A Look Inside the Nike Archives

Nike Air Max 97 DNA
Nike Air Max 97 from the brand's DNA building.
Courtesy of Nike.

Nike’s campus in Beaverton, Ore., is massive, and is identified by Swoosh branding at the entrances to let you know what brand owns the space. But Nike has one building at its headquarters that is intentionally discreet: DNA.

The building, which stands for Department of Nike Archives, is the home to historic Nike assets since the brand was founded as Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964 (with a few items from before its established date). Although Nike has always kept an archiving system, DNA was only established roughly 10 years ago.

Nike Air Max 1 1987 The Nike Air Max 1 from 1987. Courtesy of Nike.

Chances are Nike fans will never get to visit DNA (most employees have never even been inside), and photos of the facility aren’t allowed, but the athletic giant provided a limited media tour of the building on Thursday.

DNA features the desk of Steve Prefontaine when the 1970s track star worked at the Blue Ribbon Sports Store in Eugene, Ore., Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman’s cobbling tools, and artifacts from Frank Rudy’s journey in designing the iconic Nike Air sole.

But perhaps the most astounding sites of DNA were the vintage sneaker samples.

Aside from non-Nike looks such as the first Bowerman-designed Spot-Bilt shoe when he coached the United of Oregon track team, the facility’s running-oriented room boasted the best looks from the brand to hit retail shelves, including the best from the brand’s renowned Air Max franchise. It also is the keeper of the very first shoe featuring Air, the Tailwind, which was unveiled at the Honolulu Marathon in 1979.

Nike Air Tuned Max 1999 Nike Air Tuned Max from 1999. Courtesy of Nike.

DNA also boasts a room for the brand’s historic basketball looks including the Bruin Low, Blazer Leather High, Franchise High and the Dynasty High. The early shoes are surrounded by Nike and Jordan brand classics, with kicks autographed by Michael Jordan, Jason Kidd, Tim Hardaway and others.

“As a collective whole, when you see everything on the wall, you start to understand the design language of the time, the context for what was happening, what materials were available, what new ways of making were available,” Nate Tobecksen, senior director of global communications at Nike, told Footwear News. “You get a sense of where the industry was at the time and the conversations that people were having.”

For Wilson Smith, senior designer at Nike, the facility provides several proud moments to reminisce on. Smith started at Nike as legendary designer Tinker Hatfield’s assistant in 1983.

“There are amazing moments throughout here that I remember the first time I saw them and how amazing they were,” he said. “It could be anything spectacular like the Kobe from 2013 or each one of the Air Jordans; they were all a new take on the opportunities of that moment.”

Nike Air Max 93 DNA Nike Air Max 93. Courtesy of Nike.
Nike Air Max 94 DNA An image of the Nike Air Max 94 from the brand’s archives. Courtesy of Nike.
Nike Air max 360 2006 DNA Nike Air max 360 from 2006.