The Nike ‘Swoosh’: a brief history behind the $35 logo

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Nike’s ‘Swoosh’ is one of the world’s most recognisable brand logos, but not that many know of it’s humble beginning and how it became the mark of the most successful sportswear company of all time…

To start with we have to look at Nike’s history and where it all began at the University Of Oregon in the 1960’s.

Nike was started by two men, Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight, who both shared the same passion for sports and in particular, running. Bowerman was an athletics coach at the University Of Oregon while Knight, who attended UO, was a middle distance runner.

In Knights quest for a new business partner and Bowerman’s desire for quality athletics shoes for his runners, Blue Ribbon Sports was born.

Blue Ribbon Sports, sourced low-cost, high-quality footwear brands from Japan and imported them into America where Knight sold them out of the boot of his car at local running tracks and events. Blue Ribbon Sports then started commissioning their own designs from the Japanese brands and were soon making their own running shoes.

In 1965 Bowerman and Knight, who both had full-time jobs, took onboard Jeff Johnson as Blue Ribbon Sports first full-time employee. Johnson, a runner himself, was set the task of the day to day running of BRS and soon became a vauled member of the newly formed company. As the late ’60’s became the early ’70’s it was Johnson who created the first brochures and adverts for BRS, he even shot the photography for the brand’s first catalogue.

In 1971, when the relationship between BRS and the Japanese brands had already started to fall apart, the Nike name (thought up by Johnson) was born and trademarked.

The origins of the actual ‘Swoosh’ logo date a couple of years earlier to 1969, where Knight approached Portland State University graphic design student, Carolyn Davidson, and offered her $2 an hour “to make charts and graphics” for BRS. For the next two years Davidson managed the design work for BRS, “then one day Phil asked me if i wanted to work on a shoe stripe,” Davidson recalled. In his quest to differentiate his shoes from the product he was importing from the Japanese brands, knight’s advice to Davidson was to “make the stripe supportive of the shoe.” Davidson came up with a few designs but none of them “captivated anyone” so it came down to “which one was least awful” and the ‘Swoosh’ was born, which Davidson asked for the minimal fee of just $35 for.


The ‘Swoosh’, which represents the wing of the Greek Goddess Of Victory – Nike,  has had many an incarnation over the years but has always remained the symbol of the Nike brand, with reference always being paid to Carolyn Davidson’s original design.


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