The History of Nike

About The Brand

Nike are the godfather of the sportswear mafia. Some brands reach the top through providing reliable quality and some do so through consistent innovation, Nike has proven that they can do both.

Foundation & Innovation

Phil Knight, Nike founder was an American college graduate and keen mid-distance runner. He had a desire to combine his two passions, sports and making money. The original aim was to create high-quality running shoes to compete with German brands Puma and Adidas using low cost manufacturing in Japan. Knight travelled to Japan where he met with the parent company of Tiger Shoes (now known as Asics) and took some sample trainers back to The University of Oregon to ask his coach to test them. After Coach Bowerman gave his approval, he and Knight went into business, using an initial investment of $500 each, operating as a distributor for Tiger called ‘Blue Ribbon Sports’.


Six years later, the bond between Knight and Tiger Shoes was weakening and Knight decided he wanted out. In 1971, Blue Ribbon Sports went solo, launching footwear range ‘Nike’, named after the Greek goddess of victory. A graphics student from Portland called Carolyn Davidson created the ‘Swoosh’ logo after being inspired by the winged Goddess (Nike) and sold the rights to it for $35, which doesn’t seem like a whole lot to spend for what is now the world’s most widely recognised logo.

In 1971, Nike’s first patented shoe, the Waffle Trainer was released. The inspiration came from his wife’s waffle iron, one morning, he saw the pattern the iron left and wondered if it would help his athletes grip the track. After some experimentation in the garage and an argument with his wife about a new iron, Bowerman decided it was a great idea and began manufacturing. It quickly became the best selling training shoe in the US.

The Brand

In 1976, Knight and Bowerman were ready for their first advertising campaign, they hired John Brown and Partners who created the first ever Nike advert. It didn’t even contain a Nike product, simply a long shot of a runner captioned "THERE IS NO FINISH LINE". This was the start of a journey in what might be the best-marketed brand ever. Nike sold their belief and message before they tried to sell their shoe and it worked.

In 1982, Nike released the Air Force 1 and in 1984, they signed Michael Jordan. These two years changed the brand forever, the AF 1's became an American bestseller and Michael Jordan would go on to become the greatest NBA player of all time, making billions of dollars for Nike through the brand 'Air Jordan'. The Af 1's are still insanely popular to this day, hip-hoppers in the Bronx first picked up the shoe and from there it's never left mainstream fashion.

Nike has also promoted feminism and the empowerment of women since their earliest days, which is no doubt a key reason for their growth. Not only did they win over a new demographic of American women, but men were also likely to view Nike in higher regards for what was once a forward-thinking mindset.

From then to now, their brand has been built on these eye-catching adverts which promote the pursuit of greatness through the ‘Just Do It’ ethos. The message is that their products will enable you to fill your potential.

Today, Nike is the most popular sports brand in the world. In 2016 in the US, nine out of the top ten most popular shoes were made by Nike, or from a company that Nike owns (Jordan and Converse).
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