Nike History: 1964 – Present

It doesn’t matter if you like sneakers, music, fashion or sports, chances are you are familiar with Nike. Since its inception in 1964, Nike has apparently dominated the sneaker and sneaker market with an abundance of designs, functional pieces and styles of clothing, but where did it come from and how did it become the biggest company in the world? shoes in the world?

There is no doubt that if you are researching the history of Nike there are a million questions for you to answer, so here at The Sole Supplier, we made it our mission to bring you the definitive guide to the history of the Nike brand. From humble beginnings to name choice, to some of its most iconic products, we take a timeline of some of Nike’s iconic moments that helped shape the brand into the strength it is today.

Humble beginnings

Our story begins with two men named Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight. Bill Bowerman was a track and field coach at the University of Oregon who reunited with his former student Phil Knight after a brief stint at Stanford University. Bowerman was fascinated by the idea of ​​optimizing athletic shoes and running shoes for performance, and in turn, he started tinkering with different models after learning a few tips and tricks from a local shoemaker. On January 25, 1964, the duo decided to found Blue Ribbon Sports, an Eugene, Oregon-based shoe company that for many years operated the back of a car in track and field competitions.

The company started as a distributor of a range of imported shoes, namely Onitsuka Tiger. Knight was amazed at the quality of the sneakers from Onitsuka Co. and found them to be a breath of fresh air compared to the German dominated sneaker market. As the world got caught up in deciding between Puma and adidas, Phil Knight turned to Onitsuka Tiger and Japan for a new top running trainer.

After being for a few years the sole distributor of Onitsuka in the United States, increasing competition made Knight and Bowerman think about how they would do things differently. The companies drifted apart when Blue Ribbon Sports became Nike in 1971 and was preparing to launch its own trainer.

Bowerman has always created prototype coaches for the athletes he coaches. After separating pairs of Onitsuka Tiger running shoes and thinking about different ways of doing things, he started working on what would become Nike’s very first sneaker.

How did Nike get its name?

Changing the name of Blue Ribbon Sports to Nike was the idea of ​​the company’s very first employee, Jess Johnson. The brand’s iconic Swoosh logo was previously designed by University of Portland student Carolyn Davidson, but the company still didn’t have a name. Taking inspiration from the design of the Swoosh, Johnson suggested the name Nike, named after the winged Greek goddess of victory. The rest is history.

What was the first Nike shoe?

The first Nike shoe was dubbed the “Moon Shoe” and was made in Bowerman’s waffle iron. This waffle sole design came to fruition after Bill Bowerman had breakfast and wondered if the grooves in his waffle would work for extra traction when playing sports. After a few tries of the waffle iron, the Waffle Trainer was finally born and met with almost immediate success thanks to its grippy and performance-oriented design. This first prototype model was technically the first Nike shoe and sold at Sotheby’s for nearly $ 450,000.

The first commercial Nike shoe was a variation of the “Moon Shoe” with a more refined design. The shoe was to be called the Nike Waffle Racer and was first distributed to athletes at track events in the United States.

Although the Waffle Racer was well designed and had minor success, it has yet to launch Nike to the same level as Adidas or Puma. However, a new design has helped put them on the right path.

The duo found success with a design originally called “Aztec”. The name had to be changed because adidas had a sneaker of the same name, so to refer to the history and fall of the Aztecs, the shoe became the Nike Cortez. The Cortez was a big hit after making its debut at the Mexico Games due to its cutting edge design and technology, and helped Nike become the sneaker giant we know today.

The Cortez has a confusing past, as it was originally designed and produced by Onitsuka Co. before Knight and Bowerman decided to release their own version under the Nike name. When Onitsuka Co. found out that Nike was selling the Cortez model, the problem escalated and ended in a legal battle. The argument was settled in court, with the judge ruling that both brands could sell their own iteration of the Cortez under their name.

Gain traction

In 1976, Nike was ready to continue expanding, so they hired John Brown and Partners, a Seattle-based advertising company to help it gain visibility. A year later, the agency created the first branded advertisement for Nike entitled “There is no finish line”. While the ad doesn’t feature any real Nike shoes up close, it has apparently been a success and helped propel the brand into the stratosphere. By 1980, Nike had achieved a huge 50% market share in the US athletic footwear market, then went public later in the year.

Following the popularity of its sneakers, Nike decided to expand into the apparel world in 1979 and created a line of sportswear and sportswear. One of his first pieces was the Windrunner, a lightweight jacket that quickly became a favorite both on the street and on the track due to its modern chevron style design.

In 1982, Nike chose Weiden + Kennedy as the global advertising agency to continue its expansion into other territories. While creating numerous print and television commercials in the 1980s, band co-founder Dan Weiden eventually came up with the famous slogan “Just Do It” for a 1988 campaign. Oddly, Weiden credits murderer Gary Gilmore with credit for this saying. because of his famous line “Let do it” before his execution. This saying will ultimately be chosen by Advertising Age as one of the 5 best slogans of the 20th century.

Jordanian era

A few years later, in 1984, Nike signed a future 21-year-old basketball player by the name of Michael Jordan. Despite being a rookie in the NBA, Jordan rejected the possibility of signing with direct competitors Reebok or Converse and instead decided to sign for Nike for a fee of $ 500,000 per year.

The signing was spurred on by the promise that Nike would give MJ his own signature line and thus Air Jordan was born. In proceeding with the signing, Jordan would play a few games in the Nike Air Ship sneaker, but that would ultimately be banned due to the non-NBA-standard colorway at the time. Instead, Nike designers Peter Moore, Tinker Hatfield, and Bruce Kilgore all decided to focus their energy elsewhere and Air Jordan 1 was born.

The original Air Jordan 1 sneakers were designed exclusively for Michael Jordan in late 1984 and would eventually go on general sale in April 1985. The shoe itself featured high-top construction, the famous Nike Swoosh, and a black “Bred” colourway. /Red .

In 1987 Nike released a new line of sneakers starting with the Air Max 1. These sneakers were designed primarily by Tinker Hatfield and featured the first physical encapsulation of air in their cushioned midsoles. The original colourway arrived in a University Red / White colourway, and to this day it’s a silhouette desired by sneakerheads around the world, even today.

In 1990, Nike moved to its eight-building world headquarters campus in Beaverton, Oregon. Beaverton’s large 400-acre head office gave access to 11,000 employees as well as the Nike Sports Research lab to develop all the latest technology, a Nike museum to display relics of the past, three fitness centers and facilities for sponsored athletes; and a range of athletic fields, tracks and racing paths.

At the same time, the third Nike Air Max arrived in the form of the Nike Air Max 90. This particular model featured a thicker construction as well as a more futuristic design and style.

World domination

Continuing the efforts of the 1990s, Nike opened its first line of Niketown chain stores, the first of which arrived in Portland, Oregon. These separate stores celebrated some of the Nike sponsored athletes, such as Micheal Jordan, while also offering a full line of exclusive Nike products for all kinds of sports. In 1996, Nike recruited famous golf superstar Tiger Woods. The move helped Nike dive deeper into new territory within golf and boosted a new collection of fans around the world.

The year 1997 saw Nike’s foray into skateboarding with a new line of sneakers featuring increased cushioning, Zoom Air insoles and upgraded materials, ideal for withstanding heavy impacts and the wear and tear of skateboarding. . Due to the success of this line, Nike decided to double its foray into skateboarding and in 2001 launched the Nike SB line. Shortly after the launch of Nike SB, the brand decided to release a collection of signature Dunks for each of their pro skaters. This latest Dunk SB iteration was originally a basketball sneaker, but instead featured a padded tongue, thicker laces, and sturdy construction to ensure maximum comfort and durability.

With further expansion in mind and Michael Jordan becoming a household name, in 2003 Nike decided to put basketball legend Lebron James and the late and great Kobe Bryant on their roster. This push into basketball would solidify the brand as a primary shoe sponsor within the NBA. The following year, co-founder Phil Knight will step down as president of Nike, but will retain his role as president. He would be replaced by William Perez, an American businessman, but Perez would only last 2 years in the role due to lingering disagreements with Knight over how the business was run. In 2005, Nike will sign tennis player Rafael Nadal for sponsorship and eventually its own clothing line.

In 2008, Nike would buy the English brand Umbro, a brand best known for its famous football kits for $ 580 million. The move would further help Nike take control of the football market and expand its existing line of football clothing and sports equipment. In 2012 and 2015, Nike would become the official supplier to the NFL and the NBA, insuring all kits and uniforms worn by players, officials and staff.

Currently in 2021, Nike, Inc. is the largest and largest supplier of athletic footwear, clothing, and other sports equipment. The group also owns other well-known brands such as Jordan and Converse.


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