand, in orange like the ones here, a Shattered Backboard 2.0 can be $1,000 in an OG high, or $100 for the AJKO.
All that being said, in general, the AJKO will come in lower than it’s OG counterpart.
Ultimately, the decision on Air Jordan 1 vs. AJKO is up to you. Objectively, the Jordan 1 is a better sneaker. It’s got better materials, better comfort, more colorways to choose from, and, since they seem to drop a new colorway every week, they are easier to get.
At the same time, if you’re a true sneaker geek – someone who really lives for the history of sneakers – the AJKO is a retro in the purest sense. All of its flaws – the weird last, the lack of comfort, the cheap materials – are how they were in 1985. The sneaker was specifically designed to be as cheap as possible to fend off the knock off models.
The AJKO has the respect of people like Kris over at Weartesters who live and breathe sneaker history.
In other words, if you care about retro sneakers because you want the history, the AJKO does the job better. However, if you want something that looks great and will only kind of kill your feet, the Jordan 1 does it better.
It’s great to have a choice.