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A New Brand for Nike, a Better Fit for American Indians

A New Brand for Nike, a Better Fit for American Indians

October 9, 2007 —

If a shoe designed for and marketed to a specific ethnic group strikes you as crass, you're not alone. Early reaction to the Nike Air Native N7, created exclusively for American Indians, has been decidedly mixed. Says Sherman Alexie, Author of "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time American Indian":

"The day it was announced, I thought: 'Are they going to have dream catchers on them? Are they going to be beaded? Will they have native bumper stickers on them that say, 'Custer had it coming'?"

But a closer examination of the shoe, which launches Nov. 1 and will be sold exclusively through Nike's Native American business program, may make you think twice about dismissing it as a tacky attempt at exploiting an ethnicity. "Indians tend to have a wider forefoot, but their heels are about average," says Rodney Stapp, a pediatrist and member of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma. This causes most athletic footwear to rub against the heel, causing blisters and making exercise extremely uncomfotable. Stapp acted as a consultant throughout the development of the shoe and says that critics who cry exploitation are  "not really familiar with with the whole process that Nike went through."

Nike says that the shoe is meant to promote a healthy lifestyle for American Indians, who suffer from a significantly higher rate of diabetes and heart disease. All of the profits from the first run of the Air Native N7 will be recycled back into American Indian communities as part a greater initiative called "Let Me Play," an international campaign that aims to improve public health and empower young people through sport. 

So what's in it for Nike? Some good press that its public relations department probably hopes will make those nasty child labor days fade further into the public's memory, and perhaps increased brand awareness among youth who participate in "Let Me Play." Do publicly traded super-corporations ever do anything out of the goodness of their hearts? Probably not. But in this case, it took a good deed to generate good publicity.

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