Panam, Mexico’s most Mexican sneakers

When I first saw a pair of vintage-inspired Panam sneakers on my first trip to Mexico, I wanted a pair for myself. The only issue was I couldn’t find my size anywhere! While it’s very common for shoes in Mexico to not reach my size, it reinforced the shoe’s unattainability and local cache. So when I was given a pair in my size several years later, I was hooked.

It turns out this model, Panam’s most recognizable, is the 084 Campeón. Originally designed in the 1960s, it became the de-facto sneaker for a generation of Mexican children. From my research, its popularity came from a shift to more casual footwear around the time of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and the Campeón’s status as footwear for gym classes nationwide.

Its heavy unpadded rubber sole is combined with a flexible nylon fabric upper, leading to an odd combination of slip-on comfort and occasional foot pain when walking on pavement. Coming from a company that touts its classic designs and 100% Mexican supply chain, I would guess the odd design is a result of using the same molds, designs, and suppliers since the shoe’s inception, which, incidentally, is still made in Estado de Mexico for a fraction of the price of foreign imports like Adidas and Nike.

Despite its shortcomings, the 084 in Mexican size 29 fits my 11 US feet like a glove and its retro good looks have yet to be changed by updates as happens constantly with other brands. As a result, I’m on my sixth pair. For the price, which is between 350-550 MXN ($17-27), I don’t mind when they wear out and need to be replaced.

From what I’ve found, Panam nearly went out of business following the NAFTA-induced shakeup to the local shoe industry. In recent years, they’ve doubled down on their retro appeal while making inexpensive copies of famous models like Air Force 1 and Air Jordan. Some of these copies are quality, the Air Force 1 clones seem decent, while others are heavy with odd synthetic materials, though given that they’re 700 MXN ($35) vs. $100 or more for the real deal, they have gained significant market share.

For me, I keep going back to their 084 for its Mexican cred, and I’m not the only one. Panam famously did a collab edition of the 084 with Mexican punk band Molotov years ago and have recently done special editions for Jarritos, Cafe Cielito, Cerveza Indio, Frida Kahlo, Los Autenticos Decadentes, and a shoe commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Mexico City Metro. They’ve even done a special art installation in the Metro commemorating individual Metro stations using the colors and logos of those stations (see gallery below).

In a big commercial move compared to their Mexican street cred-inspired limited editions, they’ve launched a major collab series with Marvel, including a great Spider-Man edition. The company also recently opened its first US store, in San Diego.