With a yearly revenue of over $17 billion in the United States alone, Nike is one of the most popular athletic gear and footwear brands.
It’s also one of the most recognized sports brands globally, which is why you’ll find so many copycats and fake Nike products, using counterfeit logos, sold on the internet and in markets all over the world.
Nike’s products are categorized by comfort and high quality. They’re relatively affordable, and they last a long time, making them a favorite of regular people and athletes alike.
If you’re a fan of Nike products and are curious to learn more about its famous logo, how it was created, and how it evolved over time, read on. Today, I’ll be talking about the Nike logo and provide you with a timeline of its history.
Let’s get into it.
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The current Nike logo, which is iconic and one of the most recognizable logos around the world, is known as “Swoosh.”
The Swoosh logo is pictured above. There have only been a few variations of this logo since Nike first started using it in 1971, but more on that later.
The Swoosh logo is meant to symbolize speed and agility. It looks kind of like a checkmark, but it’s pretty unique and distinct.
In Greek mythology, Nike is the Goddess of Winged Victory. She symbolizes victory in war, athletics, and many other fields.
The Goddess Nike is known for her speed and agility. Since Nike focuses on athletic footwear, the name Nike fit the brand perfectly.
Similarly, the Nike logo is meant to show that Nike footwear will help you win races and other athletic games that require speed and agility.
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So, how did the Nike logo come into existence? When was it first used, and was it always the logo of the company?
The logos of many companies have evolved over time, and the Nike logo is no different. However, as you will see, Nike’s logo actually hasn’t changed all that much for decades, as only minor changes were made over time.
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Many people don’t know that while Nike was founded in 1964, it wasn’t always called Nike. At its launch, it was called Blue Ribbon Sports.
That was well before Nike’s current logo, which only came some years later. At the time, Blue Ribbon Sports had its own logo, which is pictured above.
Phil Knight was the founder of Blue Ribbon Sports, together with his coach, Bill Bowerman. At the time, Blue Ribbon Sports didn’t even manufacture its own shoes.
Instead, it was a distributor company. Blue Ribbon Sports distributed shoes for Onitsuka Tiger, a Japanese sports shoe company.
Nike had really humble beginnings! Phil Knight originally sold most of his shoes at track meets out of his car.
It sounds crazy when you think about the size and popularity of Nike today, but many of the largest companies in the world had humble beginnings.
For example, Jeff Bezos started Amazon in 1994. Initially, he worked out of his garage – it was a small website that sold only books.
Little did he know that Amazon would turn into one of the largest ecommerce sites in the world!
Another famous brand that started out in a garage is Apple. Yes, Steve Jobs started Apple in his parent’s garage.
McDonald’s, which now has franchises all over the world, started as a small drive-through restaurant in California.
In the first year, Blue Ribbon Sports sold 13,000 pairs of shoes for about $8,000. That might sound like a lot, but it’s nothing compared to Nike’s sales today!
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In 1971, Phil Knight stopped working with Onitsuka Tiger. He decided, instead, to launch his own brand of footwear, manufacturing them himself.
He decided to rebrand his company as Nike, named after the Greek Goddess of speed, agility, and winged victory (pictured below). As such, he needed a new logo – the old Blue Ribbon Sports logo just wouldn’t do it anymore.
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So, the commissioning of the new Nike logo started.
At the time, Phil Knight was still teaching accounting at the Indian Institute of Art and Design. There, he met a design student named Carolyn Davidson.
Carolyn Davidson had previously studied journalism but took a design course to fill an elective. She was looking to do some freelance work to cover the costs of her oil painting classes, so Phil Knight offered her some work – designing a new logo for his company.
Knight didn’t actually know Davidson beforehand; they had no prior relationship. Davidson was talking to someone about how she wanted to take oil painting classes but didn’t have any money for it.
Phil was around, and he overheard the conversation. He needed a new logo, so he decided to approach Davidson and offer her some work.
Phil Knight actually wanted a logo that could compete with Adidas. At the time, the Adidas logo consisted of three stripes.
So, Knight told Davidson to create a “stripe” logo for his footwear. He wanted his logo to convey motion, but he didn’t want it to be too similar to the Adidas logo.
Davidson got to work immediately. She created around six different stripe logos and presented them to Phil Knight.
Out of all of them, Knight picked the Swoosh logo that Nike is known for today. He wasn’t the biggest fan at first, but he said he thought it would grow on him, and it obviously did.
I’ll talk more about Davidson, how much she got paid for working for Nike, and more in the FAQs section. For now, though, suffice it to say that she worked for Nike up until 1976 – at that point, Nike became more prominent, and its design needs were just too much for one person.
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The original Swoosh logo, which was adopted and trademarked in 1971, featured the brand name – Nike – in lowercase letters embedded within the Swoosh.
That all changed in 1978 when Nike changed its logo.
The upgraded version of the Swoosh, which came out in 1978 and remained until 1995, was the Swoosh with a new version of the word “Nike.” The Swoosh was usually in white letters on a black or red background, but it was sometimes featured in black letters on a white background.
Right above the Swoosh, in bold uppercase letters, was the brand name “NIKE.” It looked much better than having the word “Nike” embedded within the Swoosh.
This logo is still used on some retro products. However, for the most part, Nike changed its logo again in 1995.
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In 1988, Nike came out with its “Just Do It” campaign, which has proven to be one of the most successful slogans and advertising campaigns in history. When people hear the words “Just Do It,” they immediately associate it with Nike.
The Just Do It campaign was meant to speak to Americans of all ages and from all demographics, all across the country. It was meant to be a universal message but also a personal one.
Ultimately, the Just Do It campaign positioned Nike as the image of success. That’s what Nike wanted – a brand image in which it was successful and stopped at nothing to get where it wanted.
It also spoke to people, encouraging them to leave all their doubts behind and work hard, whether it was to win an athletic game or to achieve some personal goal.
Technically, the Just Do It trademark is not part of the official Nike logo.
Why am I mentioning it here? Even though Just Do It isn’t part of the official logo, it has accompanied the Swoosh logo since 1988 in marketing materials and advertising campaigns.
The Swoosh and Just Do It trademarks are the two most recognizable aspects of Nike’s brand.
Besides, adding the Just Do It phrase next to the logo may have been the impetus for what came next: removing the Nike brand name from the official Swoosh logo.
The current Nike logo has been around since 1995. It’s an upgraded and more beautiful version of the Swoosh (with the same general design).
The new version does not have the word Nike on it or around it in either uppercase or lowercase letters.
More than 25 years later, Nike is still using this logo on most of its products and marketing materials. It is often accompanied by the Just Do It slogan.
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That’s the story of the Nike logo, but you likely still have a lot of remaining questions.
For example, how much did Carolyn Davidson get paid for creating the Nike logo? Does the Nike logo always appear in black and white, and can it show up reversed?
Read on for answers to the most common questions our readers have about the Nike logo.
Carolyn Davidson invented the Nike logo. At the time, she wasn’t well-known at all – she was just a graphic design student who needed some quick cash for an oil painting class she was interested in, so she did some work on the side for it.
Of course, as you might imagine, Carolyn is pretty famous now, as she is well-known as the person who designed the famous Nike logo.
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This might sound shocking! You’ll be surprised to learn that Nike only paid $35 for its famous logo.
It sounds crazy when you think about it, but at the time, Nike was a new brand that wasn’t known at all. Nobody probably expected it to grow into what it is now.
What’s even crazier is that Nike paid Davidson only $2 an hour for the work she did designing the logo! Nike paid her for 17.5 hours of work, which came out to $35.
To be fair, $2 then is not the same as $2 now. Due to inflation, the worth of the dollar has changed drastically over time.
According to the US Inflation Calculator, $2 in 1971 is worth $14.28 now (it’s constantly changing, so use the calculator yourself to see what it’s currently worth).
When you think about it, paying a graphic design student in need of quick cash $14.28/hour to design a logo isn’t all that bad.
In total, Nike paid Carolyn the equivalent of around $250 at the time for her work. That’s actually not all that bad!
Of course, it still sounds pretty low considering that Nike used its famous Swoosh logo to catapult itself to success as a global brand. However, don’t worry – Nike ended up compensating Davidson with a lot more than what it originally paid her.
One day, in 1983, Nike called Davidson and invited her for a surprise lunch with Phil Knight and others she had worked with previously.
Knight gave Davidson a certificate with 500 shares of Nike stock as a gift (which has now split into many more shares). He also gave her a custom-made ring with the Swoosh logo on it and an embedded diamond, which was undoubtedly worth a lot of money.
According to Davidson, all that was very generous because she had already billed Phil Knight for the work, and he paid all his legal dues with the original $35.
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The Swoosh comes in many colors. You’ll often find it on footwear as a black or white stripe.
However, throughout its history, the logo has frequently used a red-and-white theme, with a white Swoosh on a red background. You’ll also see the Nike logo as a simple red swoosh, white on a black background, and black on a white background.
The Nike logo hasn’t changed much over time. The Swoosh itself has remained more or less the same.
The only thing that has changed is that in the past, the word “Nike,” in either uppercase or lowercase letters, used to be part of the official logo, either embedded within the Swoosh or placed right on top. Nike has since dropped that from the logo, but the Swoosh remains.
The Nike logo is meant to stand for speed and agility, just like the Goddess Nike, after whom Nike is named.
Not only that, but the Swoosh logo is also meant to symbolize one of the wings of the Goddess Nike. Remember, Nike is known as Winged Victory.
However, those are not the only factors that were considered when choosing the Nike logo. Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, wanted a logo that was simple and uncomplicated.
Indeed, the Swoosh logo is surprisingly simple.
In addition, he wanted a logo that would compete with the three stripes of the Adidas logo, as I already mentioned. Adidas was founded back in 1924, well before Nike was founded, so it was already a global brand.
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Obviously, Phil Knight liked the Swoosh logo the best out of the six logos that Carolyn Davidson created. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have selected it.
However, he wasn’t too satisfied with it at the beginning. At the same time, it seems like he was strapped for cash and just wanted a decent logo that he could use – and the rest is history.
Nobody can tell you what the future will bring. However, it is unlikely that Nike will change its logo anytime soon.
The iconic Swoosh has been associated with Nike for over five decades by now. That’s a very long time!
If Nike were to change its logo, it would probably make only minor changes, as it did when removing the word “Nike” from the logo. Otherwise, it might have a brand recognition problem.
At the same time, the last time Nike changed its logo was over 25 years ago. During that time, its sales have skyrocketed to record rates, so it’s doubtful Nike is actively looking to change its logo.
After all, if it’s not broken, why fix it?
Nike’s logo might look like a tick, but that’s not what it is. It’s an arc of movement, signaling speed and swiftness.
You may have noticed that the Nike Swoosh on your product is backward. Many people wonder if that means the product is a counterfeit and not an original Nike product.
The answer? Not necessarily.
The backward Nike logo is known as the “Reverse Swoosh,” also sometimes called the “Backward Swoosh.”
There are many Nike products with a reverse logo. Here is a list of different Nike models that have the reverse Swoosh – a backward arch – instead of the regular Swoosh.
You may even see an upwards Swoosh, with the arch almost on its side.
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Just because a product bears the Nike Swoosh, that does not mean it is an authentic Nike product. Many counterfeit products contain perfect copies of the original Nike Swoosh, despite being fake products of lower quality.
While there’s no one way to determine if a Nike product is counterfeit, there are a few telltale signs that often give it away. Here are some things to look for:
- Price: If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. If it seems too cheap, it might be fake, especially if you’re buying it from eBay or some other untrustworthy source. However, if it’s a used pair of Nikes, it might be real.
- Quality: The quality will be noticeably different. It might be easier to spot low-quality fakes if you’ve owned Nike products in the past. Overall, though, the shoe won’t feel as comfortable and soft. Instead, it might feel like plastic or like it’s not very sturdy. Fake Nikes might also weigh more.
- Packaging: Fake Nikes might come in a generic box or in plastic wrapping. Also, check the SKU number on the shoe and make sure it matches the number on the box.
Generally, the best way to ensure you get a real Nike is to buy from a Nike store or the official website. There are sometimes sales, such as on Black Friday, when you might be able to get official deals for cheap.
If you buy from third-party sellers, especially online, you always run the risk of getting fake Nikes instead of real ones.
When Nike had the word “Nike” in bold letters as part of the Swoosh logo (from 1978-1995), Nike used the Futura logo.
For the most part, Nike has dropped that version of the Swoosh logo. However, some products still feature the so-called “Futura Logo,” such as these products.
No. The Nike logo is trademarked, so you can’t use it on your own products.
That doesn’t mean people don’t do it, though. While it’s illegal to produce counterfeit Nikes in most countries, some people import fake Nikes and sell them as real ones.
Nike’s slogan has been “Just Do It” for a very long time. In 2021, Nike started a new campaign called “Play New,” which was designed to help people discover sports in new ways.
Nike has also run minor campaigns with slogans such as “Enjoy the Run.”
However, it hasn’t really replaced the Just Do It slogan, which is still the main Nike slogan.
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Nike’s logo has a long and fascinating history. It started back in 1971 when CEO Phil Knight renamed his company from Blue Ribbon Sports to Nike and hired a design student to create a stripe logo for $35.
Despite some minor changes, the Nike logo has stuck with the company as it grew to be one of the largest sportswear companies in the world.
Benjamin Levin is a digital marketing professional with 4+ years of experience with inbound and outbound marketing. He helps small businesses reach their content creation, social media marketing, email marketing, and paid advertising goals. His hobbies include reading and traveling.