The Rise of the Swoosh
by Felix Richter
Earlier this week, Nike shared a letter from its founder Phil Knight on its social media channels. In the letter, Knight celebrated the 50th anniversary of a make-or-break moment in his company’s history. On May 1, 1972, Onitsuka Co, the Japanese shoemaker whose shoes Nike (then called Blue Ribbon Sports) had been licensing for the U.S. market, terminated their contract with Knight’s company. “What could have been a gut punch, was a royal kick in the butt that pushed us forward,” Knight recounts.
The split from Onitsuka forced Knight, who had already been looking at alternative suppliers as the relationship with Onitsuka soured, to double down on his efforts to make his own line of shoes. And while the first shoes carrying the famous Swoosh – soccer boots from a Mexican factory that Knight planned to sell as football boots – were a failure, the Nike brand was born. “We had a dream, our love for sports, a ton of ambition, a trunk full of running shoes, and a big Swoosh on all of them,” Knight writes.
Back in 1972, Blue Ribbon Sports was constantly strapped for cash, with $1.3 million in annual sales according to Knight’s (highly recommended) memoir “Shoe Dog”. 50 years later, Nike is the world’s largest sportswear company with $44.5 billion in annual sales. In other words, it now takes Nike roughly 15 minutes to match what it sold in a year in 1972. As the following chart shows, Nike’s growth story had very few setbacks along the way with sales never declining for more than a year at a time.
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