Nike Tailors Sneaker for Native American Buyers

Nike has launched a sneaker designed specifically for Native Americans. It's built to fit their feet and in hopes of promoting physical activity within a community that struggles with obesity-related diseases. Melissa Block talks with Sam McCracken, manager of Nike's Native American Business program.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

It's sort of a shoe of a different shape. As part of an effort to promote a healthier lifestyle among Native Americans, Nike has created an athletic shoe specifically designed for a Native American feet. It's called the Air Native N7.

Sam McCracken is manager of Native American Business for Nike. He's a Native American himself, a member of the Fort Peck Tribes of northeastern Montana. And he tells us American-Indians do have a distinctive shape to their feet.

Mr. SAM McCRACKEN (Manager, Nike Native American Business Program): We went across the country and we actually did some background research with the native foot and we saw there were some differences in the width and the depth of the toe box. And, you know, the research told us what we needed to know. And it was on our opportunity to really take that data and that information and then create something that would be very unique and special for the Native American community.

BLOCK: So there's really something distinctive that would link the foot of a Native American, whether he or she is in South Dakota or New Mexico or Connecticut?

Mr. McCRACKEN: Yes. We scanned 224 feet across the U.S. of all - from different tribal backgrounds of some 70 tribes across the country. And we did it in seven different locations across the U.S. So we were out on the road. We had a little road show, and we went out and we worked for the communities, we worked at the national conferences where we got a wide variety of folks. And the data told the story.

BLOCK: Did you go out on this road trip?

Mr. McCRACKEN: Yes, I was. I was at the - probably 90 percent of those.

BLOCK: What was that like?

Mr. McCRACKEN: It was very interesting, because I don't think native people really knew there was a difference in their foot. They kind of said they knew it, but they really didn't know it. The inclination by them was to size up. So what we found out in our research in our consumer information, was that they were wearing at least the size to half a size bigger.

BLOCK: Just the shoe that was too big?

Mr. McCRACKEN: Yes. And which, you know, a lot of slippage, and lots of kind of uncomfortable things could happen to your feet.

BLOCK: Mr. McCracken, I gather this was a particular dream of yours, - this shoe, why is that?

Mr. McCRACKEN: My mother - I was raised by a single mom on the reservation, and my mother was stricken with type 2 diabetes. And in 2001, she went into a diabetic coma and I lost her 12 days later.

BLOCK: Diabetes, of course, a huge problem in the Native American population.

Mr. McCRACKEN: Yeah, two to three times higher than the average population. And so it's a personal commitment that I've made that if I can - I happen to work for Nike and I have access to the brand and if I can create access to use as a point of inspiration and to promote physical activity and active lifestyles, then I felt like that was something I can do. And in credit to the brand, they've allowed me to do that.

And my definition of success with this program is, if the community embraces the product, because if they're embracing the product, then they're utilizing the product, and if they're utilizing the product, then they're becoming more physically active. Then you know that, at least, they're taking steps in the right direction to live a healthier life.

BLOCK: Mr. McCracken, are you wearing a pair of these shoes?

Mr. McCRACKEN: I have a pair on right now.

BLOCK: How do they feel?

Mr. McCRACKEN: They feel great. It feels great to have something that fits and it really - because I've had a personal interest in this, it makes me extremely proud to wear them.

BLOCK: Well, Sam McCracken, it's good to talk with you. Thanks very much.

Mr. McCRACKEN: I appreciate it. Thank you.

BLOCK: Sam McCracken is manager of Native American Business for Nike. The company plans to sell the Air Native N7 at wholesale about $42 a pair to tribal health centers. And McCracken expects many tribes will hand out the shoes on reservations for free.

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