One of the largest and best-known sellers of sportswear in the world, Nike began as a maker of athletic shoes, then branched out into shoes and clothes for athletes and those who wanted to dress like athletes. The company started during the mid-1960s, just in time to take advantage of a national fitness craze, which inspired average people to buy specialized sports shoes and clothes. Most of those who spend millions of dollars each year to buy this specialized sportswear never take part in the sport for which their apparel was designed. However, since the late 1970s fitness has been in fashion, and it is almost as fashionable to dress like an athlete as it is to be one.
Nike was founded by two athletes seeking to improve athletic footwear. Bill Bowerman (1909–) was track coach at the University of Oregon and Phil Knight (1938–) was an accounting student he had coached. They sought good quality inexpensive shoes for runners and found them in Japan. In 1962 they formed a company, Blue Ribbon Sports, and began to import Japanese track shoes, selling them at track meets from the trunks of their cars. Bowerman began experimenting with shoe designs himself, and by 1966 Bowerman, Knight, and others formed their own manufacturing company, which they named Nike, for the Greek goddess of victory. A graphic arts student at the University of Oregon named Carolyn Davidson designed a logo for the new company, a simple "swoosh," a curved shape that suggested motion.
Success came quickly to the new shoe company. In 1967 Bowerman wrote a book about a new form of exercise for the average person called "jogging." The idea became popular and suddenly running was not just for track stars anymore. In 1974 Nike introduced its now famous "waffle trainer," the sole of which Bowerman had created by pouring latex into a waffle iron, and joggers everywhere began to buy the specialized running shoes.
Nike took advantage of this trend with a series of clever, innovative ads for their products. Nike advertisements did not focus on their products; in many ads the products were not pictured. Instead, they showed the attitude and lifestyle of the athlete, overcoming obstacles, trying hard to win. Slogans like "Just Do It" drew in customers who might not be athletic but wanted to be strong, attractive, and successful like the Nike athletes. Nike also chose a rebellious image for many of its products, which also appealed to young professionals of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Nike spokespeople have often been energetic athletes with big personalities, such as basketball's Michael Jordan (1963–), tennis's John McEnroe (1959–), and figure skating's Tonya Harding (1970–).
In 1979 Nike began to market athletic clothing as well as shoes. Along with outfitting hundreds of teams worldwide, the Nike swoosh was now seen on the street clothes of millions of individuals. Nike continued to work with fashion designers and bought innovative shoe design companies such as Cole-Haan Shoes, in order to keep its clothing and shoes on the cutting edge of style. In the mid-1990s Nike opened Nike Town, a new kind of superstore. Filled with special features such as basketball courts, video theaters, aquariums, and sound effects of sports events and cheering crowds, Nike Town was designed to make the customer feel a part of an exciting athletic lifestyle. By 2003 there were thirteen Nike Towns in major cities around the world, and in 2001 the company opened the first Nike Goddess store to sell fashionable sportswear for women only.