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What’s up with Nike?
The world’s biggest sports brand is making moves.
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What Nike is focused on
📱 Digital transformation. As more shopping goes online, Nike has scooped up several data and analytics firms to help it deliver personalized service on a global scale. Its new CEO also has a tech background.
🛍️ Direct-to-consumer push. Nike’s business was built on wholesaling shoes to retailers, but the sneaker giant is now aggressively paring back its retail partners as it sells more straight to shoppers.
👩 Women FTW. The sneaker giant says women are one of its biggest growth opportunities, and is launching more products specifically for its female fans.
👟 Balancing supply and demand. Nike’s image and sales rely in part on limited-release products. It’s serving more shoppers than ever who are buying up Jordans and lining up virtually for drops on its SNKRS app, while also trying to manage the frustration that comes with shoppers not getting the shoes they want.
🇨🇳 Navigating a turbulent world. Between covid, disruptions to its supply chain, and fallout from political tensions in China over Xinjiang, Nike has its hands full keeping its business operating smoothly.
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Nike’s DTC push
Nike’s investments in its own e-commerce, a variety of new brick-and-mortar stores, and its ecosystem of apps have fueled the growth of its direct-to-consumer sales, which are a strategic priority for the company.
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By the digits
$37.4 billion: Nike’s global sales in 2020, down slightly because of the pandemic
$1.8 billion: Total 2020 sales for Converse, which Nike owns
41%: Share of Nike’s sales from North America, its largest market
66%: Share of Nike’s sales from footwear, its largest category
75,400: Global Nike employees as of May 31, 2020
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Where Nike makes its sneakers
Nike has been gradually moving its footwear production out of China as wages rise in the country and it shifts focus to manufacturing more valuable items like electronics.
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Nike cofounder Phil Knight originally wanted to name the company Dimension Six, according to his 2016 memoir, Shoe Dog. His coworkers hated the idea.
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1964: Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman, Knight’s former track coach at University of Oregon, found Blue Ribbon Sports as a US distributor of Japan’s Onitsuka track shoes.
1971: Blue Ribbon Sports cuts ties with Onitsuka, renames itself Nike, and begins producing its own shoes.
1973: Nike signs its first star athlete, distance runner and Bowerman protégé Steve Prefontaine.
1976: Bowerman sells Knight two-thirds of his stake in the company and steps back from his involvement.
1978: The Tailwind, Nike’s first sneaker to use its proprietary air unit in the sole, is released.
1985: Nike introduces the Air Jordan 1, its first signature sneaker for Chicago Bulls rookie Michael Jordan.
1987: The Air Max 1, the first shoe to make the air unit visible, comes out.
1991: Nike becomes embroiled in scandals over labor conditions in its supply chain.
2003: Nike signs Kobe Bryant, Serena Williams, and LeBron James.
2004: It acquires Converse. Phil Knight steps down as CEO but remains chairman.
2006: Longtime employee Mark Parker becomes CEO, replacing Knight’s initial successor, William Perez.
2015: Knight exits.
2020: Parker steps down and John Donahoe becomes CEO.
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Names to know
While Nike’s sneakers and the athletes who wear them are recognized all over the world, the designers behind them aren’t as well known.
- Peter Moore: The mind behind two Nike basketball classics, the Dunk and the Air Jordan 1, which stood out when it was first released for its bold color combinations at a time when basketball shoes were pretty plain.
- Tinker Hatfield: A Nike legend, he claims credit for several Jordan styles—notably the 3, 4, 5, 6, and 11—as well as the Air Huarache and the Air Max 1, which took its idea to make the air unit in the sole visible for the first time from the exposed interior of the Pompidou Centre.
- Tobie Hatfield: Guess it runs in the family. This Hatfield was one of the chief designers of Free, Nike’s barefoot-feel running platform, and created FlyEase, which lets people with limited use of their hands easily get into and tighten their sneakers.
- Bruce Kilgore: While he’s done several designs for Nike, Kilgore is best-known for creating the Air Force 1, said to be Nike’s top-selling sneaker of all time.
- Tiffany Beers: The engineer who made Nike’s self-lacing sneaker technology, first dreamed up for the movie Back To the Future II, into reality.
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One of the hottest sneakers on the resale market in the past year has been the Nike Dunk. That’s no accident. Nike started planning a revival of the shoe—one of a handful of core styles it will push every few years—in 2017 and carefully engineered its rise to the top of sneaker fandom through collaborations and limited releases.