Nike, a global icon of athletic footwear and apparel, began as Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS) in the 1960s. Founded by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight, BRS started as an Onitsuka Tiger distributor. In 1971, BRS transformed into Nike, introducing the iconic Swoosh logo and its own footwear line, starting with the Nike Cortez.
Bill Bowerman, a renowned American track and field coach had a successful coaching career at the University of Oregon, where he innovated training methods for the institution. Oh, and the co-founder of Nike.
Bowerman's most significant contribution was in footwear design, as he co-created the Nike "Waffle Trainer," revolutionizing sports shoe technology by introducing a lightweight, waffle-patterned sole that improved traction, shock absorption, and flexibility. He was having breakfast with his wife one morning in 1971 when it dawned on him that the grooves in the waffle iron she was using would be an excellent mold for a running shoe. This innovation set a new standard in sports shoe design, making Nike a recognized and respected brand in the industry.
"I picked out a couple pieces of jewelry and things that had stars on them, or things that we thought would indent or make a pattern on the soles, we were making waffles that morning and talking about (the track). As one of the waffles came out, he said, 'you know, by turning it upside down - where the waffle part would come in contact with the track. I think that might work."
Phil Knight was one of Bill Bowerman's athletes during his time at the University of Oregon. Knight ran track under Coach Bowerman while he was a student at the university.
Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman's relationship shifted from athlete and coach to business partners when Knight, inspired by high-quality Japanese running shoes, saw a business opportunity. In 1964, they co-founded Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS), with Knight handling sales and Bowerman contributing coaching insights. BRS's success led to the evolution of Nike, Inc. in 1971.
The 1980s brought innovations like the Waffle Trainer and Air cushioning, revolutionizing comfort and performance. And Nike was no different; securing endorsements from athletes, most notably Michael Jordan, launching the Air Jordan line in 1985. The 1990s marked global expansion and lifestyle branding with lines like Nike Sportswear. Collaborations with designers solidified its cultural impact worldwide.
From its humble beginnings to global success, Nike's journey is one of evolution, adaptability, and lasting impact.