It’s one of the most iconic brands in the world. The tick symbol or the slogan “Just Do It” stands on its own as being completely identifiable without the need for explanation or the brand name to be present.
We are, of course, talking about Nike. With a net worth of $35 billion, this company dominates the sporting goods industry right around the globe.
Nike has been with us for many years now, but what is the story of this famous sportswear brand?
In this article, we’ll share the story of Nike and tell you how the brand came to be and how it got where it is today.
What Is the Story of Nike?
Before Air Maxs and the “Just Do It” slogan was born, a different company existed.
If we rewind to the 1960s, our story starts with a completely different company name: Blue Ribbon Sports. Before we get to that part of Nike’s history, we need to head to the Univerity of Oregon.
Phil Knight was a student at the University of Oregon. While he was a student, he ran for the track and field team. This introduced him to the coach, Bill Bowerman.
Bowerman had a healthily competitive ethos that saw him doing everything he could to help his runners achieve their best. One of the areas he was particularly interested in was optimizing their running shoes. He had learned from a local cobbler how to work on shoes.
Knight was the first person to wear any of Bowerman’s shoes. He was an unimportant enough runner to test his shoes with. Bowerman took some of Knight’s shoes and fitted them with his custom design. These worked so well that Otis Davis ended up taking them and won gold for the 400-meter dash at the 1960 Olympics.
Following his time at the University of Oregon, Knight went on to study for an MBA at Stanford. During his time at Stanford, Knight wrote a paper hypothesizing that the running shoe production would be better handled in Japan, where there was cheaper labor, instead of its current center of Germany.
Knight got to test his theory in 1962 when he made a deal with some Japanese businessmen to export Tiger shoes to the United States.
Bowerman fully supported Knights venture and entered into a 50-50 business deal for ownership of the company, which would be called Blue Ribbon Sports.
Nike Is Born
Initially, Knight sold his Tiger shoes from the back of his car. It quickly became apparent that there was a high demand for these shoes.
Bowerman proposed a new shoe design to the Tiger shoe company that featured a cushioned innersole, a soft sponge around the forefoot and top of the heel, a harder sponge in the middle of the heel, as well as a rubber outer sole.
This design would be hugely popular for Blue Ribbon; however, it would cause conflict between them and Tiger. The shoe was called Tiger Cortez and was comfortable, stylish, and sturdy.
The shoe would eventually cause Tiger and Blue Ribbon to part ways and lead to a lawsuit stating that both companies could sell a version of the shoe. The shoe would become a best seller for Tiger (now Asics) and the recently rebranded Nike.
The Nike Swish
After splitting with Tiger in 1971, Nike went under a rebranding exercise. The name Nike comes from the Greek goddess of victory.
Nike then reached out to a design student called Carolyn Davis from Portland State University, paying her $2 an hour for her work on the logo. She received a total of $35 for her work.
Knight wasn’t a big fan of the logo. He hoped in time that it would grow on him.
Fortunately, it did, and the iconic logo makes the brand easily identifiable the whole world over. To repay Davis properly for the $35 logo, Knight awarded 500 shares to Davis in 1983. This would be worth around $1 million today.
In the early days as Nike, Bowerman would design the Waffle sole- based on a breakfast waffle and designed to give runners more traction as they ran. The design was made initially using melted urethane on a waffle iron. The iconic waffle trainer had arrived.
The shoe was a huge success for the company and helped the brand grow in the early years.
Nike Air Jordan
In 1980, the company went public, which immediately made Phil Knight’s shares worth $178 million.
The company has only grown since then, aided by some great marketing. One of the most famous campaigns was “Just Do it,” which was inspired by the last words of the murder Gary Gilmore as he faced the firing squad.
The brand has also found celebrity endorsements hugely beneficial after signing Lebron James, Tiger Woods, and Kobe Bryant early on in their careers.
But perhaps the best-known endorsement Nike ever managed to come up with was with Michael Jordan.
Nike spotted Jordan’s potential very early on, and they signed him up for an endorsement just before his first season with the pros back in 1984.
Even though Jordan never wore Nike before and was hoping for a deal with Adidas, he ended up signing after the Nike company promised $500,000 a year for half a decade and shoes customized to his request.
The deal worked out well for both Nike and Jordan, with Nike Air Jordans still a cash cow to this day. The company still makes billions each year in sales of the shoes, and Jordan still nets $100 million a year in royalties.
Just Do It
The story of Nike was not without controversy; however, it’s amazing to see how they went from track and field to becoming one of the biggest sports brands ever.
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