Nike’s Native American shoe: Niche or Naive?

Nike Native AirNike just announced their new shoe designed specifically for Native Americans, the Nike Air Native N7. From the press release:

The Nike Air Native N7 is the result of nearly two years of collaborative research, development and fit testing in partnership with the Native American community. The first-of-its-kind performance shoe is built on a new and unique last created to address the specific fit and width requirements for the Native American foot. The result is a true Native fitting, performance product.

One early concern I have is that there appears to be only one style. So who is going to wear them? Adults? Teens? Children? If the adults start wearing them, then the teens may shy away. If the teens start wearing them, the adults may find them too “teenybopper-ish”. If the young kids start wearing these shoes, then the adults and teenagers may keep at arms length.

I like the idea to a certain degree, especially the fact that some of the money is going to the “Let Me Play” program. However, I also have a lot of questions. Will this really work? Also, these shoes will only be available through Nike’s Native Business Program, but what about other wider/taller feet individuals who are not Native American? So my question to you is: is this niche marketing done right or just Nike being naive? What are your thoughts?


61 Responses

  1. It is niche marketing, but I don’t think it’s done right. Is the Native American foot really that different? And what races foot are most Nike shoes made for now?

    If anything, I think it’s a stretch. And the whole lack of choice point you made is very relevant.

  2. Brett,

    As always, great points. So why do you think that Nike made this wider shoe only for Native Americans and did not simply make a wider shoe for all? – Was it “to innovate for a better world” as the CEO suggests? Puffery? Is just a case of trying but missing the mark? Or some other reason?

  3. I think this shoe is awsome. i just found out about them today. i can’t wait to get a pair. i my self am a native american. and this is so cool.

  4. I think Nike is treading into dangerous waters. Niche marketing to specific religions, ethnic groups, and exc. can affect all aspects of a brand. Most importantly the consumer’s view of who the brand is may be altered. Nike is a sports shoe for all people and specifically drawing attention to a particular race will be leaving out all other minorities and may be seen as bias. It is proven that Asian women have smaller width feet than average. Nike better get moving to create a shoe for them. My point is where will they draw the line? This is more than niche marketing. If Nike wants to create a custom shoe for Native Americans they need multi-brand.

  5. Alisa,

    Interesting take. So you feel that Nike is “Niche-ing” themselves too thin (or at least along lines that are typically not targeted in athletic wear) and this may cause a backlash? That may very well happen, I guess we’ll see. Thanks for stopping by and participating.

  6. It might be worthwhile to do some research on how this came about. Sam McCracken is Nike’s Native American Buisness Program manager. Based on the logic of this politically correct coverstation, one might ask, “well, does Nike have an Asian Woman Business Program manager? What about an Irish Business Program manager? etc…

    Sometimes this politically correct world can be very frustrating. I am Native American and a member of the Chickasaw Nation. I also happen to know maybe a little more than the average joe on this topic. Sam is a lot like me. He works for a big company and happens to be Native American. Sam, like me, is proud of is heritage and uses that motivation to influence those around him to do something positive for his people.

    So, what does Sam do? Well, he convinces Nike that they need to focus specifically on Native Americans. They they need to have a Native American Business Program. So, they hear his case, they see the both the business sense and goodwill it can generate and they go for it.

    Well, Sam has been doing this for a while now. Finding ways to help Native Americans. Now, he thinks to himself. What if a shoe was made that would fit better on Native Americans. Would that perhaps have an impact on Native Americans getting out there and exercising. Maybe so! So, what did he do?

    Well, he pitched the idea to Nike and they went for it.

    This is about a guy named Sam McCracken who did something great. He influenced those around him to give back and help he people.

    What should you do with this information? Don’t try and solve world hunger…simply influence those around you.

    • Nike’s subversive racism with this shoe and its “Native American program” isn’t intentional and it isn’t McCracken’s fault. I think he had good intentions, but lost himself in being the token Native boy in the office.

      How come Nike won’t just simply use elite-level athletes in its marketing campaigns? Why does there have to a “Native” shoe?
      I’m Native – my entire life and world experience has been Natives buying every Nike product that comes out. The same products, in the same way, from the same retailers, as non-Natives. The same as the Black kids and their urban White peers.

      Is Nike going to be making a special shoe for its Black campaigns? Oh wait, they have it, but they wouldn’t dream of describing it that way; it’s called ‘Air Jordan’. All of the Natives that play basketball buy them. And Adidas’ black people basketball shoes, as well.

      Are our indigenous teens, young adults, middle-agers, going to buy this shoe? NO.
      Why? Because it’s insulting. Not to mention, ugly.
      Natives buy what _everybody else_ buys!

      I love it that they sponsored a lacrosse team. But I would have loved it more if they had just simply sponsored them as exceptional athletes and not called it a “Native program.” Ouch. Really?

      If Nike wants to ‘go Native’, here’s what it SHOULD do:
      Get rid of the Native program. Find a couple of elite-level athletes in summer and winter sports, who happen to be Native. Offer them endorsement contracts, just like any other athlete, and use them in standard Nike marketing campaigns to put Native faces on Nike product. Just like any other athlete, any other racial demographic. Doing that would have far broader appeal and be way less insulting.

      Can’t find any “Native” elite-level athletes, Nike? Native athletes that are top-30 in the world submit marketing proposals to you every season, Sam McCracken. Nike has refused to offer ANY of them an endorsement contract. Every season, there’s another WHITE teenager added to Nike’s sports stables that got beat by the Native athlete in competition.

  7. Mike,

    I appreciate your feed back and your inside view. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Well , being a Native American, I was pleased when my brother called me and said “they finally made a shoe that will fit us” ( he and I). We both have spent the better part of 40 plus years suffering with shoes that either squeezed our toes together or our heels were flopping around in them.

    We are buying some, and we don’t care what color they are. As far as “niche marketing” goes .. my Brother and I don’t care as long as the shoe fits , and also Thank you Nike and Sam McCracken.

    I don’t think I can remember Native Americans being “First in line” for anything in my lifetime. It seems odd that people of other ethnic backgrounds are upset about this , almost to the point of insulting the Natives ( again).

  9. I think I have to agree with my brother Jesse. As Native Americans we do have problems fitting into shoes. I remember my father would go through shoes like nothing. He could never find a pair that fit right without having to pay the price, as does my entire family. Years ago I finally talked my father into wearing Airwalks! He loved them, but they were too wide for his feet, unless his diabeties acted up and his feet swelled. I can’t wait to see these shoes, and try them on. I just hope the sticker price will not be a huge shocker! Thanks for putting us first for a change Nike. I just hope that this marketing tool provides many Native Americans with the ability to afford them. This was a nice surprise when I got emailed this article! I can’t wait til payday! : )

  10. Jesse and Suzy,

    I appreciate you stopping by and adding to the conversation.

  11. Hey, I have heard many good and bad things about these shoes. I think they were a fantastic idea, regardless of what anyone else thinks. I am only in the dark on one thing..(how to get them)

  12. Crystal Crow Dog,

    Can you expand on what good things and bad things that you have heard? Thanks for stopping by.

  13. Nike made the shoes while working with the Native American communities, there was no preference in one race over another. It was a pure working relationship that just happened to help one ethnic group. Why is it when those who do help are targeted for being bias or something that is damaging rather than good.
    I am sure if different communities wanted to market a idea with Nike they would work with them as well.
    Instead of trying to figure it out to make it seem mathematically correct for you to reason, smile, its just for people who asked or inquired for help, and got it.
    I too am Native American and proud.

  14. Julie,

    Thanks for stopping by. By the way, do you personally plan on getting these shoes? Why or why not?

  15. Hi Bill,

    Yes, I would like to get a pair of these shoes, if I am able to acquire them. I will reply here again at another time, if I am lucky enough to do so and let you know how they are.

  16. We need to see a pair at our school. Just to see what they look like, and how they would fit our feet. Please send information to this email addy:

    I work in a K-12 Native American school system, our athletic department would like to know more.
    Hope to hear from someone soon.

  17. I am not native american, but I can never find shoes to fit- my heels are A width, my toes double E. IT would be so wonderful to find a shoe that didn’t either hurt my joints or give me heel blisters. What about making these shoes available to anyone who needs them?

  18. I agree with AnnBrown. I have the same problem. Actually, I have Native Americans on both sides of my family, but I do not live on a reservation or have access to special stores. There are so many of us, especially in the San Antonio area, who have this background and this problem. Why not make the shoes available in all stores that sell Nike? Some of the money could still be set aside to benefit Native Americans.

    I remember many years ago I could find shoes to fit in Italy, but when I got back and went to Italian shoe stores, I was disappointed to find that all exports for the U.S. were made for the “American last”, long and narrow with a low instep. Maybe Italians could benefit from this shoes also!

  19. Anyone have a way to get a hold of Sam McCraken at Nike’s Native American Business Program?

  20. Hey Alisa Smith I think your wrong because isn’t Asia the people who produce the most shoe’s and they ship them and we where them.

  21. These shoes sound like they’d fit my husband’s feet. He has never had a pair of comfortable shoes. I am hoping these shoes become available, I’d mail order them if possible.

  22. Please, Please, Please tell me how to get these shoes. My mom is 74 years old and is Native American. She has terrible problems with her feet and shoes not fitting.

  23. @Deb I am not sure. But according to the blog over at “This program makes Nike products, including the Air Native N7 beginning Nov. 1, available to Native American community health and wellness centers at preferential prices to encourage physically active lifestyles. Individuals interested in the shoe should contact their local tribal health facility or urban Indian Health Center.”

  24. How about posting a list of tribes that have these shoes avialable

  25. what tribes are curently aviable for these shoes

  26. DEL,

    I wish that I knew. The only information that I have heard from Nike is to check with your local tribal health facility or urban Indian Health Center. If I get anything more, I’ll be sure to post. If anyone else has more information, please comment below.

  27. I think that these native nike shoes are a great idea, and i don’t understand why people have a problem with them. i myself am native and have plenty of relatives and know plenty of nativeswho suffer from different foot problems. Also these new shoes will probably help combat the diabetes epidemic in native communities a little bit. If people feel that nike is doing something wrong by making a race specific shoe, it isn’t the first time it’s happened, not even close. Nike and other shoe companies have been marketing to another particular minority, whom i’m sure you can guess to, for years. At least now they’re being honest about it.

  28. I am a 17 year old Ojibwe Native American. I have lived on a reservation and seen the health problems that the native community has been stricken with. With recently moving to a more urban area I still have found resources to the Native American Community. All it takes is a little research and you probably will find ways to buy the new Nike Air Native A7 shoes. The shoes, as I was told, were meant for the Native American Community because of the high obesity and diabetes rates which are very prevalent in the Native American Community. Diabetes and Obesity are easily combated with exercise, thus comes in the shoes. Early in the history since Europeans have been coming to the United States which is our homelands and taking over. I think it’s time Native Americans got some kind of better treatment.

  29. My wife is Native American, she has a very hard time finding a shoe that fits, because her foot is shaped differently than most shoe manufactures produce shoes for. She is looking forward to finding the new Native American shoe! I am glad to see the Native Americans elevated to standards others find every day. Nike is meeting a need no other shoe manufacturer has even considered. Go NIKE!!

  30. I have worn Nike shoes and found them to be some of the most comfortable shoes I’ve owned. Being Native American and having wide feet I have a hard time buying shoes Most of the time I wear boys shoes. I live where there is a large Native American population. I belong to the wellness center at our local IHS and I can’t get a pair of these shoes.Will they ever be available to the public?

  31. Jeanne,

    As far as I can tell, the shoes will not be avaible to the general public. They will only be available in the to registered users of Nike’s Native American Business Program.

  32. I like the idea of the Native American Nike shoes. I am St.Croix Chippewa Ojibwe Native American and i sure do have trouble finding the right shoes. They are either too small, too skinny, or not tall enouph for the foot. I hate shopping and for a girl that just doesnt seem right. I cant ever find the right shoes in womens, i have to find mens shoes or pay alot of money to get shoes that actually fit and are comfordable. And like what other people are saying i really dont care what color the shoe is or if its the best shoe on the line, all that i really care is that the shoe fits, and good. when i first heard about these shoes i was so excited to get a pair. Im also thankfull that nike would actually take intrest in our peoples needs and nececities. I think this new shoe is wonderful and hope you come out with more shoes for Native Americans.

  33. So, when are they gonna make a shoe just for Asians? You know, since they’re smaller, I assume Nike’s got it in their fabulous marketing target as well.
    I think Nike is just crapping on the wrong hole.

  34. I cant believe some of you people. We (Native Americans) are put last in everything. You never hear of us hardly. Do you watch movies and see Native actors ( unless you are watching something about Natives)-NO. Do you see us on tv? No. What bout in ads in newspapers and magazines? NO. And its just not in the media, its everywhere. WE are and have always been unrecognized. But now that Nike has actually looked into us and realized some of our problems-only are feet problems, believe me there is so MUCH more problems, you want to get all mad, or as i see it JEALOUS. And its not jus about how the shoe has been made to feet our feet that we are all really proud about, its the fact that their are noticing us, this shoe is FOR US, not anyone else! thats never been done for us and were all proud, but just like so many times in the past. our language, our land , our heritage,OUR EVERYTHING, you want to get mad and take something that is ours away from us, or change it so that you can feel better about your self. The reason this shoe can only be bought by Natives is because it was made FOR US NATIVES. It has a feather print in the inside, stars on the sole, and sunrise to sunset to sunrise on it, things that dont mean anything to anybody but us NATIVE AMERICANS!!!! That is why only we can buy these! And to say “why dont they have a Irish shoe?” In case you didnt know Irish people are white, most nikes fit white people. Back to the Irish is white thing, nike did not make the shoe for one tribe but all Natives, just like all shoes are made for the average person which happens to be white people. It would be different if they made it for one specific tribe. But the point is be happy for us, THE NATIVE AMERICANS, for finally once again having something of our own! And PLEEEAAASSEE!!!!! Dont also take this away from us! Michael Wind-A proud Choctaw,Seminole, Creek, and Cherokee Native American with some Native Nikes!!!!!

  35. wow, wahts the difference between normak nike shoes?

  36. If anyone finds these shoes available on the Net, please post where! Thank you!

  37. shit, couldn’t you make em some bad ass jordans or something? these are sorta ugly but i’d still rock em.

  38. There are a number of considerations at work here.

    Is the post a vehicle to test response to this shoe? Well if it is then good job Nike! I work in mainstream comms but have been freelancing in ethnic comms for 9 months. I also just happen to to be black British. The decision to ‘build’ a shoe albeit only one sku which caters to specific needs of native American feet sends a message that yopu care regardless of the size of the market, that you are willing to invest. I guess that if the shoe is a success then more will follow. In the world of ehnic comms some times the halo effect from what is a small gesture can be huge. African Americans say yep I can relate to that and the same for Latin/Hispanic (?) Americans. Clearly these two markets pack a punch in terms of spending on sports apparel

    Go Nike! If you need some one to do the same in the UK give me a shout

  39. Sorry I have just read some of the previous posts about NIke becoming to Niche – get a life. Nike is a multi biliion dollar global brand. After however many years in business it creates a shoe specific for a partic audience. Do you think this will stop them selling their hugely popular mainstream shoes. IT will not. The profits from those enable them to ‘experiment with brand extensions down this niche track’. If it sells they will add yet more ‘versions’ for for this audience. Make no mistake there are two forces at work here one illustrates that Nike is large enough and “correct” enough to give some thought to the audience. The other the othe is that the mainstream audience is already well catered for and the opportunity to grow market share is by small increments only. Who else is making sports apparel specific to the needs of native americans. If I where native american and I hated that particular shoe. I would be more inclined to buy a mainstream Nike shoe because I would think they care about me and my kind!

  40. I think this is a huge waste of marketing efforts. I don’t wear Nike shoes because I have wide feet, but not Indian…Native American… First Nations… (whatever). I just have wide feet. As someone mentioned before, Asian/Oriental/Southeastern Eastern Hemishpherian women have smaller narrower feet than, um… other women. Okay, but my wife has narrow feet, but she is Danish American. Where are the shoes for Danish Americans?

    My point is simple. Make some wider and narrower sizes in the most popular styles and you will make more money with less overhead than making a single style for every hyphenated demographic on the planet.

    This venture sounds like the brainchild of a Harvard MBA. Maybe Nike hired a GM chief. (no pun intended)

    Sounds pretty simple to me. Thank God/Higher Power/Goodness/Core Energy/Chi/Evolution Theory that I do not have a Harvard MBA. It leaves me to think like a normal everyday consumer.

  41. I thought this was a marketing blog, not a racial contemplation blog.

    I think one of the biggest atrocities in American History is the carving of the offenders’ faces on Mount Rushmore (Six Grandfathers). A holy place to the Lakota, from whom the land was stolen. Oh wait! The Lakota seized the land from the Cheyenne before it was holy to the Lakota.

    Didn’t all humans in the Americas come across the ice bridge in the Bering Straight? So, no one is NATIVE American? Let’s see, this land was subdued by, well, every people that ever came here. In fact, didn’t the oldest human skeleton ever found on American soil turn out to have European DNA? Does that blow the whole ice bridge theory? Oh yes, Bill Clinton approved the disappearance of the Kennewick Man so it would not cause confusion.

    Wasn’t it the dirty, filthy white european that introduced earlier settlers to, um, shoes? If you don’t like white man shoes, put the moccasins back on, or maybe, perhaps take some of that white man money you get handed to you every year and build a shoe plant. It would provide jobs and a product made the way you want it. Maybe Nike would partner with you.

    Bottom line, quit sitting back and waiting for the white man to make a shoe that fits you. Stand up and fight back. Go to the international courts and demand your lands and sovereignty back. The white leaders are trying hard to integrate us all into an international community. Take advantage of this foolishness. Use the momentum of the push for internationalism to fight your own cause. Fight with all the ferocity of your fore-fathers. Take what is rightfully yours. Or, if that isn’t the path you choose, maybe we could all be one society with a heart and mind to support one another in all our needs.

    Now, from a marketing perspective. I agree with Mit Ailbu. Make different sizes of the most popular styles and expand market share.

    BTW — I am Navajo.

  42. Thank you Sam McCracken!
    I just got a pair of these shoes from my tribe, and they are great. I don’t run in them since I’m pretty serious about running, but they are pretty awesome for just about anything else- and my toes are happy!

    I know for a fact that they are promoting fitness in my tribe. It kind of took on a snowball effect and now every member gets a monthly health benefit to use at a gym of our choice. Even in North Bend, Oregon, at our tribal office, lunch breaks have been extended for going to the gym!

    I know it is directly helping our members with Diabetes as well, as was the intended purpose. Nike has done a great thing, let them market as they please. Any kind of help a large corporation like this wants to give to any person or group of persons in need should be applauded at least for the example they are setting- if not for the good they are doing.

  43. BTW, I’m Coquille, we’re from the Southern Oregon Coast.

  44. just got mine and love them!

    at this point nike is the only shoe co.
    that supports and provides access
    in many areas
    for native peoples — kudos to NIKE
    and Sam McCracken, manager of Nike’s Native American business program

    grad student/portland state university
    white moutain apache

  45. Nike would do well to make a wider show for everybody who needs them.

    I’ve worn a lot of running shoes, and Nike are among the narrowest that I’ve ever tried, especially in the toe box. And they are shallow in the instep. So I find it amusing that it suddenly occurs to Nike to produce a shoe with more width and room in the toe just for Native Americans, as if nobody else has similar issues. Hellooo, Nike? We’re out here; we just don’t buy your shoes.

    As for style, well those hospital white sneakers that Nike shows in there promotional photos are about as stylish as any orthopedic shoes I’ve ever seen.

    New Balance would be a more natural choice to produce a special shoe for the wider or not averagely shaped foot… and a shoe that actually looks like serious athletic foot wear.

  46. unquestionably succeed with internet marketing, but different to what many believe, success does not come like magic overnight. You have to work your way to achieve it.

  47. The outrage is that these are only available to Natives with a card. My mother was adopted and has been unable to open her birth certificate to establish a roll number… I have always had to go “one size up” when selecting a shoe, and have, consequently, always suffered from slippage in the back. I find the decision to only market to those with cards extremely unfair because there are many, many people who are Native that simply don’t have cards.

  48. Different subject – I have a sports-related invention which I cannot develope because I don’t have R & D money, yet. My preliminary thought is that I can sell the finished product for $1 million US, but it needs to be computer programmed.

  49. you can always buy sports apparels online, you just need to choose your supplier carefully *.~

  50. I think it is a great idea. I’ve spent most of my life barefoot simply because even E shoes hurt my feet.
    While the shoe isn’t pretty, I don’t think most people that need them care overly much; I certainly don’t! I’m happy just to have something that may fit.

    I have been reluctant to fill out the paperwork for my card proving my Native American status because I don’t live on the reservation (some of my family does), and don’t have very strong ties to the community. I think I will now go ahead and fill it out so I can try these shoes, though.

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  53. I have very distant native heritage and I’m not sure if I could even get tribe recognition if I tried but I have the feet and they are extremely small on top of that I wear about a size four, shoes bother me so much that for most of my twenty years I’ve gone barefoot, even in the snow, or with flip-flops unless I had to wear shoes, I love the fact that so many people that are pushed to the background are being helped but I’d also like to get these shoes, I would even be willing to pay more with the extra possibly being donated to help tribes since I’m not a tribe member, just a thought. Thanks and this is a really great idea.

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