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Like many soul-searching 1990s adolescents, I was obsessed with Nike Air technology. I’d pore over the latest innovations, from visible forefoot air to tuned air to other types of air. I’d even buy used sneakers at the flea market and tear them apart to inspect the air. As my young brain developed and my understanding of biomechanics advanced, however, I came to a realization: Nike Air is bullshit.
I’m not trying to say that Nike Air is useless. The gas-filled sacks of cushioning revolutionized the sneaker world when it was introduced over 30 years ago. As a fashion statement alone, the introduction of Air Max helped Adidas ZX Flux Mujer to create a cottage industry of sneakerheads and collectors with Adidas Gazelle Damen closets full of unworn shoes. However, there’s very little real science—despite Nike commercials that say otherwise—supporting the idea that filling running shoes with pressurized air makes you a better athlete. Recent research actually suggests the opposite.
But even Nike itself now considers itself a marketing company. And its greatest act? Convincing anyone that Nike Air technology was more than a demonstration of Beaverton’s historically profitable and often deceptive brand-building prowess.
It wasn’t always like this. Back in 1964, former University of Oregon runner Phil Knight and his former coach Bill Bowerman founded the company in order to help the running community get access to the best shoes. They called it Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS), the nascent company Nike Air Max 1 Mujer started out as a distributor for Onitsuka Tiger. Apparently Bowerman Nike Air Max Classic BW Damen sold most of the shoes out of his trunk at track meets.
It didn’t take long for Knight—who was finishing up his MBA at Stanford—and Bowerman to realize they wanted to do their own thing. Bowerman had designed a cushioned running shoe that Onitsuka released in 1969 as the Tiger Cortez. Around the same time, though, he and Knight started working with a factory in Japan to produce their own line of sneakers. They called it Nike. And do you know what one of the first models was? The Nike Cortez.
Onitsuka didn’t even realize Bowerman had repurposed the design until an official visited the old BRS warehouse in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, a court decided that both companies could make the shoe. In effect, Knight and Bowerman were selling the same shoes to the same runners, Nike Air Vapormax Damen except they’d replaced the Onitsuka logo with their own. A local Nike Air Max Classic BW Womens student named Carolyn Davidson designed the “Swoosh,” and Nike paid her just $35. Over a decade later, Knight gave Davidson “a gold Swoosh ring embedded with a diamond… and an envelope containing Nike stock” for her work.
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