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The Shocking Truth About Nike's Infamous 'Swoosh' Logo

The Nike brand’s infamous swoosh is one of the most recognizable logos in the world. The swoosh is so iconic, that the emblem is ever-present, from athletic apparels, to streetwear and even in high-end fashion.

But you might have never imagined that this symbol, the one that helped take the company from a side-hustle to a multi-billion dollar athletic sports brand, was purchased from a graphic design student for a only $35.

In 1971, Nike's co-founder Phil Knight approached Carolyn Davidson. At the time, Davidson was a graphic design student at Portland State University and Knight was the little-known co-founder of athletic apparel brand Blue Ribbon Sports, now known as Nike.

Knight and his co-founder, Bill Bowerman, needed a logo for a new line of running shoes they were introducing. The pair asked Davidson to create a stipe (industry term for a shoe logo) that stood apart from established rivals Adidas and Puma. They had just one request: "It had to look like speed.".

One by one, she presented her five designs — including the swoosh. Knight didn’t particularly like any of the designs but the swoosh design stood out to him most.

"Well, I don't love it," Phil Knight said at the time, "but maybe it will grow on me."

Despite not liking the design, the swoosh was used for the first time commercially, later that year. In 1972, Blue Ribbon Sports was renamed to Nike.

On "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in April 2018, Nike co-founder Phil Knight told the talk show host that his company paid Carolyn Davidson $35 for her logo design in 1971. Knight recognized he’d gotten a great bargain on the design and made sure her contributions did not go unnoticed.

More than a decade later, Knight caught Davidson by surprise during a September shareholders meeting where the company served her chocolate swooshes and gifted her Nike stock and a gold swoosh ring. That's when he announced The Swoosh creator had been given 500 shares of stock, which is worth around $1 million USD. She has reportedly never sold any of that original stock.

Now, nearly 50 years later, the design is unchanged, adorned by countless celebrities and athletes and fans all over the globe. The company remains one of the world's most valuable brands - one of the many brands that Carolyn Davidson’s design helped build.

Today, the swoosh logo alone is estimated to be valued at 26 billion and is arguably one of the most iconic symbols in history.


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