Nike’s world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, spans nearly 300 acres and dozens of enormous buildings—including the just-opened Serena Williams Building, officially the largest structure in the state, at more than a million square feet. But tucked away amidst all the impressive corporate sprawl is the beating creative heart of the campus: the Blue Ribbon Studio, an off-the-wall workshop where the Swoosh’s design head retreats to play with different media, recharge their imaginations and just get strange in search of their next big idea.
Named after Nike’s original moniker (the company started as Blue Ribbon Sports), the studio is an ode to the kind of hands-on trickery that led co-founder Bill Bowerman to some of the brand’s greatest early innovations (like the running soles he originally created using his wife’s waffle iron). Anyone who has ever spent time in a high school art room will recognize the atmosphere, from the metal stools to the large wooden drawing tables to the abundance of materials and supplies piled in every corner. Chances are, though, that 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, screen printing presses, laser cutters, and dip dye stations.
While visiting campus for our feature on Nike’s 50 Best Sneaker Collaborations for GQthe 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 these collaborations first took shape, providing the initial spark or defining design breakthrough for some of the most hyped sneakers of all time.