Nike Cortez: something more than Forrest Gump trainers

Imagine that we are in the United States during the early 70’s; the hippie movement had already died out, the country led one of the two blocks in which the world was divided, Nixon became the first president to resign after Watergate, the Vietnam War was ending and running was becoming the fashion.

We must place the history of Nike within this context, which at that point was only 10 years old and wasn’t even called Nike, then, it was Blue Ribbon Sports. Now imagine the young Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman, its founders, who a few years earlier had studied at the university of Oregon. Phil, in his role as a runner, had always had trouble finding shoes. Bill (who was his coach) was one of those who had imported the jogging trend from New Zealand.


Let’s jump back to the 70s, specifically to 1971. At that time Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman imported Onitsuka Tiger sneakers (currently known as Asics) from Japan. Coincidentally, one of the Bowerman’s former-students was Geoff Hollister, who helped Nike design products like the Sock Acqua or the Windrunner. Each of their concerns came together in the search for the perfect running shoes until – like in the case of the waffle machine – inspiration came from an everyday object: incredibly light bath slippers. And that was the reason why the first prototype of the Nike Cortez was literally based on destroying a slipper.

The fact is that the Nike Cortez, an icon of the era, began life as the Tiger Cortez or “the Tiger Corsair” until Blue Ribbon Sports (later Nike) and Tiger “stopped being friends,” which is why ultimately in 1972 Nike emerged as an independent brand. Following legal action which determined that the shoe was owned by the brand from Oregon (luckily for them), they took its current name and launched the brand publicly in the 1972 Olympics, hence the number 72 often appears on the shoe.


The story about its name has a lot to do with its then main competitor, the Adidas Azteca, which incidentally has fallen far short of going down in history. Now think for a moment. If you’ve ever thought that the name was inspired by Extremaduran conquerer Hernan Cortes but dismissed the idea as crazy, you were wrong.

Light. Extremely light. But above all simple. Suitable for everybody and affordable as well. It had been modelled as a shoe for athletes, for long-distance runners, but by marketing it as a way of getting in shape by running through parks and in public, it became a popular product. Soon it switched manufacturing material from leather to nylon, one of the characteristics that define the Nike Cortez.


It is undeniable that in some way or another, the Nike Cortez have been reinvented in many different colorways and in fact, Nike ID allows you to customise the style to your taste. In the sole or in the tissue of the upper there have been variations with more or less success, but the most famous model is undoubtedly the white one, with touches of red and blue that became an icon of the 1970s, demonstrated by the image of Farrah Fawcett from the 1980s.


The Nike Cortez has had a marketing advantage with which no other shoe has been able to compete. No matter how famous a basketball player is, they will never up to the popularity of ‘Forrest Gump’. It premiered in 1994 and among the film’s greatest achievements (and especially the novel that inspired it) was recreating the atmosphere of the previous decades in the United States. Thus, between hippies, soldiers returning to Vietnam and the new trend of presidents dancing, the democratisation of running outside of a sporting context was reflected.

In early 2015, the model was launched again, identical to those that appeared in ‘Forrest Gump’, with the same colorway and imperceptible variations in material. As expected, in less than a week, their price on Ebay had tripled.


After the movie, the Nike Cortez didn’t lack further celebrity endorsement. In 2009, coinciding with the launch of the Nike Cortez Fly Motion Tokioplastic created the characters Phil and Bill, the alter ego of Nike’s founders. It’s worth seeing, so take two minutes to enjoy the colorful dance Nike Cortez in stop motion:

There are certainly options when choosing colour, and even the polka dots, fleece and all kinds of prints have been incorporated, but recognise that Nike Cortez have known better than anyone else not to alter the fundamental design: it is virtually identical to the original after more than 30 years.

At the time some found use of the shoe in ‘Forrest Gump’ silly, but we can now say there was never a shoe better suited for him, because sometimes the seemingly simple can get anywhere.

Pics via, Flickr, Pinterest & Seizenine