Nike knockoffs have been round for many years, however arguably the primary model to knock off Nike was, in truth, Nike. They usually did it to struggle a US Customs tariff invoice in 1980. Whereas particulars on the hassle are murky, at finest, Nike simply final month launched a particular version Air Pressure 1 in China celebrating the historical past of the Nike knockoff, the historical past of The One Line.
Nike and the USA authorities went toe-to-toe in 1980 over a $25 million tariff invoice. The struggle was public on the time, however gained modern-day consideration 5 years in the past when Nike founder Phil Knight shed a sliver of sunshine on the incident in his e book Shoe Canine, explaining how The One Line was crafted to contest an obscure rule within the US Customs Code.
As Knight recollects within the closing pages of Shoe Canine, the American authorities hit Nike with a $25 million tariff invoice, which he claims was introduced by his rivals within the shoe and rubber enterprise lobbying the federal government to convey down Nike. In typical authorities confusion, the American Promoting Worth guidelines of 1922 stipulated the import tariff on a selected good could be calculated not based mostly on the producer’s worth of that good however based mostly on the value of an identical American-made product. Responsibility in three classes of benzidine chemical substances, cherry stone clams, and athletic footwear with artificial uppers might be assessed on not the manufacturing facility price of the products, however the American wholesale promoting worth of products that have been like American manufactured items.
“We launched a brand new shoe, a operating shoe with nylon uppers, and referred to as it One Line,” Knight writes in his e book. “It was a knockoff, grime low-cost, with a easy emblem, and we manufactured it in Saco, at Hayes’s historic manufacturing facility. We priced it low, simply above price. Now customs officers must use this ‘competitor’ shoe as a brand new reference level in deciding our import responsibility.”
If that every one sounds a bit foggy and barely sophisticated, properly, it’s.
And it doesn’t get all that a lot clearer with the November launch in China of the Air Pressure 1 “NAI-KE,” touted from Nike as a homage to Nike and a Chinese language manufacturing facility collectively launching The One Line manufacturing 40 years in the past.
In reality, the 1980 design was principally a one-to-one knockoff of the Nike Oceania runner. It was all issues Nike design, minus the branding components. The one Air Pressure 1 connection appears to be the modern-day recognition of the sneaker.
“As the primary check shoe mannequin collectively developed by Nike and a Chinese language manufacturing facility, it represents the historic cooperation between the 2 events,” Nike’s description of the AF1 shoe says. “One step.”
Within the modern-day Air Pressure 1, the largest tie to The One Line is a single, broad white stripe on the higher. The One Line, because it was actually a knockoff, eliminated Nike branding and used the white stripe. The Air Pressure 1 options this white stripe, however overlayed with a Swoosh. The gray suede on the modern-day Air Pressure 1 does function some touches of blue, the unique colour of The One Line design. Nike positioned the slogan “Elevating Interior Peace By way of Sports activities” contained in the tongue of the AF1 and makes use of Chinese language characters to spell out NAI-KE on the heel.
However what Nike doesn’t inform consumers concerning the 2021 Air Pressure 1 is the actual backstory of why The One Line even exists. It’s one of many strangest tales in Nike historical past, and the footwear from it are among the rarest it’s ever produced—sneaker web site The Deffest truly has a pair and broke down their historical past in this detailed story.
Consider Nike’s transfer in actual property phrases as a cheap home within the neighborhood lowers the costs for all the opposite homes close by.
However right here’s the place the main points get a bit muddy. Whereas Knight laid out the plan in his e book 5 years in the past, he—like he freely admits many occasions within the e book the place his reminiscence differs from the official file—was brief on particulars and at occasions, contradictory. Knight says within the e book that Nike determined to make the footwear within the firm’s small Exeter, New Hampshire, manufacturing facility, which is sensible as a part of the American Promoting Worth effort. However collectors who’ve run throughout samples of The One Line be aware the footwear have a “made in China” stamp on them. And this newest Nike Air Pressure 1 launch pays homage to the Chinese language involvement within the course of.
A number of requests during the last 12 months by Advanced requesting Nike additional make clear the state of affairs have gone unanswered.
However what we do know for certain concerning the 1980 manufacturing is that it was actual. And it helped. Nike even created a The One Line catalog and these blue nylon footwear with the white stripe have been produced, even when it isn’t clear the place they have been offered.
Knight mentioned in an handle at Stanford in 2019 that The One Line offered “a pair thousand pairs” and diminished the duties by two-thirds.
Being that the newly named Nike—it formally modified names from Blue Ribbon Sports activities in 1971—was getting ready to go public in 1980, Knight knew he wanted to settle his feud with the US Authorities earlier than the IPO, so the total onslaught of The One Line was placed on maintain as the 2 events reached a $9 million settlement that put the tariff struggle behind them.
It’s fairly doable The One Line began with Chinese language samples—only a few pairs of the footwear have been seen within the wild 40 years later and those which have “made in China” on them are a pattern dimension 9—to get all the pieces sorted out earlier than the Exeter runs. This is sensible from a enterprise perspective and will clarify each Chinese language variations of The One Line and the Knight tales of Exeter manufacturing to suit the American Promoting Worth necessities.
Both approach, The One Line is a little-known, but vital portion of Nike’s historical past. And now Nike acknowledges the significance of The One Line with a modern-day Air Pressure 1. Perhaps subsequent we’ll get a reborn Oceania.