How Nike won the cultural marathon

How Nike won the cultural marathon

For its 50th anniversary this year, Nike could do a lot. She could do what many fashion brands did, and she could organize a number of giant parties in many capitals around the world with special guests like LeBron James and Billie Eilish, Naomi Osaka and Travis Scott. He could have released a limited edition coffee table book full of bright photographs of sneakers treated as art. He could create “50 and Fabulous” goods (or anything else).

But Nike did none of that. In fact, the only anniversary event he’s done so far is to spread the old Spike Lee character Mars Blackmon, better to describe and suggest a new “anthem” called “I Saw Everything,” which, in fact, is ours. It can be true – if you have something to learn, both in sports and in fashion, it is always someone behind you – and at the same time a modest boast.

Because half a century later, Goldman Sachs was once described as a “vampire squid” in the face of humanity, it is inevitable that Nike will become part of the root system that forms the basis of culture. And it’s not just the culture of sneakers.

Named after the Greek goddess of victory, Nike has become not only the world’s most valuable clothing brand (its value is twice that of its closest sportswear rival Adidas, and it is ahead of Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Chanel). It’s part of the movies we watch, the songs we hear, the museums we visit, the work we do; it’s part of who we think we are and how we got here.

Robert Goldman, co-author of Nike Culture: The Sign of the Swoosh and an honorary professor at Lewis & Clark College, said it was “an emblem of individuality at a time when individualism is rampant.” to be one that can be read by the masses.

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

He has founding fathers: Phil Knight, a former Oregon University athlete, and Bill Bowerman, a college coach, famously poured rubber into his wife’s waffle iron to make a new treadmill. It has an anthem: “Just Do It”, introduced in 1988. Most have its emblem.

This makes it closer to brands like Coke, IBM, Disney and McDonald’s in history than any athletic and even fashion name. Apple is the only other brand in the last half century that has made such an impact and completely jumped from brand to personality.

Therefore, when Nike reaches its golden anniversary, it is worth thinking that the swoosh has become the brand ear of the millennium, opening a tunnel in our brains to colonize our imaginations. It’s a story about sports, no doubt the rise of marketing and casual Fridays, and the chance to be a sports company when the global pandemic turns the world into sneakers and lycra.

But more than that, it’s a story about how we set up myths about ourselves.

Ask a lot of people who work at Nike or Nike why they want to join the company, and many of them will start talking to you about their childhood.

John Hoke, Nike’s chief designer who has worked for the company for 30 years, was young when he wrote a letter to Mr. Nike. Knight offered a new shoe design, and in return received a note and a pair of waffle irons. (He has a picture of himself wearing shoes while playing tennis in his office at Nike HQ in Ore, Portland.)

The late Off-White and Louis Vuitton designer Virgil Abloh, who applied the Warholian approach to sneakers while re-inventing Nike’s most popular sneakers, talked about sleeping with a pair of Jordan 5s at the end of the bed that I could see. in the morning. ” Yoon Ahn, the founder of Ambush, a Japanese streetwear brand that has been working with Nike since 2018, said it was the first shoe Nikes bought with his own money. He now has a warehouse full of them.

This is a reflection of how the company touches the social memory bank.

In 1992, Mr. In an interview with Harvard Business Review, Knight said one of Nike’s greatest accomplishments was realizing that they weren’t waffles, not Air Force 1 or Air Jordan or Flyknit (which was important, of course). t just sell sneakers.

Created by Carolyn Davidson, a recent graduate of the Portland State University School of Graphic Design, the brand, which was a trademark in 1971, was supposed to refer to the subconscious as well as to Nike’s wings. And when he was first treated with some suspicion by the gentleman. According to Mr. Knight, this seems like a “big comma” Knight. Goldman said it has evolved from a “kind of meaningless stain” into an inflated emblem with associations.

(Nike decided to bury the soup shortly after reports of unsafe working conditions in subcontracting factories in Asia in 1998, as well as allegations of child labor, turned it into a poster for corporate ignorance and led activists to label the sign “swooshticka.” The noise caused some public repentance and new work experiences from Nike executives, but the brand eventually got stuck with its own confusion.)

Nike therefore embraced heroism in the person of its first and most important partner, Michael Jordan, giving it control over its brand in a way that no sports star possessed; famously bought athletes and teams (more than 10,000 in total) and sliced ​​and chopped their specialties into sports – from running and basketball to tennis, football, ice hockey and skateboarding; and did something else because they named their campus buildings in honor of Serena Williams and LeBron James: They involved the entire universe of non-sport subcultures.

And subcultures have created sneakers. The war became their not-so-secret sign.

It is possible that the first public sneaker was actually Mars Blackmon’s sunglasses Knicks and Mr., played by Spike Lee at Air Jordans. Lee’s 1986 film “It Must Be In His Hands.”

The character’s obsession with Airs in bed is Nike’s indie Mr. Mr. Lee will shoot some commercials. Jordan. It was a couple who surpassed sports and film to create a new kind of franchise.

“They realized something was happening,” said Fraser Cooke, a former DJ and barber who co-founded FootPatrol, one of the first cult sports shoe stores in London. Jordan plus Lee led urban communities, and urban communities gave birth to hip-hop, and hip-hop culture was on its way to becoming a “dominant subculture” complemented by the Nikes as part of the dress code. Suddenly, sneaker managers began to think like social anthropologists.

Mr. Cook met then-Nike CEO Mark Parker in 2003. Parker and several other colleagues were on a secret tour of the London Underground (not a subway system, but a substrate of coolness). Shortly afterwards, they offered him a job, which is equivalent to a supernatural ambassador, romanticizing the bubbles and washing him in the world of show business.

“My job was to work with outsiders,” he said. Cooke now has a very complex (and ever-changing) title as CEO, global custom projects and catalyst brand management.

Since then, he has been responsible for bringing a number of nervous, non-sporting names to his audience: Comme des Garçons, Riccardo Tisci (since his time at Givenchy), Diordan Kim Jones, Mr. Abloh (long before Louis Vuitto’s eyes sparkled), Chitose Abe from Saca. (There is an arms race between fashion shoe brands for fashion partners, as the lines between the different segments of the “dress” become increasingly juicy.) Catalyst brand management also leads relationships with other non-traditional Nike partners such as Travis Scott, Drake and Billie Eilish. is. .

The point is to design “things, not ideas,” sir. Hoke said. When artist Tom Sachs signed the contract more than a decade ago, he said he wanted to build a solid bronze skateboard ramp. (It didn’t go well, but it did lead to the merger of Mars Yard’s shoes and the Nikes and the Moon’s shots.) That’s why this special group of outsiders is called catalysts, not employees, and employees have become a penny. with them – and not in theory, but quite openly in operation.

Ariana Peters, one of the owners of the Chicks With Kicks sneaker collection, said, “They have created a union of worlds that attract the masses.” With more than 6,000 pairs, it is one of the largest collections of personal sneakers in the world, and 75% of it is Nikes.

Megan Rapinoe, who has been with Nike since graduating in 2009 but is now launching her own brand line under Nike’s auspices, said the merger was “everything.”

“The real power is in the work of culture,” he said. Rapinoe said. “It’s all on the runway and in the tunnel before the game. All of them are on the field and on the red carpet. As with media and social media, everyone knows the whole vibe all the time. ”

“It’s adapted to almost every super important cultural moment and human intelligence,” said Brahm Wachter, head of streetwear and contemporary collections at Sotheby’s. He could move from Nyjah Houston to Forrest Gump; Mia Hamm – “Lost in Translation”; Kobe Bryant at The Breakfast Club; Naomi Osaka “Return to the Future” a.

Nike x Off-White “Air” Jordans in a floral yellow Versace dress from Met Gala, co-hosted in 2019, are on par with Nike Anna Wintour’s Manolos, with the permission of Serena Williams, who wears a pair of chartreuse. , In front of Colin Kaepernick after kneeling during the National Anthem.

Michael Jordan, who was released on the basketball court for violating the NBA dress code, has a pass from the first Air Jordans. Then mr. The ban on the Knight Harvard Business Review was “excellent! As long as we know we are on the right side of the issue, we welcome the ad that puts us against the system. ”

The irony, of course, is that Nike is almost structured at this point. That’s it, sir. “It’s part of our heritage,” Wachter said.

That’s why all of Sotheby’s shoes were sold after it decided to create a sports shoe category in 2020 and hold regular auctions – now eight to 10 a year – with about 95 percent of the shares owned by Nikes. Why is Nike the most expensive shoe ever sold at auction? (These would be the Nike Air Yeezy prototypes that Kanye West wore to the 2008 Grammy and received $ 1.8 million in 2021.) Why is Nike in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection?

And this despite some scandalous 1990s scandals, repeated with more allegations of unsafe factory conditions in 2017, as well as recent revelations about Nike’s treatment and discrimination against female athletes, especially pregnant female athletes, though, he meant. female employees (as a result of the expected claim) Nike was able to maintain its dominant position in the global psyche. This is despite the critical separation of Nike superstars such as Kanye West (now deeply rooted in Adidas after splitting from Nike in 2013), Allyson Felix and Simone Biles. And attempts to crush the little boy by periodically throwing his weight around and suing startups like MSCHF (settled) and StockX.

It has implemented an almost unique act of balancing in consumer culture: becoming a giant public-listed brand with more than 73,000 employees and $ 44.6 billion in revenue for fiscal year 2021, and maintaining a cool niche aura.

He is both an elephant in the room and a wild dog; supplier not only of all teams, but of almost all leagues – and the only runner in the desert. It is no coincidence that, sir. The new General Purpose Shoes, released by Sachs in early June, is a strange proposition for a company that sells sneakers to rule out the need to buy new sneakers every week. But just as the virtual sports shoe company acquired RTFKT, it could show where the company went next. (Part of the paradox is that the shoe wears out almost immediately and therefore goes on to become a collector’s item.)

It’s Nike, sir. “It’s a kind of consumer product that challenges the idea of ​​consumerism,” Goldman said. This brings it very close to the “modern situation”.

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