Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006

Nike Puts Its Foot In It (Again!)

Nike u-turns on 'free statement' promise

7th March 2001

Nike were forced into an embarassing U-turn when one a customer attempted to purchase some running shoes in January. Nike's US website have been running an offer to personalise running shoes by sewing any word or phrase submitted by a customer onto a pair of NIKE training shoes just below the company's trademark. "It's about freedom to choose and freedom to express who you are," cries the advert strapline.

Taking up their offer, a graduate student researcher from Massachusetts submitted his credit card details online and asked the Corporation to sow "sweatshop" onto his new trainers.

Replying with a stock answer, Nike wrote back saying: "Your Nike id order was cancelled for one or more of the following reasons: Your personal id
1) contains another party's trademark or other intellectual property.
2) Contains the name of an athlete or team we do not have the legal right to use
3) was left blank
4) contains profanity or inappropriate slang."

Peretti replied with another e-mail: "My order was cancelled but my personal NIKE id does not violate any of the criteria outlined in your message. Could you please ship them to me immediately" Nike wrote back immediately saying the order was cancelled because the chosen word 'sweatshop' is deemed "inappropriate slang".

But Peretti proved more knowledgeable about the English dictionary than the Corporation and replied again saying: "Thank you for your quick response....After consulting Webster's dictionary, I discovered that "sweatshop" is in fact part of standard English and not slang. The word means 'a shop or factory in which workers are employed for long hours at low wages under unhealthy conditions' and its origins date from 1892. Your website advertises that the Nike id program is 'about freedom to choose and freedom to express who you are'. I share Nike's love of freedom and personal statement.......I was thrilled to be able to build my own shoes and my personal id was offered as a small token of appreciation for the sweatshop workers poised to help me realise my vision. I hope that you will value my freedom of statement and reconsider your decision to reject my order."

In their reply an increasingly awkward Nike finally admit the reason for rejecting Peretti's personal choice was because the Corporation were exercising their right to refuse words they "simply do not want to place on our products."

Nike's U-turn appeared in apparent contradiction to their online advert which states: "It's about time you had a say in what you're wearing. Make your mark?"

"The idea that Nike would invite customers to 'build their own shoes' struck me as ironic and a bit perverse," Jonah Peretti told SQUALL. "Basically people in wealthy countries are using the internet to give a detailed to-do-list to sweatshop workers in poor countries. The advertisement for the service gives this process a high tech gloss, as if robots connected to the internet are making the shoes. The reality is that people make the shoes piecemeal in sweatshops. Nike has become an intermediary in a system that relies on two divergent views of labour. For customers in the US, 'building shoes' is an opportunity for creative statement. On the other hand, the people abroad who actually make the shoes are working in sweatshop conditions. So Nike is charging people in the US money for the privilege of participating in non-alienated labour while paying workers in poor countries to endure the toil of alienated labour."

Despite Nike's refusal to fulfill Peretti's request, the spurned customer decided to thank them for their time: "Dear NIKE id, Thank you for your time and energy you have spent on my request. I would like to make one small request. Could you please send me a colour snapshot of the ten-year-old Vietnamese girl who makes my shoes?"

Peretti's e-mail, sent on January 9, has yet to receive a reply.

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