How Nike won the Cultural Marathon

For its 50th anniversary this year, Nik could do a lot of things. He could do what many fashion brands do and have great parties in various capitals around the world with special guests like LeBron James and Billie Eilish and Naomi Osaka and Travis Scott, all of whom work with the brand. Sneakers treated like art could come out with a limited edition coffee table filled with bright photos. He could have created “50 and Fabulous” merchandise (or something).

But Nike has not done that. In fact, the only thing the anniversary has done so far is to introduce the old character Spike Lee to Mars Blackmon, to better illustrate a new “anthem” called “Seen It All,” and to suggest that we really don’t. no. Maybe it’s something real — whether you learn something in sports or fashion — there’s always someone coming after you — and a bit of arrogance.

Because after half a century it can’t escape, if Goldman Sachs was once described as a “vampire squid” on the face of humanity, it has become part of the root system that underlies Nike culture. And not just sneaker culture.

Nike, in the name of the Greek goddess of victory, has not become the most valuable clothing brand in the world (Adidas, which is worth more than double its closest rival in sportswear, and ahead of Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Chanel). It’s part of the movies we watch, the songs we listen to, the museums we go to often, the businesses we do; part of what we think we are and how we got here.

Robert Goldman, co-author of “Nike Culture: The Sign of the Swoosh,” and a professor emeritus at Lewis & Clark College, said it also “happens to be a symbol of individuality, at a time when individuality has prevailed.” be what people can read.

Forget Niketown. To some extent we are all citizens of Nikeland now.

She has her founding fathers: Phil Knight, a former University of Oregon runner, and Bill Bowerman, his college coach, who threw rubber on his wife’s waffle rubber to make a famous new sole. It has an anthem: Just Do It, presented in 1988. Most may have a symbol.

This puts them closer to brands like Coke, IBM, Disney and McDonald’s in history than any other sports or fashion name. The only other brand that has made such an effective and complete leap from identity to sales in the last half century is Apple.

That’s why, as Nike approaches its golden anniversary, it’s important to consider how the swoosh became a millennial earring, penetrating our brains to colonize our imagination. It’s a story about sports, for sure, and about marketing, and about the good fortune of being a sports company, when the rise of Casual Fridays and the global pandemic took the world to sneakers and Lycra.

But even more, it’s a story about how we construct myths of ourselves.

Ask many people who work with Nike or Nike why they wanted to join the company, and many of them will start telling you about their childhood.

John Hoke, Nike’s design director, who has been with the company for 30 years, was a teenager. Knight offered a new shoe design, and received a note and a pair of waffle shoes in return. (She has a photo of her wearing shoes while playing tennis at the Nike Portland (Ore) office.)

Former Off-White and Louis Vuitton designer Virgil Abloh, who reinvented Nike’s famous footwear, applied a Warholian approach to sneakers, talking about sleeping with a pair of Jordan 5s so he could see “at the end of the bed. In the morning.” Ahn, the designer behind the Japanese clothing brand Ambush Street, which has been working with Nike since 2018, said Nikes was the first pair of shoes he bought with his money, and now his storage room is full.

It’s a reflection of the way the company has woven into the social memory bank.

In 1992, Mr. Knight gave an interview to the Harvard Business Review in which he said that one of Nike’s biggest advances – not the waffle soles or Air Force 1 or Air Jordan or Flyknit (which were important, of course), but – they realized. only sells sneakers.

Carolyn Davidson, a recent graduate in graphic design from Portland State University, and a registered trademark in 1971, must have been a nod to Nike’s wings, but also an unconscious reference to a control mark. And although he was initially treated with suspicion, Mr. Knight, who looked like a “big comma,” Mr. Goldman, he said, has gone from being “meaningless dirty” to an association-inflated symbol.

(Nike briefly considered burying the swoosh in 1998, following reports of unsafe working conditions in subcontracted factories in Asia, as well as allegations of child labor that turned children into a sign of corporate ignorance and that activists called the signal “swooshticka”. It led to public penance for Nike executives and new business practices, however, in the end, the brand was left with its swoosha.)

That’s why Nike took on the heroic look of its first and most significant Michael Jordan, giving it control of its own brand, just like it had no sports star; in fact, they are famous for buying athletes and teams (more than 10,000 in recent numbers) and splitting and splitting their specialties in sports – running and basketball tennis, football, ice hockey and skateboarding; and naming their campus buildings after Serena Williams and LeBron James did something else: they greeted a whole universe of non-sporting subcultures.

And subcultures created sneakerheads. The swoosh became their less secret sign.

Perhaps the first public sneakerhead to actually be a fan of Mars Blackmon with Knicks Glasses, Spike Leek in the Air Jordans and a Brooklyn cycling cap, Mr. Leeren’s 1986 film “She’s Gotta Have It”.

The character’s obsession, with the air he wore in bed, caught the eye of Nike’s ad gurus, the indie Mr. Lee to make some ads Mr. Jordan. It was a couple that transcended sport and film to create a new kind of franchise.

“They realized something was going on,” said Fraser Cooke, a former sneaker shop at London’s FootPatrol, a co-founded DJ and hairdresser. Jordan and Lee moved to urban communities, and urban communities were giving birth to hip-hop, and hip-hop culture was on its way to becoming a “dominant subculture,” as part of the Nikes dress code. Suddenly, the directors of the sneaker began to think like social anthropologists.

Sir. Cook met Mark Parker, then Nike’s CEO, in 2003, Mr. Parker and other colleagues toured underground in London (the substrate of the fresco, not the subway system) in secret. Shortly afterwards, he was offered a job as a leading ambassador, falling in love with the bubbling world and immersing himself in the world of swoosh.

“My job was to work with outsiders,” Mr. Cooke, who is currently the CEO of Global Special Projects and a highly developed (and constantly changing) catalyst brand management degree.

Since then, he has been responsible for bringing together names that are not part of the sport with his descendants: Comme des Garçons, Riccardo Tisci (since he was in Givenchy), Kim Jones of Dior, Mr. Abloh (long before a gleam in Luis Vuitton’s eyes), Chitose Abe of Sacao. (There is a kind of arms race between the sneaker brands for fashion partners, the lines between the different “clothing” segments are getting slower.) Catalyst brand management also directs relationships with unusual Nike partners Travis Scott, Drake and Travis Scott, Drake and Billie Eilish.

The point is to design “not items, but ideas,” Mr. said Hoke. When artist Tom Sachs signed on more than a decade ago, he said he wanted to build a solid ramp for the bronze skateboard. (That didn’t go very well, but it led to an attempt to combine the Mars Yard shoe and Nikes and the moon plane.) That’s why this particular group of outsiders is called a catalyst rather than a collaborator, collaborators have become a dime. a dozen – and rather transactional than theoretical.

“They created this merger of worlds that attracted the masses,” said Ariana Peters, one of the owners of the Chicks With Kicks sneaker collection. With more than 6,000 pairs, it is one of the largest private sneaker collections in the world, accounting for 75 percent of its Nikes.

That merger, said Megan Rapinoe, a football activist who has been with Nike since she graduated in 2009 but is now introducing a brand new one under the leadership of Nike, is “everything.”

“The real power lies in the cultural piece,” Ms. said Rapino. “Everything is on the track and in the tunnel before the games. Everything is next to the court and on the red carpet. As with the media and social media, everyone knows the whole atmosphere at all times. ”

“It’s aligned with almost every important cultural moment and person,” said Brahm Wachter, head of modern street clothing and collections at Sotheby’s. It can range from Nyjah Huston to “Forrest Gump”; Mia Hamm’s “Lost in Translation”; Kobe Bryant to The Breakfast Club; Naomi Osaka’s “Back to the Future.”

From the Met Gala, in the hands of Serena Williams, she wore a pair of Nike x Off-White “Air” Jordans with her yellow floral-sprinkled Versace dress in 2019 to a host, pairing them with Nike Anna Wintour’s Manolos. , After taking the knee in front of Colin Kaepernick in the national anthem.

There’s a line of Michael Jordan’s first Air Jordan, who was banned from the basketball court for violating the NBA’s dress code. At the time, Mr. Knight told the Harvard Business Review that the ban was “great! In fact, we welcome the kind of publicity that pits us against the establishment, knowing that we’re always on the right side.”

The irony is, of course, that Nike is pretty much an establishment at the moment. That is, Mr. Wachter said, “part of our heritage.”

That’s why Sotheby’s has sold all its shoes since it decided to create a sneaker category in 2020 and has been holding regular auctions – now in eight to 10 years – about 95 per cent of the shares are made up of Nikes. Why Nike is the most expensive shoe ever sold at auction. (That would be Kanye West’s Nike Air Yeezy prototype, which Ye wore to the 2008 Grammys and was purchased for $ 1.8 million in 2021). Why they are in the Nikes Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection.

And that means including the 1990s sweat scandal, which may be wrong to be repeated with more allegations of dangerous factory conditions in 2017, as well as recent revelations about Nike’s treatment of women athletes, especially pregnant women athletes, and discrimination. Nike’s treatment of women athletes. That’s for Nike superstars like Kanye West (who is now deeply rooted in Adidas after leaving Nike empty in 2013), despite a critical defection of Nike superstars like Allyson Felix and Simone Biles. And from time to time attempts to crush the little boy, throwing his weight and suing news like MSCHF (they were content) and StockX.

It has taken on a balancing act that is almost unique in consumer culture: it has grown to more than 73,000 employees and a revenue of $ 44.6 billion by 2021 and has maintained a cool niche aura.

The room elephant and the prairie dog are both; not only the outfit of the whole team but also the almost complete league, and the only runner in the desert. It is no coincidence that Mr. Sachsen’s new general-purpose shoe, released in early June and transcending normcore, is a refusal to buy a new sneaker every week, a strange proposition for a company built to sell sneakers. But, like RTFKT sneaker purchases from virtual companies, this is what the company can suggest. (The fact that the shoe was almost immediately sold out, and therefore on its way to being a collector’s item, is part of the paradox).

It has become Nike, Mr. Goldman said, “a consumer product that seems to question the idea of ​​consumerism.” That brings it a lot closer, he said, to “the modern situation.”

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