A brief history: the Nike Cortez

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Before Nike, there was Blue Ribbon Sports. Founded by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight, the company was the original US distributor for the Japanese label Onitsuka Tiger. It wasn’t till ’71 that the label would become Nike – the rather well-known brand from Beaverton, Oregon – and its first running shoe under that alias would be the Nike Cortez. Bowerman-designed, the Cortez is a shoe drenched in history; it’s the first with the Swoosh while its performance-enhancing setup took over the courts – not to forget its subcultural status and its familiarity with pop culture. The Nike Cortez was the start of a legacy, one with a scope that the owners knew little about. 

So, let’s first look at the origins of Blue-Ribbon Sports. Founders Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight met at the University of Oregon when Knight was on Bowerman’s track and field team. During the 1960s, Phil Knight had a fascination with Japanese sports shoes and the innovation that they beheld. Evidence of this was in his thesis – “Can Japanese sports shoes do to German sports shoes what Japanese cameras did to German cameras?” This fascination – and foresight – saw an opportunity to delve into the Japanese sport footwear market and bring it to America, thus helping to take advantage of these performance runners. During a trip to Japan, he met with the Onitsuka Co., persuading them to let him be the U.S. footwear distributor. 

This was his in, and Bowerman had the innovative ideas to make a great partnership. These ideas could be provided to Knight who, in turn, would offer innovations to Onitsuka. This need to progress running shoes eventually turned into their own product, one that would offer something durable and comfort-focussed for road running and long distance. 

Taking inspiration from the Aztecs, the shoe originally coined that name, but adidas Originals had already crafted something with that title, so requested them to change. In retaliation, they named it after a Spaniard who conquered the Aztecs in the 16th century – Hernán Cortes. As another indirect attack on adidas Originals, Carolyn Davidson created the legendary Swoosh logo, one that would rival the 3-Stripes for years to come. 

So, onto the shoe – a design that would revolutionise the market. Clean and crisp, the OG sported premium leather uppers with a dominant white colourway and striking red Swooshes. Adorned with subtle blue details for a nod to flag colours, this track shoe was finished with a grippy, serrated sole unit. From conquering the tracks, to being represented by Forrest Gump and Whitney Houston at the 1991 Super Bowl – the Cortez is an American great. 

It also dived deeper into American culture too, becoming a go-to for many factions of Chicano streetwear. Estevan Oriol was a photographer who caught this obsession by the Chicano communities in 1980s LA. These affordable shoes were very accessible for working class families, with vibrant colourways acting as a method of expression, and as a means of respect.  

Like many Nike classics, the OG colourways remain in-demand today, while the shoe has been subject to a number of hyped collabs with sacai, Stranger Things and our very own collaborations. Recently, we’ve unveiled the Nike Cortez – ?exclusive ‘Brown’ and the Nike Cortez – ?exclusive ‘Grey’. Follow the links to find out more and get your hands on them. 

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