How Nike's Prints and Patterns Changed Its Apparel

Nike shares the history behind its patterned apparel.

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Complex Original

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Over 30 years ago, Nike decided to change up its apparel from simple graphic designs to colorful all-over prints. The brand’s move towards producing patterned apparel created by its art department has since had an influence on style that has spanned generations. Nike recently took to its blog to share the history of how its creative team developed its quintessential patterns.

In 1983 Nike created its first in-house art department to develop prints that fused performance-enhancing designs and the psychology of color. After the first release of apparel under the new team, which consisted of a few graphic tees, Nike still wanted to reflect more spirit and motion in its prints. So, two years later, the sportswear giant developed running attire that featured a very '80s pink, white, and red pattern inspired by a shoe outsole. That design, along with a gold barbell print, became its first all-over print. 

By the end of the '80s, Nike's art department was corresponding with designers like Tinker Hatfield on apparel that would correspond with their shoes. The team was drawing from cultural trends, historical references, and global sporting events to create their cutting-edge designs.  At that point, the apparel had already transcended athletics and was being adopted by the hip-hop community and fashion houses.

The '90s marked a change in approach for the art department. Designers were pushed to develop textiles for sports they weren't as familiar with and sent on inspiration-trips in an effort to boost their creative juices. The addition of a color copier only furthered their opportunities to create unique organic patterns.

The department’s revolutionary work with patterns influenced the entire company to embrace prints to enhance their own category. According to Nike, even Michael Jordan pushed the designers to make the prints even louder. The brand's crazy colorful patterns have been immortalized by people like Spike Lee, who documented its overwhelming influence on youth culture at the time.

Now, a new resurgence in patterns has allowed the company to once again flex its printing skills. The development of a new department devoted only to print design and recent collaborations with partners like Pendleton and Jun Takahashi of Undercover have continued to take its prints to the next level.

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