I still remember my first pair of Nike sneakers. When I was seven years old, my family took a day trip to the Oregon coast.  In my haste to run through the freezing cold tide, I left my sneakers too close to the surf and by they time I was looking for them, they had been swept out to the Pacific, never to be seen again.  After a lengthy scolding from my mother, and a painful barefooted hike back to the car, we drove to the nearest Fred Meyer to buy me some replacement shoes. I vividly remember the feeling of shame and humiliation I felt, even as a seven year old, walking through the store on the cold scuffed tile floor with no shoes.  Soon, however,  my embarrassment was quickly replaced with sheer joy when my mother told me I could get the black and white Nike sneakers. Looking back on the situation now, I’m not even sure why I was so excited to get Nikes.  I don’t remember how or why I even knew what Nikes were. But that is exactly what defines the Nike brand. The Nike brand has permeated the very psyche of our culture without us even being aware.

The Nike brand is like no other.  Its reach is international and cross cultural and its revenue is unmatched.  Having been born right here in the United States, the Nike brand is as American as apple pie; its history, however, is a tad more bittersweet.

Rare Pinwheel Nike Windbreaker, Monster Vintage

In 1962 Philip Knight saw the need for an American competitor in the mostly German dominated athletic shoe market. The Oregon University undergraduate track star knew from personal experience that current athletic shoes lacked two things: the comfort and increased performance standard needed for athletic activity.  He soon created his own company, which employed only himself, and named it Blue Ribbon Sports to satiate the concerns of his Japanese suppliers.  Like most men of genius, Knight spent an abnormal amount of time in his father’s basement for the next few months, tweaking the Japanese sneakers. The following year right around the same time his parents began thinking he might have turned into some weird cellar dwelling loser, Knight began peddling the Japanese shoes out of the back of his car at track meets in the area.  Bowerman, a former track coach of his, saw potential in Knight’s vision and invested $500 dollars in Blue Ribbon Sports.  These days, $500 wouldn’t even be enough to upgrade your hella sweet sound system, but it was all Knight needed to continue and grow his hobby, turned obsession, turned career, and eventually, turned brand superhero.

Super Rare NIKEMAN Tee, Monster Vintage

The Blue Ribbons Sports brand grew successfully over the next few years and was almost as popular as its fellow Oregon basement-born product, desoxyephedrine (more commonly known as crystal meth).  Fortunately, Knight’s shoes were much less detrimental to your health and a bit less expensive.  In 1966 he opened up the first retail location in the promise land of materialist America, Santa Monica, California.  Fueled by relatively small but healthy sales, Blue Ribbon Sports severed it’s connection with the Japanese supplier and was about to retail its first exclusive shoe. The product was a soccer shoe, dubbed, quite unceremoniously at the time, Nike.  It would be the first to bear the now famous Nike swoosh.  The swoosh was designed by a young Portland State University student and sold to Knight for a measly $35, in what would later be called the steal of the millennia.  In 1972, Bowman would create the first original Nike design. The legendary “waffle” shoe which was made by pouring rubber into a waffle iron.  The shoe was so revolutionary, no one bothered to ask why exactly Bowman was eating rubber waffles for breakfast.  Instead, they were mesmerized by the textured sole that provided flexibility while simultaneously offering a previously unrivaled level of traction. The “waffle” shoe was released as the Moon Shoe, and set Nike apart as THE innovators and designers for athletes.  The brand continued to expand, create, and excel throughout the 70’s, and a jogging craze late in the decade gave the company the boost needed to establish themselves as a prominent US brand.

80’s Vintage Nike Waffle Runners, Monster Vintage

In 1979, the newly anointed Nike Inc moved to its headquarters in our very own Portland, Oregon and three years later, would hire the then-fledging Portland ad agency Wieden+Kennedy as their main marketing squeeze. The relationship between these two Portland power mavens would prove to be like any other passionate romance: fun, creative, historical, and almost indecently fruitful.

Wieden+Kennedy developed Nike into the superstar brand that it is today through ingenious and original marketing strategies.  For example, Wieden is credited with coining the slogan “Just Do It,” but the exact origin of the phrase is slightly hazy.  Some insist it was in an 1988 meeting that Wieden almost absently mindedly said of the Nike exec’s business sense, “You Nike guys, you just ‘do it.’”  The slogan is also rumored, however, to have a more morbid origin. And according to some, Wieden modeled it after the last words spoken by a convicted murderer moments before his execution by firing squad.  The murderer’s name was Gary Gilmore, a Portland native, who when asked for any last words exclaimed, “Let’s do it!” No doubt, with all the fervor and determination of a seasoned athlete.  Nike neither confirms nor denies these rumors, with all the coyness of a secretive school girl.

80’s Nike Runner Silver Tag Tee, Monster Vintage

Wieden+Kennedy also influenced Nike to be the first sports brand to sign and advertise with major athletes. From Olympic runners to Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and later the U.S. Women’s Soccer team, Nike would transcend all athletic arenas and were incredibly successful at reaching young people through their sports idols. So successful in fact, that in the 1990’s, following an incredibly successful ad featuring Michael Jordan and director/actor Spike Lee in which Lee declared, “It’s gotta be the shoes,” young people all over the country were getting mugged and even murdered for their $115 Air Jordans, giving the term “I’d kill for those,” frightening undertones. Even more shocking, was that these occurrences were not limited to just the United States, with muggings and violence happening in South America, Europe, and Japan.  The backlash over the violence was swift and hefty, with some critics focusing the blame on brand powerhouse Nike, and even celebrities Jordan and Lee.  Whether or not Nike and its affiliates shared any of the blame in these horrific incidents was a matter of opinion.  What wasn’t opinion, however, was the reach and irreversible permeation of the Nike brand across the globe.  It was officially fact: Nike had arrived with all the pomp and circumstance of the NCAA in March.

Nike 1980’s Work Blue Tag Nike Tee, Monster Vintage

While Nike never condoned violence, the Air Jordan controversy would not be the first controversial marketing strategy the company would employ. Nike signed athletes for what some people claimed were egregious amounts of money, and in turn, the athlete turned over his or her decision making abilities. In some circumstances, Nike decided where they lived, what they ate, what they wore, who they dated and probably what Saturday morning cartoons they watched.  Signing with Nike was like dating the hottest girl in school, emasculating and controlling, but what happened in the chemistry supply closet made it soooo worthwhile. Some were shocked at the level of control Nike exercised over their athletes, but the company argued that it was more than a brand; Nike was a lifestyle, an attitude.  The attitude being young, hip, cool, determined, and constantly pushing boundaries.  When Nike launched it’s “Just Do It” slogan, it came out with a series of sexually suggestive ads geared towards women that outraged some more conservative critics. More recently Nike released several commercials that were banned in various countries. And in the wake of the Tiger Woods scandal, Nike was one of his only sponsors that remained loyal, a controversial decision.  But in all honesty, Tiger Woods did “Just Do It,” better than anyone.  Even as recently as 2011, Nike came out with a series of tee shirts that they claimed featured popular extreme sports phrases such as “Dope,” “Get High,” and “Ride the Pipe.” After sharp criticism that the shirts promoted drug use, Nike pulled them from production and sale, but left behind a residue of discussion and interest in it’s wake–typical of the Nike brand and attitude.

80’s Rare Rough Front Nike Hoodie, Monster Vintage

Nike has not just lit up in popularity in America; the brand has achieved incredible success in Japan, where any recognizable American label is considered exceptionally hip.  In the mid 90’s, for example, year old Nike designs which originally sell for around $120, were being sold for as much as $1,400.  This trend of being “unique,” has since crossed over to the United States, and Nike has done a brilliant job capitalizing on it.  They are continually releasing limited editions resulting in huge lines on release days and inflated eBay prices for years afterwards.  Today, 80% of the athletic shoes purchased are not actually used for athletic activity, and there is no doubt Nike had a strong hand in creating this aesthetic.

Nike continues their magnificent marketing strategy today and has advertisements that cover the scope of society and life.  Their commercials have become world famous for leaving even the most seasoned, self-actualized consumer with tingling in their toes.  Seeing Nike as the primed and mature company today, it’s hard to imagine what a young Nike brand looked like. With these vintage Nike products, it’s your chance to own a piece of raw, unrefined Nike.

Very Rare 78-79 HIKE NIKE Tee, Monster Vintage

Very Rare 1979 FLY NIKE Tee, Monster Vintage

Of Movie Stars, Nikes, and Peer Pressure

For a period of time in the late eighties, I attended high school in a very wealthy part of Maryland. I was a poor, hillbilly kid from rural Pennsylvania and didn’t really worry about “fitting in” as far as my wardrobe was concerned. Where I came from, kids wore what they could afford and did their best with what they had. NOT the case in Maryland. The pressure to follow the trends of the cool kids (“preps”) was unlike anything I’d experienced. They all wore Guess Jeans rolled up at the bottom (the old “tuck and roll” or “California roll” to our West coast brethren), tons of Benetton Colors cologne, but most importantly, they all wore Tretorn sneakers with no socks. Every last one of them. If you didn’t have a pair of Tretorn Sneakers, you were basically worthless.


Of course my family couldn’t afford Tretorn Sneakers, so I was doomed to spend my few years there as a second-class citizen.

Around this same time, a girl in my psych class was featured in a starring role in a John Candy movie, directed by the late, great John Hughes. It was interesting how the other kids reacted to her success. Even though she was one of them– her family seemed to have plenty of money– she didn’t look or act like them, and when the movie came out, everyone basically teased her about it, or ignored her altogether. Fans of John Hughes movies will appreciate the bittersweet irony; that her role in a John Hughes movie created a class rift between her and the other preps.

But I thought she was so awesome because, well… she’d been in a movie and that was pretty sweet, but also because she didn’t fit any mold– she wore very little makeup, had this wild, curly, untamed hair, she wore frumpy sweatshirts, and most of all… most awesomely of all… she wore Nike Swoosh sneakers instead of Tretorns. Nike sneakers were considered very passe. This made her my hero. If I’d had the money to buy new sneakers, I would have bucked the trend and bought Nike swoosh sneakers, just to be like her.

I never really spoke to her, though, cause I was so intimidated by her awesome sneaks, except for once when I encountered her in the girls bathroom. I said, “I rented your movie the other night. It was really cool.” She smiled and said, “Thanks.” It was the most I’d ever heard her say to anyone.

Today I was browsing the vintage shoes at Monster Vintage, and I came across these eighties Nike Swoosh Sneakers, and the memory of that girl and her awesomely cool Nike sneakers came rushing back to me. I realized that now that I can afford to buy myself sneakers if I feel like it, I would STILL go for the eighties Nike Swoosh because they are still way cooler than whatever the cool kids are wearing these days. And a cursory Facebook search reveals that the preppy girls who wore the Tretorns back in Maryland in 1989 aren’t all that impressive these days after all (cough*fat*cough)… unlike our Nike girl who currently stars in her own sitcom. So score one for individuality!

Check out Monster Vintage for lots of awesome, retro Nike shoes!!

Cheers, Joni 🙂