Nike, originally known as Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS), was founded by University of Oregon track athlete Phil Knight and his coach Bill Bowerman in January 1964. The company initially operated as a distributor for Japanese shoe maker Onitsuka Tiger (now ASICS), making most sales at track meets out of Knight’s automobile.
In 1964, in its first year in business, BRS sold 1,300 pairs of Japanese running shoes grossing $8,000. By 1965 the fledgling company had acquired a full-time employee, and sales had reached $20,000. In 1966, BRS opened its first retail store, located at 3107 Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, California next to a beauty salon, so its employees no longer needed to sell inventory from the back of their cars. In 1967, due to rapidly increasing sales, BRS expanded retail and distribution operations on the East Coast, in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
By 1971, the relationship between BRS and Onitsuka Tiger was nearing an end. BRS prepared to launch its own line of footwear, which would bear the Swoosh newly designed by Carolyn Davidson*. The Swoosh was first used by Nike on June 18, 1971, and was registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on January 22, 1974.
In 1976, the company hired John Brown and Partners, based in Seattle, as its first advertising agency. The following year, the agency created the first “brand ad” for Nike, called “There is no finish line”, in which no Nike product was shown. By 1980, Nike had attained a 50% market share in the U.S. athletic shoe market, and the company went public in December of that year.
Together, Nike and Wieden+Kennedy have created many print and television advertisements and Wieden+Kennedy remains Nike’s primary ad agency. It was agency co-founder Dan Wieden who coined the now-famous slogan “Just Do It” for a 1988 Nike ad campaign, which was chosen by Advertising Ageas one of the top five ad slogans of the 20th century and enshrined in the Smithsonian Institution. Walt Stack was featured in Nike’s first “Just Do It” advertisement, which debuted on July 1, 1988. Wieden credits the inspiration for the slogan to “Let’s do it”, the last words spoken by Gary Gilmore before he was executed.
Throughout the 1980s, Nike expanded its product line to encompass many sports and regions throughout the world. In 1990, Nike moved into its eight-building World Headquarters campus in Beaverton, Oregon.
Phil Knight announced in mid-2015 that he is planning to step down as chairman of Nike in 2016.
*Carolyn Davidson is a graphic designer best known for designing the Nike “swoosh” logo.
Davidson designed the swoosh in 1971 while a graphic design student at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. Phil Knight, who was teaching an accounting class at the university, noticed Davidson working on an assignment, and asked her to do some work for what was then Blue Ribbon Sports, Inc. Needing to choose a logo in order to meet looming production deadlines, Knight settled on the swoosh, after rejecting various other designs. At the time, he stated of the logo, “I don’t love it, but it will grow on me.”
For her services, the company paid her $35, which, if adjusted for inflation for 2015, would be the value equivalent of about $205. Davidson continued working for Blue Ribbon Sports (it officially became Nike, Inc. in 1971), until the design demands of the growing company were beyond one person’s capacity.
In September 1983, nearly three years after the company went public, Knight invited Davidson to a company lunch. There, he presented her with a diamond ring engraved with the Swoosh, and an envelope filled with an undisclosed amount of Nike stock. Of the gift, Davidson says, “this was something rather special for Phil to do, because I originally billed him and he paid that invoice.”