“Though beautiful, Oregon struck some people as the kind of place where nothing big happened, or was ever likely to,” writes Nike’s Portland-born co-founder and chairman Phil Knight in his newly released memoir Shoe Dog. “If we Oregonians were famous for anything, it was an old, old trail we’d had to blaze to get here.”
Fifty trailblazing years later, the company Knight co-founded—he just announced he’ll be stepping down as chairman in June—is an athletic footwear and apparel giant whose sales topped $30 billion last year. And today, the greater Portland area is a center of innovation and home to key players in a variety of industries, including the technology, automotive and athletic apparel sectors.
Product Design alumnus Martin Lotti (BS 97), vice president and global creative director at Nike, has called Portland home for the better part of two decades. In his role at the company, Lotti drives cohesive seasonal concepts that deliver on performance features, innovation and business across all of Nike’s categories.
“Here at Nike, design is not an afterthought, it’s part of the DNA,” says Lotti. “We don’t have to fight for design’s importance. It’s embedded within the company.”
His own embedding within Nike happened while still studying at ArtCenter. During his final year at the College, he met fellow Product Design major Linda Mai (BS 97), who had just finished a Nike internship.
“She showed me the work she did as an intern,” says Lotti. “I always had a love for both sports and design, so it seemed like the perfect marriage of those two worlds.”
He applied for the internship and was surprised when Nike called back and asked him if he’d rather have a job. “I said, ‘Well, let me think about this really, really hard,’” he laughs.
Not only did he land that gig, but he also ended up marrying Mai, who, after a brief stint working at IDEO, also began working at Nike and now serves as the company’s design director of global brand design.
If Nike represents the perfect union of sports and design, what’s kept that marriage interesting all these years? For Lotti, it’s the company’s willingness to take calculated risks. From his earliest days on the job (“I had never designed a shoe in my life”) to when he was made the company’s creative lead for the London Olympics (“At that point, I thought they were really crazy”), the mandate he always received from above was “Just do it.”
“That’s really not just a slogan,” says Lotti. “It’s an approach, a lifestyle.”
Something else that keeps him on his toes is Nike’s holistic approach to creative thinking that extends beyond simply making products.
“Don’t get me wrong, my heart always skips a little faster when I see one of my projects come to live in the world,” says Lotti, pointing to the head-to-toe competition uniforms at the London Olympics or World Cup 2014 stadiums as particularly gratifying moments. “But I never would have imagined that one day I’d be just as interested in the business aspect as the design aspect.”