Just do it. The swoosh. No brand was mentioned yet you may be thinking, “ah it’s Nike”. There is no denying that their trademarked swoosh has been a simple yet significant way for people to identify their brand. Athletes or even people who like sportswear can’t stop raving about their products. It makes us all wonder, how did they get to where they are now?
In this article, we will get to know Nike through the years and discover what they did to become one of the biggest sportswear brands in the world.
Blue Ribbon Sports
Nike’s humble beginnings started in 1964—they didn’t even have the name they had today, they were known as Blue Ribbon Sports. It started when Phil Knight, a track and field runner, and student at the University of Oregon met his coach Bill Bowerman.
Aside from being naturally competitive and a great coach to his students, Bowerman showed a fascination with tweaking running shoes, and he constantly tinkered with his students’ shoes after he learned some skills from the local shoemaker.
Knight was the first student to try Bowerman’s shoes. According to Nike, Bowerman saw him as an unimportant runner who could test his shoes. He offered to take one of Knight’s shoes and modify them to his custom design. Knight accepted the offer and most stories say that it worked so well that his teammate Otis Davis took them from him and won the 400-meter dash in the 1960 Olympics. To this day, Davis insists that he never took the shoes and that Bowerman had made those shoes for him.
Knight then went to Standford for his MBA and he wrote a paper that proposed his theory that the production of running shoes should move to Japan from Germany where labor costs were cheaper. He got to test this theory after he graduated in 1962 when Knight struck a deal with a group of Japanese businessmen to export Onitsuka Tiger shoes to the United States.
Bowerman, who believed that German shoes were the best running shoes in the market, also believed that they weren’t too special and could be replicated. He decided to support Knight’s venture and went on a 50-50 deal with him and started Blue Ribbon Sports on January 25, 1964, in Eugene, Oregon.
Before all their fancy stores, Knight sold Tiger shoes from his car as soon as got back from Japan. After a while, it became clear that the demand for cheaper alternatives to Adidas and Puma was high. Many people made the switch to Tiger shoes as soon as they hit the market.
In 1965, the ever-innovative Coach Bowerman suggested that the Tiger manufacturer change the soles of the shoes to one that had a cushioned innersole, soft rubber on the top of the heel, hard sponge rubber on the middle of the heel, and a nice firm rubber outsole.
This design was named the Tiger Cortez and was both a major success and a source of the split between Blue Ribbon and Tiger. The shoe was launched in 1967 and was an instant hit because of its comfortable yet sturdy design. But then the relationship soured between Tiger and Blue Ribbon when the former accused Bowerman and Knight of selling their shoes under a new brand called “Nike” while Knight accused Tiger of trying to find a way out of their exclusivity deal.
The split became formal in 1971 when Tiger filed a lawsuit against Blue Ribbon Sports. The courts ruled that they can sell their own versions of the model and would go down in history as the only best-selling shoe model from two different companies—the Nike Cortez and the Tiger Corsair (now known as Asics).
After the split and the lawsuits, Blue Ribbon Sports retired its name and called itself Nike. They planned on naming it Dimension 6 but Jeff Johnson got the inspiration to name it Nike after seeing the goddess’ name in his dream. Their next step was to find the best logo for their new name.
Carolyn Davidson, a design student at Portland State University, made the initial swoosh sketches and was paid $35 for her work. Knight didn’t like the design and said that it might grow on him. In 1983, Phil Knight held a party for Davidson and gave her 500 shares of stock which is worth millions of dollars today.
Success has been constant since then as Nike continued Blue Ribbon Sports’ dream of providing affordable and sturdy shoes to people. Their next big hit was when Bowerman launched his famous waffle design soles and called it the waffle trainer. The company has since then had constant growth and made its founders Knight and Bowerman millionaires in 1980.
Their most famous ad campaign which is still being used to this day is their “Just Do It” slogan which was apparently inspired by an American murderer Gary Gilmore who said “let’s do it” before he was killed by a firing squad.