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Inside Blue Ribbon Studio, Nike’s Madcap Design Workshop

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It’s like the Wonka Factory, but for hot sneakers.

Image may contain Clothing Apparel Shoe Footwear and Running Shoe

Nike’s world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, spans nearly 300 acres and dozens of enormous edifices—including the just-opened Serena Williams Building, officially the largest structure in the state, clocking in at more than a million square feet. But tucked away amidst all the imposing corporate sprawl, you’ll find the campus’s beating creative heart: Blue Ribbon Studio, an off-the-wall workshop where the Swoosh’s design minds retreat to play around with different mediums, recharge their imaginations, and just get weird in the pursuit of their next big idea. 

Named for Nike’s original moniker (the company started as Blue Ribbon Sports), the studio is an ode to the kind of hands-on tinkering that led co-founder Bill Bowerman to some of the brand’s greatest early innovations (like the running soles he originally crafted using his wife’s waffle iron). Anyone who’s ever spent time in a high school art room will recognize the vibes, from the metal stools to the big wooden drafting tables to the glut of materials and supplies stacked in every corner. Chances are, though, your tenth-grade art teacher didn’t have access to a budget the size of Nike’s—hence the state-of-the-art 3D printers, presses for screenprinting, laser cutters, and dip dye stations. 

While visiting the campus for our feature on Nike’s 50 greatest sneaker collaborations for GQ‘s September issue, photographer Michael Schmelling also fixed his lens on Blue Ribbon Studio. Here’s an inside look at the place where so many of those collaborations first took shape, providing the initial spark or crucial design breakthrough for some of the most hyped sneakers of all time. 

A bucketful of Swooshes cut from leftover fabric scraps. 

Whole lotta sole. 

One of Nike’s “Crater Impact” soles, carved from foam partially comprised of factory scraps and recycled plastic bottles. 

Much like your aunt, Nike’s designers got into cross-stitching over the pandemic, too. 

A pair of indigo-dyed Blazers that would no doubt sell for thousands on StockX. 

Michael Schmelling

Experimental molds in the pursuit of Nike’s next great kicks. 

Sneak peek at the tracklist for Drake’s next album. (Or maybe just some experiments in typeface.)

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