Nike, How It Started

Nike, How It Started

The company, formally known as Blue Ribbon Sports, was founded in 1964 by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight. Can you guess how much capital was involved to start the business? $1200. Yes, you heard me! $1200. It all started with a handshake between these two visionaries. Bowerman was a track and field coach while Knight was middle distance runner.

While still operating as Blue Ribbon Sports, the company was distributing sneakers for Onitsuka Tiger, a Japanese shoe maker. Athletic shoe market was ruled by sneakers and tennis shoes manufactured by Adidas and Puma. These German-made shoes were not designed for running or jogging. Bowerman and Knight thought that they could do a better job of designing shoes for runners and they were right. Knight managed the business while Bowerman was involved in designs.

The company officially became Nike, Inc. in 1971. The “Nike” name means the Greek goddess of victory. According to Otis Davis, Bowerman made the first pair of Nike shoes for him from the waffle iron, contrary to the claims that they were made for Knight. This spawned the “Nike Waffle Trains” patented in 1974.


In 1979, Nike introduced clothing to its product line. These include shorts, running pants and shirts. Nike started selling internationally in 1982. It also started advertising using a small agency in Portland called Weiden & Kennedy.

Just Do It

The first campaign with the slogan “Just Do It” was launched in 1988 inspired by a serial killer, Gary Gilmore. Before he was executed in 1977, Gilmore said, “Let’s do it.” The ad featured the then 80 year old runner trudging across a bridge.

The Nike Swoosh

The symbol was designed by Caroline Davidson in 1971 for only $35. Although it has evolved over the years, it changed the business world.

Sponsorship Programs

Nike began sponsoring athletes in the early 1970s as a means of advertising. It started with a runner named Steve Prefontaine. The runner was offered money to wear Nike shoes when competing. Prefontaine sadly died in a car crash in 1975.

Nike also sponsored Michael Jordan, an upcoming basketball player. Young filmmaker, Spike Lee, was signed to produce ads featuring Jordan. They depicted how the Nike shoes made Jordan “fly”. Because of the ads’ success, everyone wanted to wear Air Jordan shoes. Jordan line of shoes and clothing later formed its own division separate from the other Nike products. In 1988, Nike finally started taking notice of women buyers by sponsoring women athletes.

Over the years, it has had famous faces, for example, Tiger Woods who signed a contract with Nike in 2000 to pitch Nike golf products. Nike also designed uniforms for over 2000 athletes.


Today, Nike is the world’s largest supplier of athletic shoes with its headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. Its revenue is estimated to be about $36 billion in 2018. Despite its success, Nike was sometimes slow to changing market trends. For example, in 1980s the company failed to recognize the aerobics craziness. Another company, Reebok International, seized the opportunity which was a success. In 1986, Rebook once again pushed Nike out of the top by providing many styles and colors for women. At that time Nike only looked to men and boys for its sales.

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