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A Brief History of Nike

A Brief History of Nike

clock-circular-outline Posted January 26, 2024

From Beaverton to the world. We celebrate 60 years of Nike with a brief look back on one of the most renowned sneaker and lifestyle brands of all time.

History of Nike

Courtesy of Wu Yi via Unsplash Images

The Start Line:

No one could have ever predicted Nike’s success when it was first established back in 1964. Initially named ‘Blue Ribbon Sports’ (BRS), the company was founded by Oregon track and field coach Bill Bowerman and his former student Phil Knight, who both shared a passion for sports and a belief that athletes deserved lightweight, high-performance sneakers.

From Distributors to Creators:

The duo started by importing and distributing shoes from the Japan-based retailer Onitsuka Tiger (commonly known as ASICS), selling them out of the back of a car at various track meets. However, as their business grew, tensions began to mount with Onitsuka Tiger, particularly over the Tiger Cortez model – a shoe co-designed by Bowerman. This model became a point of contention and was pivotal in the eventual split between the two companies.

Tiger 'Cortez' model
BRS claimed rights to the design, while Onitsuka Tiger insisted it was their creation. This dispute not only led to the severance of the partnership but also catalysed the transformation of Blue Ribbon Sports into an independent brand, which would soon be known worldwide as Nike.

A Quick Rebrand:

The transition from Blue Ribbon Sports to Nike occurred in 1971. As BRS was preparing to launch its own line of footwear after the split from Onitsuka Tiger, the need for a new brand identity was apparent.

The name ‘Nike’, inspired by the Greek goddess of victory, was suggested by Jeff Johnson, one of the company's first employees. Along with the new name, the brand also introduced the now-famous Swoosh logo, designed by Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student at Portland State University.

The logo symbolised motion and speed and was a perfect fit for a company focused on high-performance athletic shoes. The first shoe to feature the Swoosh logo was the Nike Cortez, which became an instant hit. The official change from Blue Ribbon Sports to Nike, Inc. took place on May 30, 1971, marking the beginning of a new era for the company.

Nike Cortez 1972

Invention of the Waffle Trainer:

A pivotal innovation in Nike's history is the creation of the Waffle Trainer (AKA the 'Moon Shoes'). In 1971, Bill Bowerman was inspired to create a new type of sole for athletic shoes. During breakfast, Bowerman was intrigued by the design of his wife's waffle iron and thought the pattern would make an excellent mould for a running shoe sole.

1972 Waffle Sneaker
Image Courtesy of Sotheby's Website

He experimented by pouring rubber into the waffle iron, which resulted in a sole that provided superior grip and traction. This waffle design was revolutionary, and it significantly enhanced the performance of athletic shoes. The Waffle Trainer quickly became popular among athletes and marked a significant technological leap in the design of running shoes.

After years of technological innovation, Nike has continuously presented us with some of the most revered sneaker models of all time.

Let’s take a look at some of our favourite Nike creations over the years:

1972 - Nike Cortez

Forrest Gump Nike Cortez scene

One of Nike’s earliest inventions to date, the Nike Cortez’s lineage is not as linear as its design. Originally named the Aztec, the track shoe was first debuted during the 1968 Mexico Olympics, with the name paying homage to the indigenous Mesoamericans that found a partial settlement in Mexico.

With the name closely aligned with Adidas’ Azteca Gold silhouette, Nike decided to change the name to the Cortez, with the fit most renowned for landing on Tom Hanks' feet during the ‘94 film ' Forrest Gump’.

1982 - Nike Air Force 1

Air Force 1 High
The ‘80s signalled a new sight of innovation for the Beaverton brand, which came in the shape of the Air Force 1. Initially designed for assembling layups on our hardwood floors, the silhouette became legendary for many reasons.

One being the first Nike silhouette to have ever featured the game-changing Air Cushioning, a midsole tooling which aided court-focused comfort with every transition and takeoff.

In its later years, the silhouette was known for its subcultural presence in the inner city, as well as its close affiliation with the Hip-Hop culture, earning its stripes as the ‘Uptowns’.

 1990 - Air Max 90

Nike Air Max 90 'Infrared'

With great innovation comes superior ideas and the ‘90s saw the debut of the iconic Air Max 90. Dreamt up by Tinker Hatfield, the silhouette was the first of its kind to feature visible Air Cushioning, which offered exceptional heel support for avid runners.

Originally released in its signature ‘Infrared’ colourway, the AM90 became an instant hit, with its unique streamlined design becoming an instant credit to its Air Max lineage and creating fanfare across the globe.

2002 - Nike Dunk SB

Nike Dunk SB

Although the Nike Dunk was making waves on our collegiate courts back in ‘85, it was the rise of SB Dunk that ushered in an all-new skateboarding franchise for the brand. After plenty of failed attempts to connect with the skateboarding community, the 00s was their last shot and Sandy Bodecker was the right man for the job.

Transforming the Nike Dunk line into a functional shoe for those who perform alleys on skateboards and quickly becoming a breeding ground for sartorial street style. Welcoming a stream of collaborations and colourways that continue to stand the test of time.

2011 - Nike Mag

Nike Air Mag

In 2011 Nike pulled off the ultimate homage to Back To The Future Part II with their debut of the Nike Mag. The collector's dream includes LED panels, upper contours, luminous Nike branding, and of course, the electronic self-lacing system - as seen in the ‘89 blockbuster.

2022- Air Max Scorpion

Nike Air Max Scorpion

Developed during the pandemic, Nike's Air Max Scorpion represents a breakthrough in footwear technology. Leveraging virtual design and advanced simulation tools, it features unprecedented Air technology and a pioneering Flyknit chenille upper. This innovation symbolises Nike's commitment to digital transformation and sustainable, high-performance design.

Take a look at the Brief History of the Air Jordan 4


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