‘Just Do It’: The History Of Nike

Lauren Bryant

Named after the Greek Goddess of victory, Nike exceeds its mythological predecessor’s notoriety for success, renowned as the world’s largest and best-loved athleisure brand. Its reputation as a sports company is superseded by constant technological and scientific innovation, like Nike Fit, or Nike Flywire, unmatched within the industry. Fundamentally, Nike (alongside Adidas) effectively shaped the trainer’s evolution from sport to style, and into a cultural icon. But, asks Lauren Bryant, where did it all begin?

The story behind the brand

Originally titled Blue Ribbon Sports, Nike was founded in 1964 by Bill Bowerman, a track-and-field coach at the University of Oregon, alongside former student, Phil Knight- initially distributing for Japanese shoemaker, Onitsuka Tiger (known nowadays as Asics). By 1970, however, Bowerman was already devising the infamous waffle sole, pouring rubber into his wife’s waffle iron, and revolutionising the running shoe with a lightweight formula.

In 1971, after an official name change to Nike, the iconic Swoosh logo was created. Commissioned for a mere $35, design student Carolyn Davidson would develop one of the most recognisable and valuable trademarks in the world. A year later, Nike’s first line of footwear was established, including the “Moon Shoes”, and popular Nike “Cortez”.

the iconic slogan, “Just Do It” was launched in 1988

From this point onwards, Nike produced countless designs; Blazer basketball shoe (1973), Nike Waffle (1974), and the original Air Force 1 (1982). In 1984, the prototype for the Air Jordan 1, the “Air Ship”, was made exclusively for Michael Jordan, using the ‘Jumpman’ logo for the very first time. Famously, the shoe was banned by the NBA for not being “white enough”, and, supposedly, Jordan was fined $5,000 each time he wore them- proving to be unbelievable publicity for the brand. Released to the public the following year, the Air Jordan 1 exceeded monetary expectations, reaching $126 million in revenue.

The iconic slogan, “Just Do It” was launched in 1988, inspired by serial killer Gary Gilmore’s final words ‘Let’s do it’, at his 1977 execution. This was then subverted in 2020 to ‘Just Don’t Do It’, in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Nike’s recent marketing campaign in May 2021 showcased a fresh slogan, “Play New”– inviting consumers to discover sport in a new, unique way.

the trainer’s domination of the consumerist market

Since the opening of its first retail store (1990) in Downtown Portland, Oregon, Nike now operates in 170 countries, with over 1,000 stores worldwide, one of the biggest being NikeTown on London’s Oxford Street. Expanding its business, and unbeknown to most, Nike has multiple acquisitions, including Converse in 2003, and Umbro in 2008 (later sold in 2012). Their collaboration with some of the world’s greatest athletes- Cristiano Ronaldo, Roger Federer, Mia Hamm- has reinforced their cult status.

An increase in “sneakerheads”, collecting and trading shoes as a hobby or profession has resulted in the trainer’s domination of the consumerist market, and the maintenance of Nike’s prevalence within society.

Nike’s Most Iconic Trainers

Cortez (1972)

Originally a track shoe, the Cortez was handed out at the 1972 Summer Olympics, featuring foam cushioning. As Nike’s first-ever trainer release, with sales reaching $800,000 in the opening year, much of their later success is attributed to the shoe.

OG Air Max 1 (1987)
The TV Advert for the Air Max 1 was the first ever to feature a Beatles song, “Revolution”, showcasing the new Max Air technology. Variations on the original shoe, like the Air Max 90 (created by Tinker Hatfield in 1990), have since been designed.

Blazers (1973)
Designed for basketball, and notably worn by NBA star George Gervin (“Iceman”), the Blazer consciously positioned Nike within basketball’s consumerist market. Its recent revival in the form of the Blazer Mid ’77 has brought it back on trend as one of this year’s must-have trainers.

Air Force 1 (1982)
Created by Bruce Kilgore, the Air Force 1 was the first basketball shoe to utilise Nike Air technology. There have been thousands of reissues; low and high tops, a variety of colours, and fabrics.

Jordan 1 Mid Banned (1984)
As discussed previously, Jordan was banned by the NBA for wearing these, as they didn’t adhere to the shoe colour criteria. Rereleased in 2020 (although slightly altered) the Banned colourway represents potentially one of the most famous from Nike’s vast collection.

OG Jordan 4 (1989)
Released in four different colourways, the Jordan 4’s mark Hatfield’s second Air Jordan design, and one of the most popular Air Jordan retro models from Nike (run in 1999). It’s had collaborations with celebrities like Travis Scott, Eminem, and Levis.

Nike’s brand evolved into a culture

OG Pegasus (1983)
Named after the mythical winged horse, the Pegasus was Nike’s all-time best-selling running shoe, designed to feel as though you were “flying on air”. Over the decades, it has undergone extreme re-modification, although the original shape remains today.

Air Max 97 (1997)
First released in the “silver bullet” colourway, the Air Max 97 was a running shoe featuring full-length, air cushioning. Although many associate the OG colourway with Japan’s silver bullet train, Tresser also took inspiration from mountain bike components, finished with aluminium and polished titanium.

Nike Bruin (1972)
Alongside the Blazer, the Bruin was one of Nike’s first basketball shoes. Infamously worn by Marty McFly in Back to the Future, the white and red colourway (known as Bruin McFly) are an iconic, cult shoe.

Permeating throughout my entire childhood and adulthood, Nike has been largely prevalent in my life. Picking out trainers was no longer just about fashion or style, and brought about a sense of individuality or identity. Nike’s brand evolved into a culture, which encouraged a shared sense of community, promoting creativity and innovation.

Lauren Bryant

Featured image courtesy of @takeshi2 via Unsplash. Image license found here here. No changes were made to this image. 

In-article image 1 courtesy of Grailify via Unsplash. Image license found here here. No changes were made to this image. 

In-article image 2 courtesy of Brock Wegner via Unsplash. Image license found here here. No changes were made to this image. 

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