Nike, Inc. is an American multinational corporation best known for the marketing and sales of footwear, sports equipment, apparel, and related accessories and services. The company is also actively engaged in research and development in the aforementioned areas.
Nike was the brainchild of Phil Knight. While studying at the University of Oregon, Knight was a keen middle-distance runner and competed on the university track and field team. Knight’s coach was Bill Bowerman, an intensely competitive man with a passion for tinkering with running shoes to optimize performance.
After graduating, Knight studied for an MBA at Stanford. There, he wrote a paper arguing that running shoe manufacturing should move from Germany to Japan where labor was cheaper. To put his idea to the test, Knight then traveled to Japan and struck a deal with Onitsuka Co. (now known as Asics) to export shoes to the United States.
Blue Ribbon Sports
As part of the deal, Knight founded Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964 to become the official U.S. distributor of Japanese running shoes. Bowerman also supported the new venture by providing product design ideas in exchange for 50% ownership of the company.
Knight started by selling shoes from the trunk of his Plymouth Valiant at track meets. Initial demand was promising, with many athletes preferring his shoes over the more expensive alternatives from Adidas or Puma. Excellent sales results allowed the pair to hire their first full-time employee in 1965. The first Blue Ribbon Sports retail store opened the following year in Santa Monica, California.
The ever-inquisitive Bowerman then proposed a new shoe design to Onitsuka that provided better support to runners. Named the Tiger Cortez, the shoe became instantly recognized for its sturdiness, stylishness, and comfort.
Despite the success of the Tiger Cortez, relations between Blue Ribbon Sports and Onitsuka soured some years later. Knight claimed the Japanese company was trying to wriggle out of an exclusivity deal to destroy his company. Onitsuka responded by claiming Knight was selling his own version of the Tiger Cortez under a new line called “Nike”.
Perhaps inevitably, the two companies parted ways in 1971. A subsequent lawsuit allowed both parties to sell essentially the same shoes under two different brand names.
Blue Ribbon Sports was then renamed Nike after the Greek goddess of victory. The idea for the name came from Jeff Johnson, the first employee Knight and Bowerman had hired six years previously. The trio then reached out to Carolyn Davidson, a design student at Portland State University. She created the now infamous Nike swoosh logo for $35, which Knight was initially ambivalent about.
Twelve years later, Knight grew to love the logo and decided to hold a luncheon to honor Davidson’s contribution to the company. He awarded her a gold Swoosh ring and an undisclosed amount of Nike stock as proper payment for services rendered.
Innovation, expansion, and endorsements
Nike continued to grow steadily during the 70s and 80s, with Bowerman developing the iconic, high-traction Waffle Trainer after noticing the grooves in his waffles during breakfast one morning.
Growth was also supported by clever advertising, with the 1988 “Just Do It” campaign becoming a household slogan.
In 1994, Nike struck a deal with NBA player Michael Jordan before he became one of the greatest basketballers of all time. Despite being released in 1985, the Nike Air Jordans continue to be popular around the world. In fact, the shoes netted the company $2.8 billion in 2018 alone.
Nike similarly maintains brand relevance today, partnering with high-profile sports stars in basketball, golf, football, baseball, and athletics.
- Nike was founded as Blue Ribbon Sports in 1965 by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman. Knight was a former student of Bowerman’s on the University of Oregon track and field team.
- Nike as a company name was suggested by the first employee Jeff Johnson, who claimed the idea came to him in a dream.
- The Nike swoosh logo was developed in 1971 by college student Carolyn Davidson for the princely sum of $35. Knight was ambivalent about the logo at first but properly rewarded Davidson for her contribution to the success of the company in 1983.
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