As of 1999, Nike was the number-one shoe company in the world, and it accounted for 40 percent of the athletic shoe market in the United States. The company originated as Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS), a company formed by William J. Bowerman and Phil Knight in 1964 to distribute Japanese-made Tiger Shoes in the United States.
Bowerman coached track and field at the University of Oregon from 1949 to 1972. He trained Steve Prefontaine, a 1970s record breaking track star, as well as NCAA, Olympic, and All-American athletes. One of his athletes from the University of Oregon was Phil Knight, who went on to earn an MBA from Stanford. In his master's thesis Knight asserted that inexpensive, high-tech shoes from Japan could end German dominance of the U.S. athletic shoe market. He presented this idea to his former coach, Bowerman, and BRS was born.
Bowerman, the creative force behind the business, originated a light nylon upper which was introduced in a 1967 marathon. In 1968 he designed the Cortez for Tiger, and it became the company's best-selling shoe. While Bowerman focused on shoe innovations, Knight worked on marketing the shoes. He hired Jeff Johnson in 1965 to sell the shoes, and the company opened its first retail outlet in Santa Monica, California, in 1966.
1971 was a watershed year for the company. The duo broke from Tiger after a disagreement and renamed the company Nike after the Greek goddess of victory. They paid a design student, Carolyn Davidson, $35 to develop a logo, and she came up with the swoosh. During this year, the company introduced the Waffle, a shoe with a lightweight sole which Bowerman created by pouring rubber into his wife's waffle-iron. The shoe sold originally for $3.30
a pair, and four of the top seven marathon finishers in the 1972 Olympics wore the revolutionary shoes. While the Waffle was quickly becoming America's best-selling shoe, the popularity of jogging, running, and physical fitness increased in the 1970s. In 1979 Nike introduced air cushioning, and the company captured 50 percent of the running-shoe market.
During the 1980s, the company experienced some of its greatest successes. It started the decade by going public in 1980. In 1985 it took a chance by marketing a shoe named after a Chicago Bull rookie, Michael Jordan. The Air Jordan, like its namesake, skyrocketed in popularity and fame. In 1988 the company introduced its memorable "Just Do It" marketing campaign, which solidified the company's reputation for footwear for making serious athletes.
In addition, the company began to expand through acquisitions and retailing. In 1988 Nike acquired Cole Haan, a dress shoe company. Two years later, it opened the first Niketown in Portland, Oregon. This chain of large-scale sporting-good stores attracts hard-core athletes and tourists allured by the engaging merchandise displays. In 1994 Nike purchased Canstai, the largest manufacturer of hockey equipment, including Bauer ice skates.
Nike's success did not come without controversy. During the 1990s, human-rights activists criticized the company for the conditions in its overseas factories. Nike responded by raising wages and prohibiting children from working in its plants.
Currently, Nike produces athletic shoes for a variety of sports including baseball, cheerleading, volleyball, and wrestling. Also, it offers athletic clothing and equipment. As of 2000, the company was looking to diversify its product mix through acquisitions.
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