Nike Creates Shoes for Native Americans

Discussion
Sep 27, 2007

By Tom Ryan

On Tuesday, Nike unveiled the Air Native N7 – its first shoe specifically designed for Native Americans – with the stated goal of promoting physical fitness among a population with higher-than-average rates of obesity and adult-onset diabetes.

The Air Native N7 will be available at cost to tribal organizations and schools, which will distribute them.

Nike said the design was based on research that involved 224 Native Americans, which concluded that Native Americans had wider and higher feet than the general population. Jeff Piscotta, senior researcher in Nike’s Shoe Research Laboratory, told the Oregonian that company researchers have developed a similar custom fit shoe design for Japanese runners, and as part of the run-up to the 2008 Olympics are researching the feet of Chinese athletes to produce a better fitting product.

But
the Air Native N7 also plays on several Indian motifs, including sunrise to
sunset to sunrise patterns on the tongue and heel of the shoe. Feather designs
adorn the inside and stars are on the sole to represent the night sky.

N7 refers
to the seventh generation theory, used by some tribes to look to the three
generations preceding them for wisdom and the three generations ahead for their
legacy.

The release was tied to Tuesday’s National Indian Health Board consumer conference in Portland and featured a tour for the media and conference attendees of Nike’s secretive sports research lab.

Nike said the shoe reflects its long commitment to Native Americans and addresses health problems on tribal lands, where obesity, diabetes and related conditions are near epidemic levels in some tribes.

“Through the Nike Air Native N7, we are stepping up our commitment to use our voice on a local, regional and national level to elevate the issue of Native American health and wellness,” said Sam McCracken, manager of Nike’s Native American Business program. “We believe physical activity can and should be a fundamental part of the health and wellness of all Native Americans.”

Native American health officials and business people praised Nike’s efforts, saying the shoe represents a good cause that can also generate good public relations.

“There’s a cachet to doing things in Indian country,” Walter Hillabrant, managing director of Native American Capital, a venture-capital firm based in Maryland, told the Oregonian. “It’s a good, helpful, promotional thing.”

Dr. Kelly Acton, director of the national diabetes program for Indian Health Services, said she was dubious about working with a corporation at first but was delighted with the result, saying Nike “bent over backwards” to design a shoe and respect public health needs.

Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, told the Associated Press the launch reflects Nike’s close ties to its customers and athletics.

“It reinforces the core of the Nike brand, which is: If you have a body, you are an athlete,” Mr. Swangard said.

Discussion Question: Can a business case be made for Nike designing custom made shoes to help Native Americans overcome health issues? What does this say about the potential for customization as well as goodwill creation? Do you have any issues with Nike singling out Native Americans for assistance and not other ethnic groups in the U.S.?

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11 Comments on "Nike Creates Shoes for Native Americans"


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M. Jericho Banks PhD
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M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 7 months ago
Somehow, low-tech moccasins seemed to have achieved Nike’s objective of better fitness for Indians centuries ago. (I get confused about when to use the term “Native American” and when to use “Indian.” The terms seem to be interchangeable, even in this discussion topic.) The point is that footwear doesn’t improve fitness, activity does. But as far as Nike supposedly singling out Indians as an ethnic group for assistance and not other ethnic groups, one only has to review the list of signature basketball shoes they design and sell. The vast majority, if not all, are based on design input from Black professional players. It would seem that, over time, Nike basketball shoes would have inevitably conformed more closely to the Black foot (no pun intended) if, indeed, specific characteristics exist. And while it’s laudable for Nike to make these shoes available at cost, it’s also important to note that most athletic shoes are worn for comfort, not for athletics. As a one-eighth Cherokee who grew up in the Oklahoma-Kansas corridor, my experience is that Indians… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Native Americans aren’t the only folks with higher and wider feet. Why not expand the size range for popular Nike models, for marketing to the general population? Although the gesture towards Native Americans in laudable, is 10,000 pairs of shoes significant compared to Nike’s profitability ($1.5 billion)?

David Livingston
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Yes a business case can be made. Look how well Nike has done promoting expensive shoes in the inner city. They have managed to convince some of the nation’s poorest people to by $200 pairs of shoes. Now, does Nike really care about the physical well being of Native Americans? Probably not. But they do care about making money. My guess is they hope to have some crossover sales into mainstream America. They will probably sell more of these shoes to non-Native Americans. I do work for various Indian tribes who promote retail along with their casinos. This product will probably go over very well selling to tourists who will like having the novelty of owning these specially designed shoes. Goodwill and and physical fitness? No way. This is all about the dollars, just like the casinos.

Janet Dorenkott
Guest
Janet Dorenkott
14 years 7 months ago
Nike is selling the shoes at cost. Maybe they will get crossover sales, and I’m sure they are using it as a test market to see if customized shoes will sell, but either way, it’s still a good thing. Will the shoes sell? I question whether Native American kids will want shoes that point out the fact that their population is prone to Type 2 diabetes. Not to mention that the shoes have feathers, stars and rainbows. They might feel better on their feet, but even at cost, what kid sacrifices looks for good health? I think Nike might be able to sell customized shoes based on body types, but not based on heritage. I think they would be opening a can of worms trying to target that way. They might be able to target customized shoes based on health issues, but I don’t believe that will be successful with the young crowd. Even the older crowd might see through the fact that shoes won’t eliminate type 2 diabetes…diet and exercise will. A couch potato… Read more »
Suzy Badaracco
Guest
Suzy Badaracco
14 years 7 months ago

As a trends forecaster, what interested me most about this story is that right now, in the food industry, there is a quiet Native American food trend that is tying into consumers desire for local, sustainable, green and others for example. It is showing up primarily in the Southwest and West.

Nike, of course, is headquartered in Portland, Oregon. I would be hard pressed to think these events are not linked. Interesting.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

I read about Nike’s attempt the other day and thought this was a fantastic idea. Yeah it may be a PR ploy but it also puts quality products in the hands of a neglected market segment for a minimum cost. I only hope Nike doesn’t begin an aggressive marketing campaign to trumpet their actions, but winning an award for its actions by a Native American group would be fitting. I also appreciated James Tenser’s comments; suggesting Nike should expand their program.

James Tenser
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

While I find it a bit implausible that Native Americans of all backgrounds share a common shoe fit and preferred aesthetic, it seems that designing footwear lines to meet the needs of non-average population segments is a positive step for Nike.

Living here in southern Arizona, I read and hear more about health problems that pervade the reservations–mostly related to obesity and diabetes. The primary culprit is a high-carb diet, imposed by poverty and commerce. Nice new sneakers won’t fix that.

Through my son’s cross-country competition, I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting some fine young Native American athletes, some of whom would welcome affordable footwear. Cross-country is one team sport that requires minimal gear and expense–shoes, shorts, and a van to transport the runners to meets. It is ideal for poorer school districts, including some on the reservations.

So Nike–don’t stop with the starry-soled shoes. Extend this idea to visible support of organized running teams at reservation schools. It’s the “software,” not the footwear, that will make the real difference.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
14 years 7 months ago

Addressing serious health issues such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, alcoholism and others will take a lot more effort than offering a specialized shoe. However, if this effort results in effective, long term partnerships with other organizations who will work with local Native American communities to develop public health strategies, it will be a positive, but small step.

Brad Ellman
Guest
Brad Ellman
14 years 7 months ago

This is an awful attempt at marketing and PR. Selling shoes at COST to a select group only?

Perhaps they should also consider all Americans working for Wal-Mart and McDonald’s who cannot afford $175.00 or even $50.00 or $75.00 for a pair of their shoes. How about seniors?

Starbury brand sells for $14.98 in the inner city.

Alex Goldschmidt
Guest
Alex Goldschmidt
14 years 7 months ago

The vast majority of Americans of Native American descent and genetic heritage are not affiliated with tribes, tribal schools, or tribal health programs. They also need shoes that fit their Native American wide, high feet. It’s great that Nike did this research and designed a shoe for an underserved market. It’s very hard to find a well-designed shoe for this foot type. People with these type of feet are excited about the shoe and clamoring for it. However, Nike’s ill-conceived and irrational distribution system which prevents the majority of the people who need these shoes from getting them is going to engender more badwill than goodwill. Here is Nike publicizing a shoe which people need for genetic, racial reasons but will be told they cannot access for sociopolitical reasons, i.e. lack of tribal affiliation. It’s a shame a great idea and great research is going to backfire.

Ami Dixon
Guest
Ami Dixon
14 years 7 months ago
As a Native American who grew up on the reservation, I think it’s unfair for anyone to generalize what “we” will and will not like just because you don’t agree with a company’s strategy. The majority of Indians (and yes we use the terms interchangeably) know they are at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes because most of us have parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters with it. I think it’s a great way for Nike to bring some goodwill into the sports/athletics arena when there has been so much hurt and insult from the mascot issue. It’s a better way to recognize and respect the Native people because they really did their homework. I disagree that kids won’t want to wear these shoes because they are “plain.” I think they are beautiful in their simplicity and I also think that the kids will want them more because you can’t just go out to footlocker and buy them and they are not being sold to non-Natives from what I read in a different… Read more »
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