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BEHIND THE BRAND

Visual History — Behind the Brand is a brief HIESSIK® chapter segmented series chronicling the stories that have shaped the sneaker industry through the lenses of the brands that have driven change. The fusion of sub-cultures that exist around the brands and sports from which they are derived has created a new market. Basketball has heavily influenced street style, whilst athletics and football have transformed sporting innovation.

The acknowledgment of a recent shift within the luxury fashion ecosystem, which has enabled the convergence of principles that until recently had classifications restricted to either the luxury or sports segment has defined the current period of rampant collaboration. Behind the Brand looks at the classic sportswear brands such as Nike and Adidas to iconic luxury fashion houses such as Balenciaga, who have recently played a role in transforming the sneaker eco-space.

Behind the Brand: Nike

The biggest sports brand in the world - by market share and recognisability, Nike retain some of the biggest athletes across every sports sector: from Ronaldo & Neymar in football to Lebron James and Kevin Durant in the NBA, Odell Beckham in the NFL, Serena Williams & formerly, Roger Federer in Tennis, Tiger Woods & Rory McIlroy in golf to Simone Biles and Mo Farah in athletics.

Pictured: Neymar Jr of Paris Saint Germain.
Image Courtesy of: Nike, Inc

The cornerstone of the Nike brand will always - likely - be performance sports and an ongoing commitment to performance design and solutions. From the original Air technology to Flyknit and Flyleather to Adapt and React. Nike have continued to push the boundaries of innovation. Despite this, it is impossible to ignore Nike’s role in contemporary fashion and streetwear. Peoples regard and preference for a combination of style and comfort has seen Nike become a favourite of everyone from your casual wearer to the most avid sneakerhead. Nike have an undeniable grip on the lifestyle sneaker sector.

Pictured: Derek Jeter, Carmen Electra & Alex Rodriguez.
Image Courtesy of: Uncredited

Building Blocks — Blue Ribbon Sports

Bill Bowermam set about looking at ways to improve the existing design of running shoes, he learned the construction and anatomy of shoes, before discovering how to craft shoe patterns. Bowerman was interested in finding an American shoemaker, since he believed he could improve the soles of the existing German-made ones, but he was rebuffed on multiple occasions.

So in 1964, in a joint venture, Phil Knight and the late Bill Bowerman founded Blue Ribbon Sports in Portland, Oregon. Blue Ribbon Sports acted as the US distributor for Japanese sportswear brand Onitsuka (which later became ASICS). The first store was opened in Santa Monica, California in 1966. Despite the success of the relationship between Blue Ribbon Sports and Onitsuka, Knight envisioned a future where he could manufacture and design his own shoes, as opposed to solely acting as an intermediary.

The partnership between the 2 ended in 1971 and Blue Ribbon Sports rebranded to Nike, the termination was far from amicable with the two companies feuding over a series of issues such as the naming rights to the Cortez.

Pictured: Bill Bowerman at a Eugene lab circa 1980. Media Credit: Nike, Inc. All Rights Reserved to Nike, Inc.

The Swoosh Story

The Swoosh was designed by Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student at Portland State University in 1971. The name - Swoosh - was christened internally by Nike employees. Phil Knight set out the design directive of both speed and motion; and upon seeing the final result, he wasn't the biggest fan of the design but due to corporate deadlines the design was picked and he had a hunch that over time it would grow on him. The appeal might not have been intrinsic but what the Swoosh has come to symbolise is an underlying design philosophy and personality that has defined the Nike brand.

The Swoosh is a registered trademark of Nike, Inc. All rights reserved to Nike, Inc.

The Swoosh Story: Part II

We live in a sign economy and in such an economy the Swoosh is the most valuable currency. Arguably, the most famous brand symbol in the world, rivalled only by Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Apple, the Swoosh has become a marker of validation. In now pervasive visual environments, the name — Nike, has become less powerful and the symbol has taken precedence. The Swoosh unifies a legion of products that have defined sports and streetwear culture.

Interestingly, a worthy conversation is how Nike have chosen to present the Swoosh across their silhouettes. Traditionally, Nike have used the Swoosh as an expression of independence and individuality. From the bold Swoosh of the Air Jordan 1 to the Swooshless Air Huarache and Air Max 95; the Jewelled Swoosh popularised by the Air Max 1, Air Force 1 and Cortez iterations, in addition to the reductive Swoosh seen on the Air Max 97, the Air Flare and the Air Terra Albis 2 of the Zoom Air generation.

The Swoosh is a registered trademark of Nike, Inc. All rights reserved to Nike, Inc.

Pre-Air: 2 ICONS

Not many shoe silhouettes can lay claim to defining the culture and legacy of a brand. Prior to the Air Revolution, 2 Icons can be credited for mapping out the pathway to Nike's dominance: the Coretz & the Blazer.

The Nike Cortez

Originally developed by Bill Bowerman at Onitsuka, the Cortez officially became a Nike silhouette in 1972 after a battle over naming rights with Onitsuka. The Cortez is a harmoniously linear low profile running silhouette. The design elements favour simplicity over anything striking. At the time it was the pinnacle of running technology with its EVA foam midsole, herringbone outsole, and plush leather upper. Till this day Onitsuka produce a sibling silhouette resembling the Cortez called the Corsair.

The Cortez became immortalised after being rocked by a number of West Coast Hip Hop legends such as Dr Dre, as well as appearing in Academy Award winning film Forrest Gump.

Pictured: Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Nike Cortez.
Media Credit: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). All Rights Reserved to Paramount Pictures, Red Granite Pictures, Appian Way Productions, Sikelia Productions & EMJAG Productions

The Nike Blazer

Another Nike silhouette built on simplicity. The Blazer was a basketball silhouette released during the 72-73 season for George Gervin. It was available in suede, canvas and leather, with its herringbone rubber sole elevating traction beyond the realms of the canvas and vulcanised rubber staple. The Blazer helped shift basketball design in a period dominated by the canvas Converse and Pro-Ked silhouettes.

The Blazer no longer graces the hardwood - retiring in the late 70s as Nike begun to introduce Air; but it has found its way to the park, becoming a favourite of skaters. The Blazer became a part of Nike's SB range when it launched in 2002. The Blazer's durability factor and price point, meant that it became a key part of the grunge scene, famously attaining status as a 'beater'.

Discover the Blazer on Silhouette Explored

Pictured: George Gervin in Nike Blazers.
Media Credit: Focus on Sport. All Rights Reserved to Focus on Sport.

The Air Legacy

Nike Air technology - Game-Changing
The Air Revolution begun in 1978 with the introduction of the Air Tailwind - the Tailwind combined a full foam midsole with Nike's signature waffle outsole, for runners this level of feather was unheard of, it set the bar for future cushioning technology.
However, the Tailwind was just the beginning, Tinker Hatfield & David Forland, the Director of Cushioning Innovation, set about packing the Air cushioning technology in a visible unit across the midsole.

The Visible Air Revolution started with the Air Max 1 in 1987. As further visible Air models were produced greater emphasis was placed on increasing the volume of Air in the shoe and reducing the amount of foam. A full length Air midsole was achieved with the Air Max 97 in 1997. The first fully foamless Air filled silhouette was the Air Max 360, released in 2006.
Along the way silhouettes such as the Air Max 90 (1990), Air Max 95 (1995), Air Max 98 and Air Max Plus/TN (1998) have become revered from their home in the US all the way to Japan and Australia.

In 2017, Nike achieved what they had set out to create 30 years earlier by releasing VaporMax - fully visible (and foamless) Air across the shoes sole.
Nike Air has been re-imagined and reconstructed since its inception but it has created an iconic legacy on both the street (and in the fields).

HIESSIK FAVOURITES (AIR MAX): Air Max 97, Air Max 98, Nike Air Max Plus/TN & Nike Air Max Deluxe

Pictured: (left to right) The 1992 Dream Team — John Stockton, Magic Johnson, David Robinson, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley & Karl Malone decimate Cuba by 79 points
Image Courtesy of: John W. McDonough. All Rights Reserved to John W. McDonough.

A Blank Canvas

The Air Force 1 - A court & street icon
There may be no Nike silhouette more recognisable than the Air Force 1. Built as a functional silhouette by Bruce Kilgore in 1982, the AF1 was originally a basketball sneaker and the first of its kind, as it brought Air technology to the court. It was discontinued in 1984 and became the first Nike shoe to be re-introduced or 'Retroed'. Over 35 years later, the Air Force 1 has forged an irreplaceable spot in history and is reportedly, the highest selling Nike shoe of all time.

The Air Force 1's presence is pervasive with it even spanning a replica model from the adored Japanese brand, A Bathing Ape® named the Bapesta; rumour has it Nike now commission the Bapesta - protecting it from trade dress infringement. The appeal of the AF1 can be attributed to its minimalistic design features, which enabled it to inspire a number of unofficial colourways and customs - hence its christening as the original Blank Canvas silhouette.

Pictured: Jax Teller. Image Courtesy of: Sons of Anarchy. All Rights reserved to: FX Productions, 20th Television, a division of 20th Century Fox

New York is arguably the birthplace of sneaker culture. Alongside the Timberland 6" Boot, no shoe holds greater importance to the city of New York than the Air Force 1. Nicknamed the 'Uptowns' in reference to their popularity in Harlem. The Air Force 1 is revered within the hip-hop community, with several songs by the likes of Jay Z, the Diplomats and J Cole alluding to a 'fresh pair' of White Air Force's. Nelly's street anthem 'Air Force Ones' was infamously banned by US TV regulatory committees for excessive product placement, effectively deeming it an unofficial advertisement.

The appeal of the Air Force 1 isn't restricted to the hip-hop community - even in more mainstream media culture - with it being the shoe of choice for Sons of Anarchy rider, Jackson Teller. Not to forget the bravado with phenomena such as retaining a crease-free toe-box, which creates debate in barbershops and street corners across the globe.

Discover the Air Force 1 on SILHOUETTE EXPLORED

Pictured: Nelly holding an Air Force 1. Image Courtesy of: Nelly - Air Force Ones. All rights reserved to: 2002 Universal Motown Records, a division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

The Jordan Story
MJ23

Before Air Jordan there was the Pro-Ked Royal worn by Wilt and Pete Maravich, the Converse Weapon 86 & All-Star Chuck Taylor worn by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, the Blazer worn by George Gervin and the Air Force 1 worn by 82-83 MVP Moses Malone. Jordan not only revolutionised sports endorsements - providing the groundwork for the likes of Lebron, Kevin Durant & Kyrie Irving to follow; he transformed the culture surrounding basketball sneakers. Prior to this Walt 'Clyde' Frazier + Puma produced the first signature shoe, without Clyde (who was an eccentric off-court style icon) the Air Jordan story might have sounded a little different.

Shoes have always been an extension of the respective sport they are utilised in, eventually Michael Jordan's Air Jordan transcended the hardwood. The spirit of His Airness was connected to every Jordan sold, wearing a pair of Jordans made you the talk of the court - or the street - and gave you a belief in flight. Jordan's on court legacy started with the I and ended with the XVIII, but his legacy off the floor is very much still alive.

Discover our favourite Jordan silhouettes on SILHOUETTE EXPLORED or Explore Air Jordan on Shoe Shelf

Pictured: Michael Jordan dunks from the free-throw line (1988). Image Courtesy of: Nathaniel S. Butler. All Rights Reserved to: Nathaniel S. Butler/small>

First Flight
The Air Jordan 1

Undeniable impact. The AJ1 is the silhouette that started it all. Peter Moore oversaw the development of the Air Jordan 1 and was tasked with creating a shoe that was 'different' and 'exciting', and thus the Jordan 1 was born. In MJ's rookie year he actually took to the court in a similar silhouette: the Air Ship. The original 'Bred' Jordan 1 that was thought to be the 'Banned 1' was actually a pair of Michael Jordan PE Air Ships, the surrounding circus and legend surrounding the Banned 1 has definitely shaped the Jordan story as we know it as people debate whether Jordan was fined $5,000 every time he took to the court in the Jordan 1 - with Nike footing the bill.

The original 13 colourways released during the season, hold a special place of reverence for sneakerheads with the Bred, Royal & Shadow colourways - amongst others - regarded as 'grails'. The Jordan 1 was just the beginning, the subsequent growth of the Jordan series created an unparalleled culture with the Jordan incorporating several performance and aesthetic innovations such as sidewall ankle straps (Air Jordan IV), a clear Icy outsole (Air Jordan V) and carbon fibre shanks (Air Jordan XI).

Discover the Air Jordan I through SILHOUETTE EXPLORED

Pictured: Air Jordan 1. Image Courtesy of: Focus on Sport. All Rights reserved to Focus on Sport.

Space Age

Designed by Christian Tresser, formerly of Reebok and the man responsible for the Aztrek and Daytona DMX. The Air Max 97 looks straight out of the future. In a period dominated by basketball sneakers, Nike were looking to engineer sneakers outside of the scope of the hardwood and in line with lifestyle and performance. This was achieved in 1995 with the release of the Sergio Lozano designed Air Max 95, which featured waves across the upper and no Swoosh on the sidewalls - the 95 gained a following across Europe as a statement piece. But Nike weren't finished, the 97 built upon the foundations of the 95, taking elements such as the waved ridges and incorporating them across the full range of the upper.

Conversely, the Air Max 97 was the first silhouette released to utilise a full length Air unit in the midsole - a feat not even the 95 had achieved. Tresser referenced his inspirations as capillary waves, the dispersion effect seen in water for the ridged upper, and the material construction of mountain bikes for the colour of the OG Silver Bullet. Like many of the Air Max silhouettes, the 97 became a favourite of street & nightlife culture in Western Europe - particularly Italy - and Japan and it is adorned as one of the best worst kept secrets in footwear.

Discover the Air Max 97 through SILHOUETTE EXPLORED

Formative Years

The turning point in Nike's rise can be traced to 1984 - The Air Jordan Introduction - and 1987 - The Visible Air Revolution. Delve into Nike's archives and you will be sure to find a number of idiosyncratic silhouettes that have faded into the abyss but mark key stages in the development of Nike's design and innovation philosophy.

The Air Max 1, 90 and 95 are undoubtedly the most popular and recognisable silhouettes in the Air Max series, however, lesser known silhouettes such as the 93 (released in '93) and 94 (released in '94), which take design cues from the Air Huarache and the 180 (released in '91) are examples of sophisticated organic design. The exoskeletal Air Huarache series, released in 1991 (and birthed several child silhouettes such as the Air Flight Huarache, the Air Huarache Light and the Air Trainer Huarache '94) was genius from the minds of Tinker Hatfield & Eric Avar, it fused a fabric shell with a protective ankle guard. The Huarache removed the Swoosh and all notions of Nike but this didn't prevent it from becoming one of Nike's most recognisable lifestyle & running shoes.

Pictured: Air More Uptempo in GOTJ. Image Courtesy of: George of the Jungle (1997). All Rights Reserved to: Walt Disney Pictures, Mandeville Pictures & Buena Vista Pictures

Formative Years

Eric Avar also birthed the Foamposite in 1997, from a need to create a seamless extension to the body, the Foamposite's form is fairly reminiscent of the Air Jordan XI. The Air Tuned Max released in '99 fused elements from the 97 and 98 whilst incorporating anatomical details in its sidewall and featured the first full-length Tuned Air midsole. The Scottie Pippen co-signed Air Uptempo series first debuting in '95 was dramatic with Air Max embellished in thick typeface across the upper, the later silhouettes incorporated AirMax2 technology in the sole aimed at maximising cushion and employed maximalist design elements. Other key Nike silhouettes in basketball include Charles Barkley's signature line, as well as Penny Hardaway's Air Penny line.

The Nike ACG (All Conditions Gear) Air Mowabb, which fused the robust signature style of a hiking boot with intricacies of a sneaker - the Air Mowabb was re-imagined by Comme des Garçons in 2018; the Nike Air Zoom which brought the Nike Air Zoom LWP ('95) and the more popular Air Zoom Spiridon & Air Zoom Talaria (both '97) are all Nike silhouettes that have been pivotal in pushing the limits of design whilst incorporating sports innovation. In 2004 Eric Avar, worked with Tobie Hatfield on the original Nike FREE series, which focused on natural motion as the key component in design.

Pictured: Jerry Seinfeld wearing Nike Air Huaraches. Image Courtesy of: Seinfeld. All Rights reserved to West-Shapiro Productions, Castle Rock Entertainment & Columbia TriStar Television Distribution

Formative Years

Outside of basketball, Nike's SB range has been key to challenging Vans (and Coverses) dominance in the park. Nike have held a long time relationship with legendary skater Paul Rodriguez and have produce a number of signature designs for 'P-Rod'. Nike's SB line - which launched in 2002 - actually reflects the unification of sports cultures as they took the Dunk and the Blazer under the SB umbrella - where they were originally born as a basketball silhouettes. For non-skate fans the most recognisable SB silhouette is likely the SB Janoski.

The SB line is also where Nike first collaborated with skate - and now streetwear - brand Supreme on a series of SB Dunks. Supreme's work with Nike has lasted for almost 2 decades and includes a host of Nike silhouettes such as the Air Force 1 and the Air Max 98.

Learn about perennial Nike silhouettes in The Vault

Pictured: Tom Cruise & Nicole Kidman. Media Credit: Ron Galella. All Rights reserved to Ron Galella

A NEW MILLENNIUM

After dominating the 90s with Michael Jordan and the inception of Air, Nike were ready to create something fresh and unorthodox. So they introduced SHOX technology and the Air Presto. At the 2000 Olympics Vinsanity (NBA great Vince Carter) jumps over and posterises 7'2 French center Frederic Weis whilst wearing the Nike Shox BB4.

In 2002, Nike started working with Hommyo Hidefumi and atmos, they released the Air Max 1 'Safari', which referenced Tinker Hatfield's 1987 Air Safari, it's amongst Nike's most celebrated work. Today, atmos and Nike's releases remain some of the most coveted releases, with thousands attempting to get their hands on Hidefumi's signature animal prints and inventive designs.

Pictured: Vince Carter at the Olympics (2000). Image Courtesy of: Darren McNamara. All Rights Reserved to Darren McNamara.

In Recent History

Nike have always acknowledged their roots through their shoe releases, redefining previous moments has become an eclectic principle in Nike's repertoire. Modern re-issues of classic silhouettes have long been a signature of the Nike brand - ever since the Air Force 1 was retroed in '86, but they have become even more pervasive in recent years, 2017 saw the 20th anniversary of the iconic yet polarising Air Max 97 and 30 years of Visible Air via the Air Max 1. It also saw the re-issue of other popular Air Max silhouettes such as the Air Max 93 and 180.

The introduction of the M2K-Techno in 2018 reflected on the significance of the Air Monarch. This year Nike & Air Jordan celebrate 30 years of the Air Jordan IV, so we can be prepared for a number of classic re-issues and collaborations. Despite an almost obsessive grasp on heritage, Nike have continued to push the boundaries of innovation, silhouettes such as the Nike Air VaporMax and the React Element have created significant waves within the sneaker industry, through a combined effort of exceptional design and pioneering technical craftsmanship.

Pictured: Nike Air VaporMax (2017). Image Courtesy of: Nike, Inc. All Rights Reserved to: Nike, Inc

Experimenters & Tinkerers
NikeLab

Nike's proclivity for experimentation might be defined by the Nike Terra series released during the '90s, which were a composition of functional amorphous trail shoes. But in 2002, Nike launched HTM - a project centred around 3 of their figureheads - Hiroshi Fujiwara, Tinker Hatfield and Mark Parker. The project focused on incorporating Nike's existing technical innovations with creativity in design - veering away from mass production and focusing on limited quantity goods.

Then in 2014, Nike launched NikeLab, which is essentially an experimental diffusion line that gives collaborators freedom to refine the arsenal of products in Nike's portfolio. NikeLab was launched at 6 physical locations - London being NikeLab 1948, with each location being a concept space with installations different from NikeTown and traditional Nike locatons. The inception of NikeLab represented a new tale in Nike's chronicles with some of Nike's most successful recent releases being under the hood of NikeLab.

Traditionally, Nike's collaborative releases involved colourway changes, the addition of personal branding, motifs or appliqués or the minor transformation of shoe elements e.g. lacing, the heel or tongue tabs. NikeLab removed these restrictions and gave artists & designers the ability to reflect their stories through the transformations they made in Nike's silhouettes. NikeLab has also been at the forefront of incorporating Nike's sports innovations into technical silhouettes that may not initially have mass sensibility.

COLLABORATION CULTURE

From NikeLab to Air Jordan, Nike have been no stranger to creative collusion. Nike's previous - and recurring - collaborators include: A Cold Wall* + Samuel Ross, ACRONYM®, atmos, cav Empt, Comme des Garçon + Rei Kawakubo + Junya Watanabe, CNCPTS, DQM, Fear of God + Jerry Lorenzo, Heron Preston, Jeff Staple, KAWS, Levi's®, Patta, Sacai, Stone Island, Stüssy, Supreme, Tom Sachs, UNDERCOVER Gyakosou + Jun Takahasi, UNDFTD, Union LA.

To view the respective collaborations, visit Shoe Shelf

CONVERGENCE OF ARTS + SPORTS - WHERE CREATIVE EXPRESSION COLLIDES

Drake famously rhymed "... I swear sports and music are so synonymous; Cause we want to be them, and they want to be us" on Thank Me Now (2010), so it's no surprise that we've arrived at a reality where the lines between the 2 are blurred. The subcultures within the sneaker industry often collide as hip-hop culture often builds and borrows from the stories built on the court, track and field.

Nike took the blueprint of collaboration outside of sports from their contemporaries into the mainstream; a much-talked about collaboration with Kanye West and the original Air Yeezy silhouettes in 2009 acted as a proponent for Nike to work with a host of musicians and artists. Fast forward 10 years and the collaborative catalogue includes the likes of Justin Timberlake, Jorja Smith, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Travis Scott, VLONE and Skepta.

Outside of music Nike have designed (Player Exclusive) sneakers for several individuals across the arts such as Mark Wahlberg, DJ Khaled and Don C. Ricardo Tisci, formerly of Givenchy and current Burberry creative director, and JW Anderson, are amongst the many well respected designers Nike have produced shoes with.
Nike's ability to transform the industry landscape outside of footwear design, is an aspect that is often overlooked and undervalued.

Pictured: Nike CEO Mark Parker & Kanye West. Image courtesy of: Don C. All rights reserved to Don C.

Nike x Off White™ c/o Virgil Abloh
"THE TEN"

In the recent new luxury eco-space of brand collaboration, the only collaborative effort to rival - in terms of the respective reputation of each brand - Nike x Off White™ is Louis Vuitton's collaboration with Supreme (at the time it was the only way to challenge Kanye West + Adidas). For the first time in their history, Nike gave someone unbridled access to the array of sneakers in their archives.
Founder of Off-White™ and current LV artistic director, Virgil Abloh chose ten shoe silhouettes and reconstructed them in line with his design vision. The original "TEN" silhouettes were: Air Force 1, Air Jordan 1, Air Max 90, Air Max 97, Air Presto, Air VaporMax, Converse Chuck Taylor 70, React Hyperdunk, SB Blazer Mid and the Zoomfly.

"THE TEN" saw 8 silhouette re-issues in 2018; alongside a capsule collection for the FIFA World Cup and Serena Williams, it ended in February 2019 with 2 Air Max 90 colourways. To discover the story behind the making of "THE TEN", read TEXTBOOK by Virgil Abloh (2017)

Explore "THE TEN" on SILHOUETTE EXPLORED or Purchase "THE TEN" here

Pictured: Virgil Abloh constructing THE TEN. Image Courtesy of: Nike, Inc, Virgil Abloh™ & Off-White™. All Rights Reserved to: Nike, Inc, Virgil Abloh™ & Off-White™

Marketing Marvels

Nike have produced some of the most powerful, memorable and evocative campaigns to ever grace screen and print. Nike have enjoyed a fruitful partnership with advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy for nearly 40 years and continue to break ground when delivering their media campaigns. Nike are arguably masters of the story, they have always uniquely provided a context to the creation of their products since the creation of the Waffle sole in 1970 when Bill Bowerman was eating breakfast.

2018 saw them become political activists with a campaign centred around former NFL quarterback, Colin Kaepernick
Notable previous campaigns have often come from the football world. For the 2006 World Cup, Nike took the street football that defines Brazil and strengthened its global appeal with their 'Joga Bonito' campaign starring Ronaldinho, Eric Cantona, Ronaldo (R9 & CR7) amongst a host of other stars. The campaign was a revolution not only for the visual presentation of its content but for the fact it was founded on the early precept of the social media platform.

Other noteworthy campaigns include The 2014 World Cup 'Risk Everything' campaign and the 2010 campaigns of 'Write the Future' and 'What Should I Do?' of NBA great Lebron James. Sports might be their forte, but Nike have also long dominated lifestyle marketing. The 2000 campaigns around the Nike Air Presto were deviant and creative; a social campaign named 'If You Let Me Play' centred around the empowerment of women in sports in 1995 was a progressive voice in a time of relative social stagnation, campaigns like those (and their subsequent predecessors) set a precedent in marketing and social outreach.

Pictured: Lebron James' Campaign for his return to Cleveland. Image Courtesy of: Nike, Inc. All Rights Reserved to: Nike, Inc.

WWW - Work With Women

In the 80s Nike lost significant market share to Reebok, who embraced aerobic and fitness culture, a segment whose primary demographic was women, Reebok notably released the Freestyle trainer. During, the 90s and subsequent years, Nike attempted to shift their corporate culture and gain the ground back from their competitors. In industries which have traditionally been male-dominated, Nike wanted to blur the misconceptions of gender within sports by actively encouraging the involvement of women and girls.

24 years ago, Nike released the campaign 'If You Let Me Play', a campaign employing a positive message of equality and unity, the message was simple: fitness is positive, it's good for your health, why limit participation? The manner in which they represented their target audience was equally significant, Nike prioritised the use of real individuals in the stead of athletes in order to to reposition Nike as a meaningful brand to women and demonstrate that participation is beyond talent or demographic.

In 2019, Nike hold endorsements for the likes of Serena Williams, Alex Morgan, Maria Sharapova and Simone Biles - the highest tier of athlete in their respective fields. Outside of sports, have forged a decade long partnership with Rei Kawakubo at Comme des Garçons and have recently worked with the Grammy-nominated artist Jorja Smith, as well as lauded designers Martine Rose, Chitose Abe (at Sacai) and stylist Aleali May.

Pictured: Serena Williams at the 2013 US Open in Nike. Image Courtesy of: Edwin Martinez. All Rights Reserved to Edwin Martinez
Noted: Nike's 2017/2018 Workplace Misconduct Cases.

Extra Chapter: Converse Part I
The Chuck Taylor Revolution

Converse was acquired by Nike in 2003 after over a century of forging a legacy as a forerunner in the footwear industry. Converse is widely known for the Chuck Taylor. The story of the Chuck Taylor can be traced back to the late 19th century and the invention of rubber tooling. The Chuck Taylor was originally the All Star before being christened in 1932 after basketball player and Converse salesman, Chuck Taylor. A revolutionary silhouette, the Chuck Taylor first garnered mass appeal on the hardwood, as one of the first shoes to incorporate a thick rubber sole unto the now signature canvas upper. The rubber sole was unprecedented at the time and provided a different level of stability and support between the foot and the courts surface. They were only available in black and white till the 70's when a multitude of colours were introduced and the Chuck Taylor was marketed as the 'Limousine for your feet'.

Wilt Chamberlain - the holder of many major NBA records - famously sported the Converse Chuck Taylor, a number of times over the course of his career and in his legendary 100 point game. The Chuck retired on the court in 1979 as a consequence of the Air revolution (in addition to Puma & Adidas), but its legacy lives on off the floor. Swipe for Part II.

Pictured: Marty McFly. Image courtesy of: Back To The Future (1985). All rights reserved to Universal Pictures & Amblin Entertainment

Extra Chapter: Converse Part II

After, its stint on the court, the Chuck Taylor became a staple for skaters due to its durability (they are often used as 'beaters'), minimalistic aesthetic and its price point. The Chuck was also a favourite amongst the punk, rock and indie community with the likes of the late Kurt Cobain and the Sex Pistols frequently rocking them. The Converse Chuck Taylor All Star ('70) is a cornerstone silhouette and is unique for being one of the few silhouettes that has garnered favour on the street, in the park and on the court.

In streetwear, the Chuck has been adorned by Comme des Garçons PLAY for the best part of a decade, with their signature Red Heart embellished across the sidewall. Notable collaborations reinventing the classic also include JW Anderson, Margiela, Midnight Studios and UNDERCOVER, amongst others. However, the Chuck is not the only Converse silhouette to make noise, the One Star and the Jack Purcell are also popular but did not have the cultural defining impact of the Chuck. The impact of the Converse stretches as far as the luxury sector, Rick Owens has famously immortalised the Chuck through his Ramones silhouette, amongst a host of other brands using the canvas + rubber mid-top silhouette popularised by Converse (& Keds).

Discover the Converse Chuck Taylor through SILHOUETTE EXPLORED

Pictured: Kurt Cobain in Converses in 1992. Image Courtesy of: Kevin Mazur & Rock Paper Photo. All rights Reserved.

A glimpse into the Industry:

In the 70s and 80s, Nike and their contemporaries at the time Adidas, Puma, Reebok and Onitsuka were able to gain a significant portion of the US market as a consequence of post-war tariff changes, it led to the traditional US brands such as Converse, Pro-Keds and PF-Flyers having a diminutive role in the market. The switch in manufacturing to emerging pre-industrialised economies enabled Nike and their foreign competitors to benefit from cheaper overseas production by outsourcing manufacturing within a complex network across several countries. As a consequence, sneakers (or sports shoes) have attained a status as a 'soft good', where profit is derived from an emphasis on marketability rather than production, this shift has resulted in Nike - correctly - considering themselves a design and marketing company rather than a manufacturing company.

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  • Complex. Available at: Complex.com
  • The Guardian. Available at: theguardian.com
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  • GQ. Available at: gq.com
  • MIC. Available at: mic.com
  • Business of Fashion. Available at: bof.com
  • McKinsey. Available at: mckinsey.com
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