Nike Debuts 'Air Native' for Native Americans

Nike Corporation recently launched the Air Native N7. The sneaker is designed specifically for Native American consumers. Sam McCracken, manager of the Native American Business program at Nike, talks about the shoe, its market potential, and why the athletic shoe giant is taking a special interest in Native Americans.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Nike Corporation unveiled its latest shoe yesterday.

Now, you might be saying Nike does it all the time. What's new? But this shoe is a little different. Instead of targeting the masses, this new shoe, the Air Native N7, is designed specifically for Native Americans.

Here to tell us more about is Sam McCracken, the manager of Nike's Native American Business program.

Mr. McCracken, welcome.

Mr. SAM McCRACKEN (Native American Business Program Manager, Nike): Thank you. Glad to be here.

MARTIN: Now, who came up with this idea? Why focus on Native Americans?

Mr. McCRACKEN: In 2000, I had an opportunity to write a business plan and really give the communities across the U.S., native communities, access to the Nike brand as a point of inspiration to promote physical activity.

MARTIN: Are you a Native American?

Mr. McCRACKEN: I am. I'm an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Tribes in northeastern Montana. And if you like, I will introduce myself in my native language.

MARTIN: I would love it.

Mr. McCRACKEN: (Nakona language spoken)

What I basically did, loosely translated, is I did my welcome, and I talked about my clan. I'm part of the Red Bottom Clan on my mother's side, and I'm named after my great-grandfather, Thomas Duck(ph), who was a provider for the Assiniboine people.

MARTIN: Oh. Well, that's great. That's great. So the question - I'm sure you know that - and I've been reading the news stories that have already been written about the shoe and the response from the tribal members who have been quoted seems to be uniformly positive. But like I'm sure you kind of understand why this is kind of an eyebrow raiser - marketing a shoe to a specific ethnicity. What is it about Native American people's feet that would suggest that they need a specifically designed shoe, or is this something about the ergonomics of the shoe or is it simply the design that's heritage oriented?

Mr. McCRACKEN: Well, I think we have both involved. In 2003, to get a little bit of background, we actually signed a very historic document. It's called the Memorandum of Understanding. We signed that with the Indian Health Services because we're doing outreach on native lands through the business programs, you know. We saw a need for a specific product for this community, and we really went out to communities across the country with - and we scanned of the feet, and the data spoke for itself.

MARTIN: And the data says what?

Mr. McCRACKEN: The shoe's (unintelligible), for an example. But if you were to buy a Pegasus, an Air Pegasus Nike shoe, it's a B-width for a woman, and 92 percent of the feet we scanned on native women across the U.S. wore a D-width are wider.

MARTIN: Really?

Mr. McCRACKEN: Yes.

MARTIN: What about the men?

Mr. McCRACKEN: And the men, it was very similar, and we went into D, EEE and EEEE in the data that we received.

MARTIN: Wow. I understand there's also some specific design, like a heritage? Something that speaks specifically to heritage?

Mr. McCRACKEN: Yes. So, You know, there's couple of (unintelligible). So the N7, on the end, really comes from the philosophy of the seventh generation, and I can explain to you how it was explained to me by my grandfather is that I am the middle generation of the seventh-generation philosophy, and I look back three generations for guidance and three generations forward for hoping to make a difference or a change. So that's where the N7 logo, its - the philosophy reads. In every deliberation, you must consider the impact of your decisions on the next seven generations.

MARTIN: Hmm. Now, Nike shoes aren't always so cheap. How will the shoe be priced?

Mr. McCRACKEN: The product will be available for tribal programs across the U.S., wellness programs, health-related programs at wholesale price, which is 42.80.

MARTIN: Can other people buy it in retail?

Mr. McCRACKEN: No. It will not be available at retail. The reason we positioned that way is - as we build our programs that really reach out to native communities, we look at this as another tool and another weapon to - for lack of a better word - to get folks into those clinics and get them motivated and get them active, because the commitment around this is for the native community is really to promote of physically active lifestyle.

MARTIN: But there are other groups that are struggling with obesity. There are other groups that are struggling with overall wellness, and there are other groups that might appreciate a hot shoe.

Mr. McCRACKEN: Yes. And I'm not the person to discuss that, but I'm really…

MARTIN: You realize what you're doing here. You're making like it's a collector's thing now. It's going to just be crazy on eBay. Are you wearing some shoes right now?

Mr. McCRACKEN: I am wearing some shoes right now.

MARTIN: No. You're wearing your shoes right now? Are you wearing the new one?

Mr. McCRACKEN: I am wearing my shoes right now.

MARTIN: The N7?

Mr. McCRACKEN: The new ones. The N7's.

MARTIN: You're wearing the N7? See, why do you want to hurt a sister like that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Why do you want to hurt a sister like that? Size 8, man? Come on.

Mr. McCRACKEN: Size 8?

MARTIN: I'm kidding. Thank you so much.

Sam McCracken is the manager of Nike's Native American Business program. He's a member of - what tribe, sir?

Mr. McCRACKEN: I'm a member of the Fort Peck Tribes in northeastern Montana.

MARTIN: And he joined us from Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon.

Mr. McCracken, thank you so much.

Mr. McCRACKEN: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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