Nike was founded in 1964 by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight. From a mere handshake, each men invested $500 to import Tiger shoes from Japan and sell them in the US. At that time German shoe brands were the dominating brands being worn by athletes. They founded Blue Ribbon Sports which would become the future Nike.
Bill Bowerman was a nationally known track and field coach at the University of Oregon. He was a track enthusiast and worked to improve the performance of his athletes. Phil Knight was a runner and was enrolled in Bowerman’s track program he then went on to get an MBA from Stanford. Both Bowerman and Knight felt that shoe technology could be improved with Knight even writing a paper on how quality shoes could be manufactured in Japan that would compete with the days popular brands.
As the company started to mature and have a store front and mail order sales they began to realize that their future could be in manufacturing, not just direct sales and distribution. That began their foray into Nike the shoe design and manufacturing company and at that time they also inaugurated the famous swoosh logo. There were two keys to their success.
The first key is during this time Bowerman and Knight kept tinkering with shoe technology and how it could be improved and thus improving the performance of the athlete. They came up with several new designs and they were used at a local trial heats in Oregon.
The second key is related to how we think of Nike today, they knew they needed an athlete to endorse and promote their new shoes and technology. They found that in Steve Prefontaine who had great success with their shoes, did well at the Munich Olympics and was featured in Sports Illustrated.
In the 1980s the company faced some ups and downs. Aerobics became a huge phenomenon (just check out Jazzercize – Move Your Boogie Body) and there were specific shoes for the movement but Nike missed it badly. Nike’s comeback followed their 70s successful formula. They developed and released their “air bag” technology and cool shoe fashion designs to go with it with clear souls. That was coupled with the cross-training shoe grows and the venerable “Bo Knows” ads (see a classic here). The 80s also saw the rise of that brand which we all associate with Nike – “Jordan”. Michael Jordan Air Nike’s have been one of the most enduring and well known brands of all time.
In the 1990s and 2000s Nike began to expand to clothing, Soccer, Golf and its overall reach in the sports world began to grow and dominate. You see Nike everywhere from work out clothes to causal wear, fitness technology and of course shoes. Recently Nike maybe as well known for its troubled athletes including Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong, But their reach is impressive and their sponsorships (list here) reach deep into the sports world.