I’ve never paid much attention to shoes—except for my mother’s high heels with the sassy polka dot bow that I coveted when I was a child, and my favorite red Oboz hiking boots that I consider friends. A few years back, a Malibu pal, Dan Bercu, suggested I try HOKA ONE ONE shoes, and he wouldn’t let up until I went to Road Runner Sports and got a pair. Although I’m not a runner, I got hooked on the HOKA rocker-sole bottom.
So, reading and enjoying “Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike” by Phil Knight was like entering a whole new world that I know nothing about.
I admit it. I don’t know Adidas from Nike and I don’t really care. So, it’s all the more fascinating that Knight, who started out as an accountant, has written about the business of the shoe business so well his story kept and held my interest from the beginning to the end.
Early on, Knight tells us that his favorite thing was running. At Stanford, he wrote a paper about shoes. He writes that “The paper evolved from a run-of-the-mill assignment to an all-out obsession. I knew that Japanese cameras had made deep cuts into the camera market, which had once been dominated by Germans. Thus, I argued in my paper that Japanese running shoes might do the same thing. The idea interested me, then inspired me, then captivated me. It seemed so obvious, so simple, so potentially huge.” He called it his “Crazy Idea.”
I especially enjoyed Knight’s father’s reaction to his son’s idea. “Jack-assing around,” that’s what he called it. “How long do you think you’re going to keep jack-assing around with these shoes?”’
Knight was aware that 26 out of 27 new companies fail, and he writes that starting his own business was the only thing that made life’s other risks—marriage, Vegas, alligator wrestling—seem like sure things.
In 1965, when he was starting out, he writes that running wasn’t even a sport. Running for pleasure, running for exercise, running for endorphins, running to live better and longer—these things were unheard of.
Eventually, he quit the job at the accounting firm and did nothing but sell shoes out of the trunk of his Valiant, and the response was always the same. He couldn’t write orders fast enough.
This is a fascinating read. I couldn’t put it down, and I didn’t want it to end. An excellent writer and a superb storyteller, I hope Knight has another story to write.
Jo Giese is the author of “Never Sit If You Can Dance: Lessons from My Mother.” Visit her website, jogiese.com.