Nike has emerged as the world's largest manufacturer and supplier of athletic apparel. In 2018, its global revenue reached $36.4 billion. The company has over 73,000 employees and 1,182 retail stores worldwide. Like other popular brands, Nike produces shoes and other goods in factories located overseas in order to keep the costs low. However, the number of products manufactured in China and other Asian countries is rapidly decreasing in an attempt to prevent unfair labor practices.

Nike at a Glance

Founded in 1964, Nike specializes in athletic clothing, footwear and sports equipment. What started as a small running shoe line became one of the most popular and beloved brands worldwide. The company aims to reach $50 billion in sales by 2020. In a 2016 survey, 24.5 percent of U.S. female respondents said that this was their favorite sports apparel brand.

Its headquarters are located near Beaverton, Oregon. Thousands of Nike stores and authorized retailers can be found all over the world. Nearly three decades ago, Nike shoes and other products were manufactured in Indonesia. Back then, activist Jeff Ballinger accused the company of engaging in unfair labor practices and offering low wages. Over the years, the brand has implemented major changes, striving to become a recognized sustainability leader. Today, most of its products are manufactured in China and Vietnam.

How Nike Shoes Are Made

Nike employs skilled engineers and designers, encouraging them to embrace disruption and create innovative products. The company provides the design and materials to hundreds of factories around the world. Even though it's not a sustainable brand yet, it does use recycled and organic cotton, hemp, bamboo and other environmentally friendly materials. Most shoes, however, are made of leather, rubber, polyester and plastic. The leather comes from corn-fed cattle.

These materials are shipped by air and sea to over 500 factories in China and other countries. Most of its shoes are made through a cold cement assembly process, which requires more energy than vulcanization. The shoe upper, which encases the foot, is attached to the shoe using water-based glue. Mechanical force is applied to stretch the product and give it structural strength.

The shoes are typically made of EVA foam, lightweight plastic and mesh fabrics. The materials that go to waste are recycled and used for the manufacturing of other products, such as rubber playgrounds and shoe boxes. According to Nike, more than 75 percent of its goods contain recycled materials. The company aims to achieve zero footwear manufacturing waste and cut its environmental impact by half.

Over the past few years, Nike developed new, sustainable materials that use less water and energy. For example, many of its shoes are made of flyleather, which is 40 percent more lightweight and five times more durable than grain leather. Additionally, it has a lower carbon footprint and requires less water during manufacturing.

The brand also uses innovative processes like ColorDry and Flyknit to reduce waste. ColorDry, for instance, is a new technology that allows manufacturers to dye fabric without water. Furthermore, Nike has launched its own line of premium recycled materials that are used for the production of shoes and apparel.

The Nike Controversy

Nike has long been criticized for exploiting foreign workers and offering poor labor conditions. During the '90s, activists accused the company of using child labor for the manufacturing of soccer balls. Since those dark days, the brand has focused on improving its labor practices and reducing its environmental impact. Nike Free RN Flyknit shoes, for example, produce 60 percent less waste during manufacturing compared to traditional running footwear.

Furthermore, the company has eliminated older steam boiler systems in most of its factories, which led to energy savings of 15 to 20 percent. In 2017, 96 percent of its footwear manufacturing waste was either recycled or converted to energy. Today, Nike is widely recognized for its efforts to ensure decent working conditions and embrace sustainability.