Nike has been one of the biggest players in sneakers for over thirty years now. The beginnings of the company are pretty interesting to read about, as are all similar stories about major companies. Things like how they got started, where the name came from and where their world famous slogan came from are always interesting things to learn.
While Nike has a long history, it isn’t all good. They have been a part of several controversies like their overseas factories that had child laborers working for little to no money, the commercials they aired that were in very poor taste and offensive to women, not to mention those very first football cleats that they made. You know the ones I’m talking about, the ones that fell apart and split in half once the weather got too cold.
They have also aligned themselves with plenty of controversial people over the years. All in the name of getting their products the most exposure they possibly could. They hooked up with a bad attitude tennis player (I know you’re’ thinking about John McEnroe but it wasn’t him), an NBA player who had recently spit on a fan, and an Olympic athlete who had taken part in the beat down of another Olympic athlete.
There is plenty more to learn about them so read on and brace yourself for what you are about to read!
15. Early shoes were made from fish, kangaroo and deer
Bill Bowerman was a track coach at the University of Oregon back in the 1950’s. He didn’t like any design of sneakers on the market and was always trying to find something that was more comfortable for his runners. He used Phil Knight to try out several different designs including some made from fish skin, deer hide, velvet and kangaroo leather.
It’s no secret that when companies try to create new products there isn’t much that they won’t try when seeking success. It’s a good thing that PETA wasn’t around yet back in those days. They would have had a field day and the company might not have been given the chance to take off.
14. The slogan came from a murderer
Gary Gilmore was a convicted murderer that was shot to death by a firing squad in Utah back in 1977. While waiting for the fatal bullets to be fired he said “Let’s do it.” The words never really meant anything to anyone until around 1987.
Dan Wieden, a Nike ad agency executive, was looking for a slogan for an upcoming campaign. He heard the story, worked with the words and came up with “Just do it.” He gave it a try and it became very popular and eventually stuck. Now anyone that hears it thinks of Nike. So Gilmore actually did one good thing for the world.
13. The first Nike sneaker fell apart
The very first sneaker to be presented as Nike was a piece of crap. It was manufactured in New Mexico but the shoe was never tested anywhere else. The warm weather there presented no problems for the football cleat. However football isn’t always played in warm weather.
As soon as the shoe hit cold weather the sole cracked right into two pieces. It was 1971 and the new Nike company was in serious trouble as it had to sell the remaining 10,000 pairs of cleats for only $7.95 as part of a close out sale. As long as they were purchased in warm weather they worked great.
12. Foot Locker banned Nike in 2003
Back in 2003 Foot Locker did the unthinkable and stopped selling Nike products. They cancelled nearly $200 million dollars of orders because of Nike’s high prices and high demands in how retailers sold their shoes.
Nike responded by cancelling another order that was worth around $175 million to Foot Locker and the battle was on. The dispute waged on for almost an entire year before the two sides eventually reached an agreement near the end of 2003.
11. A shoe inspired by a waffle iron?
Since Bowerman was a former track coach, he was always looking for new designs that would absorb energy better and improve traction. One morning while eating a waffle he stared at the waffle iron and wondered if the design would work on feet.
The only thing he needed to do was figured out how to make the design pushing outward, instead of inward depressed like the waffle maker. He failed several times when first trying out the idea but eventually he found something that worked and in 1974 the world was introduced to the Waffle Trainer and everyone loved it.
10. The company loved controversy
They say that there is no such thing as bad publicity. To a certain extend that is very true and Nike knew it early on. They saw an opportunity to get their product in front of millions simply by using people who were currently in the public eye.
They first sponsored Ilie Nastase, who had a bad reputation for having a bad attitude on and off the tennis court. Then they turned to Charles Barkley who never was at a loss for words. At that time he was taking heavy criticism for spitting on an NBA fan. They even sent $25,000 to Tonya Harding to help with her legal bills after the Nancy Kerrigan attack.
9. The company was made as part of a college project
Before Knight attended Stanford he went to the University of Oregon. As part of a project for one of his classes he had to come up with a business plan. He chose sneakers and said they could be made more cheaply in Japan and distributed around the USA.
By the time 1964 rolled around he had taken the idea into real life and had opened up Blue Ribbon Sports with Bowerman. The company was based on that business plan that he had done for his college class.
8. The Beatles sued them
Nike took on the Beatles and EMI-Capitol records but a lot of what happened was never made public. One of the 1987 commercials for the Air Max sneakers featured the song “Revolution” and the band quickly spoke out against it. They said the band doesn’t “peddle sneakers or panty hose,” and they quickly filed a lawsuit.
EMI-Capitol said they owned the rights to the song and they had the right to negotiate and grant permissions for use of it. It was one giant mess but Nike wouldn’t back down. They played the commercial over and over again until the campaign faded away the next year.
There was a lot that took place behind closed doors but nobody really knows what was said, threatened or actually done. The one thing that was certain however, is that Nike didn’t care as the commercials kept on playing.
7. The early ads were considered in poor taste
Once the company decided on the “Just do it” slogan it was time to release it to the public. One of the commercials had triathlete Joanne Ernst in it and she said the famous line. She also followed it up with this though, “And it wouldn’t hurt to stop eating like a pig, either.”
As you can imagine, females were not too happy with the ad and the company faced a lot of backlash over it. To that point they hadn’t really focused on the female gender but that all changed with this mistake.
6. Michael Jordan didn’t want to be a part of Nike
When MJ was in college and during the early years of his NBA career, he wore Adidas. He liked them and had no intentions of wearing anything else. Just as is the case with anything else though, money played a role in his decision to leave them.
The company was having financial issues and talks for an endorsement deal were not going favorable for Mike. His agent wanted him to meet with Nike but Jordan refused. Once his parents told him that they thought it was a good idea though, he agreed and went to Oregon for a meeting. The rest, as they say, is history.
5. The Air Jordan wasn’t MJ’s first sneaker with Nike
Air Jordans may be the most popular shoe that Mike wore with Nike but it wasn’t the first. The AJ got so popular so quickly that a lot of people forget that Mike wore the Nike Air Ship first.
His first few years with the Chicago Bulls saw him sporting these, and the company doesn’t care if you remember or not. The Air Jordans have been so successful over the years that the company only wants you to know about those. Anything that happened before the Air Jordans doesn’t really matter as far as Nike is concerned. As long as you are willing to shell out good money for the AJs that’s all that matters to them.
4. Nike doesn’t own their production factories
Many companies follow this procedure so Nike isn’t the only one at all. It keeps their costs of production low so they can make their profits high. This is also how the horror stories that you hear about happen. Like the children who make 4 dollars a week to work in the factories.
It wasn’t always like that though. There was a time that Nike made their shoes right here in the United States but the profit margins weren’t as good for them. That’s why they now work with factories in Indonesia, China and Vietnam.
Bad things do happen though from having the factories overseas. In 1990 a ship that was filled with 80,000 pairs of shoes was headed for the US when it was lost, presumably going down. Plenty of sneakers have been found floating around in the ocean over the years.
3. MJ didn’t want to wear the first Air Jordans
When the Air Jordans were first created there was plenty of hesitation behind the product. First of all Michael Jordan didn’t want to wear them. The original ones were black and red, the colors of MJ’s arch rival in college, the North Carolina State Wolfpack. He called the red and white sneakers “Devil’s colors” and said he wouldn’t wear them.
Nike also didn’t have real high expectations for the shoe. They predicted a million in sales per year for the first three years. While that would have been good, it wasn’t what they were really hoping for. They were pleasantly surprised when the shoe made more than $130 million in the first year alone.
2. $35 made them billions
Eventually Knight decided that Blue Ribbon needed more of a presence. He was teaching a class at Portland State University so he talked with student Carolyn Davidson about creating a new logo for the company.
Knight was going to show them to the Onitsuka executives during their upcoming visit and suggest a brand change. Knight said that after looking at several designs, including the “swoosh”, he “didn’t love it”, but he hated it the least of the other designs. So they paid Davidson 35 bucks for it and history was in the making. It’s now one of the most recognizable logos in the world.
1. The name came later
Once they decided on the “swoosh” logo they decide it was also time for a new name. Knight wanted to call it Dimension 6 but others liked the name Bengal. The first employee ever in the company, Jeff Johnson, liked the name Nike, who was the Greek Goddess of victory.
There was a lot of discussion about the three names and still no decision was made when an approaching manufacturing deadline forced them to speed up the process and choose one. Nike was the hastily chosen name even though Knight was against it because he didn’t like it. It worked out pretty well for him wouldn’t you say?
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