Popularity Extraordinaire

Years after their first unsuccessful attempt at entering the lucrative skate-shoe market, Oregon-based sneaker conglomerate Nike has one of the best-selling skate shoes in the market. The Nike Dunk SB Low Pro has been the hottest-selling skate shoe at skate shops in the U.S. this past year.

“It definitely feels like we’re making progress,” says Kevin Imamura, communications manager of Nike skateboarding.

Nike has been doing some great things with the Nike skate program recently-indicated primarily by how well Nike has been embraced by skateboarders, compared to that first unsuccessful skate program back in the 90s.

The company, employing over five-thousand people at the Beaverton headquarters alone, started its skate program with nine employees two and a half years ago, spearheaded by Sandy Bodecker, one of the vice presidents of Nike.

Bodecker’s interest in developing a skate program at Nike was simple, explains Imamura: “He knew that Nike had made an attempt before. He was the guy who was in charge of the soccer program back in the day and helped put Nike soccer on the map. He had an interest in putting Nike on the map of skateboarding.”

And it’s through Bodecker’s vision that the skate program was first developed. “He basically headed it up,” says Imamura. “Along the way he started picking up some people who knew what they’re doing, and that’s evolved into the team that I’m working with now.”

Imamura has been the communications manager at Nike since July 22 of 2002. “I’ve got my hands in a lot of things,” he says. “I definitely help out with the team. I worked with the creative direction on getting the Web site up and running.”I also have a bit of input on design and ads, helping out with the commercials as well. I’ve kind of got my fingers in everything right now. (But) by no means am I responsible for designing shoes.”

The current team features Todd Jordan, Reese Forbes, Danny Supa, Richard Mulder, Gino Iannucci, and the two most recent additions, Chet Childress and Daniel Shimizu. Imamura explains, “We’re working with a couple of ams right now, and our full am program will be announced in the fall.”

Imamura says the team has evolved slowly over the past two years: “It started off with Robbie Jeffers, who is the current team manager for Stüssy, and we recently hired Hunter Muraira as our full-time and in-house team manager.

“He helped pick the first four riders, which were Supa, Forbes, Ianucci, and Mulder. And about the time that I got hired is when Todd Jordan got on. Around Christmastime is when we brought on Shimizu and Childress. But we’ve also been flowing product pretty heavily to Donny Barley, Kenny Hughes, and Mike York, as well as tons of ams.

Muraira, who started in late July, says he has big plans for the team: “We actually began our first-ever tour-the East Coast tour had already started when I began, so I was unable to go on that one. But our West Coast tour starts tomorrow, so I’m going to go down with the team and take care of business for the West Coast part. The East Coast part was mostly signings with very few demos, whereas the West Coast tour will be very skateboard-intense. We’re bringing the Nike team to the kids. I’m super-excited about this opportunity. I heard about the job opening and I really thought that would be a better fit for me.” Prior to joining Nike, Muraira spent the past two years working in marketing, and later apparel and product at nearby Savier in Portland.

“The main reason why I came to Nike is because I wanted to work for the best skateboard-shoe company out there,” says Muraira. “I just want to help continue the momentum that Nike’s gained over the past couple of years.”

Muraira is also excited about working with the Nike team: “We have an awesome team that’s already been built with everybody who’s part of Nike now. Basically I want to get these dudes out in front of kids more and help the brand,” he says. “Just with the group of people that we have volved I’m really excited, because big things are going to happen. It’s inevitable.”

And Imamura says it’s easy to explain Nike’s approach to marketing their skate program today: “We like to support skateboarding, and we like to support people who are down for us.

“All the people who rock our stuff want to wear it. It’s not us knocking down anyone’s doors and making them doing it. Everyone’s perception of Nike is that we have tons of cash and can buy anything or anyone we want, but that’s definitely not our modus operandi.

“To put things in perspective, Nike Inc. has a lot of money because they’re a big corporation, but comparatively, Nike skateboarding is a drop in the bucket. As far as marketing goes, it’s us supporting skateboarders. Our guys go on tours, we do our own commercials, we advertise in all the magazines. It’s pretty traditional.

“We’re not trying to do anything flashy-we want to make sure all of our moves are smart and accurate, and to be honest, the way that we go about doing things is pretty low-key.

Nike skateboarding’s first advertising campaign (Colors By) was shot by TransWorld SKATEboarding photographer Jon Humphries, and art directed by Wieden & Kennedy. Teamrider and photographer Todd Jordan shot the second ad campaign (The First Sponsor), the latest and third ad campaign (Push) was shot by various photographers-Giovanni Reda, Pete Thompson, and Rhino. The fourth campaign, which is currently untitled, was shot by Humphries and will hit in late summer.

Imamura says Nike fits really well into the skate-shoe market at large. “I think it fits great,” he says. “To be honest, I’d say we’re trying to bring a breath of fresh air and true product innovation to the table. It’s what Nike’s always been known for, and people know Nike as making some of the best shoes in the world. When you bring that technically to a legit skate program, you can expect some of the highest performance skate shoes in the world.”

The Past

When Nike attempted to enter the skateboard-shoe market in 1997, their appearance was met with a general resistance from the skateboard industry that wasn’t really convinced that Nike’s intentions were pure. The efforts lasted about a year, and Nike stayed away from the skateboard shoe-market for a few years until 2000 when they decided to try it out again, but differently. Imamura says the company’s successful second attempt in the skateboard market has much to do with both timing and making a proper effort. “It’s having the proper resources to make a true effort into the market, because when they came in before they were kind of tippy-toeing into the market,” he says. “(In 1997) they didn’t have an adequate sales force and reps. They weren’t set up properly.

“It has more to do with timing,” he says, adding, “Then again, as far as Nike being able to do it right now-that has to do with the people’s perceptions of the company and where people are in skateboarding these days, and they’re looking for something different.

“Fortunately for us we’re always doing something different, and with the Dunk, for example, it’s definitely one of the most copied skate shoes ever. But the way Nike does things is to constantly innovate and change people’s ideas of what high-performance footwear is, because Nike could theoretically issue old shoes all day long. But that’s never the case, they’re always coming up with new shoes and developing new technology,” Imamura says, adding, “We’re not trying to do what the other skate-shoe companies are doing.”

And clearly the biggest way Nike has paved the way in the sneaker industry at large is with new technology-the innovations and developments made through its research institute. Nike produces some of the highest-performance sneakers in the world-across the board for all sports, including skateboarding. The research labs at Nike started in Exeter, New Hampshire in the 70s and moved to Beaverton when Nike headquarters was established there in the 80s. “They’re the same labs that used to test the equipment,” says Imamura. “Hands down it’s some of the most high-tech equipment laboratories in the world.”

Nike has been producing some incredibly well-received skateboard-specific shoes over the past two years. Currently the company offers four skateboard-specific shoes in its line. There’s the most popular shoe, the overwhelmingly best-selling Dunk Low Pro SB that’s been available in scores of limited-edition colorways and series, there’s the Zoom Air URL, Zoom Air E-Cue, and this August the company launched the Zoom Air Angus. Imamura says that Nike will have a brand-new skate shoe debuting at the ASR trade show in San Diego that will be dropping by the holiday season.

Within Nike is a program called Active Life that’s in charge of reissuing classic shoes. Through it, Nike has put out a series of Dunks that are not SBs. The technical differences between the classic Dunks and the SB Dunks lie in the fact that the classic ones don’t have Zoom Air, don’t have any of the special materials, and are the ones that are sold in boutiques and certain mall stores. The original Nike Dunk sneaker was designed by Bruce Kilgore in 1985. Kilgore also designed the Nike Air Force One. The SBs are only available in skate shops and are the ones with the skate-specific technical features. “They’re a lot more skate-specific,” says Imamura. “The Dunk SB has only heel cushioning, and the URL and E-Cue have full-foot cushioning.”

And contrary to what most people might be quick to assume, Imamura says Nike Inc. doesn’t have much say in the skate program’s operations. “Not a whole lot,” he says. “Sandy (Bodecker) is one of the vice presidents of Nike Inc. We’ve been fortunate, because Sandy has been able to let us operate as sort of a satellite group within the company.

“Because of Sandy’s experience and time at the company, we have freedom to do things the right way. He helps us navigate through the big corporate Nike, which ultimately allows us to take advantage of all the great resources available at here.”

(Sidebar)

Did you know?

Nike is the largest consumer of organic cotton in the U.S. In recognition for this achievement, the company received the Organic and Natural News Organic Luminary Award (2001), the National Recycling Coalition’s Stewardship Award (2001), and the Golden Hoe Award (2001) presented by the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative.s. “They’re the same labs that used to test the equipment,” says Imamura. “Hands down it’s some of the most high-tech equipment laboratories in the world.”

Nike has been producing some incredibly well-received skateboard-specific shoes over the past two years. Currently the company offers four skateboard-specific shoes in its line. There’s the most popular shoe, the overwhelmingly best-selling Dunk Low Pro SB that’s been available in scores of limited-edition colorways and series, there’s the Zoom Air URL, Zoom Air E-Cue, and this August the company launched the Zoom Air Angus. Imamura says that Nike will have a brand-new skate shoe debuting at the ASR trade show in San Diego that will be dropping by the holiday season.

Within Nike is a program called Active Life that’s in charge of reissuing classic shoes. Through it, Nike has put out a series of Dunks that are not SBs. The technical differences between the classic Dunks and the SB Dunks lie in the fact that the classic ones don’t have Zoom Air, don’t have any of the special materials, and are the ones that are sold in boutiques and certain mall stores. The original Nike Dunk sneaker was designed by Bruce Kilgore in 1985. Kilgore also designed the Nike Air Force One. The SBs are only available in skate shops and are the ones with the skate-specific technical features. “They’re a lot more skate-specific,” says Imamura. “The Dunk SB has only heel cushioning, and the URL and E-Cue have full-foot cushioning.”

And contrary to what most people might be quick to assume, Imamura says Nike Inc. doesn’t have much say in the skate program’s operations. “Not a whole lot,” he says. “Sandy (Bodecker) is one of the vice presidents of Nike Inc. We’ve been fortunate, because Sandy has been able to let us operate as sort of a satellite group within the company.

“Because of Sandy’s experience and time at the company, we have freedom to do things the right way. He helps us navigate through the big corporate Nike, which ultimately allows us to take advantage of all the great resources available at here.”

(Sidebar)

Did you know?

Nike is the largest consumer of organic cotton in the U.S. In recognition for this achievement, the company received the Organic and Natural News Organic Luminary Award (2001), the National Recycling Coalition’s Stewardship Award (2001), and the Golden Hoe Award (2001) presented by the Texas Organic Cotton Marketing Cooperative.