The Swoosh in Lagos- a symbol of greatness

Updated: Aug 7, 2019

Nike is a popular brand worldwide. In Lagos, Africa's largest city, people do not only celebrate their sportswear and items. It is the Swoosh, the Nike logo, that is dominating the streets.

Swoosh spotting

At Balogun market, the biggest market in Lagos, a friend and I crossed the street and there it was: a large, white Swoosh stuck on the bonnet of a light blue Toyota car, covering the width of the car. The second swoosh I spotted a few days later was painted on the leather seat of a taxi motor bike - an Okada. A few days after, when we were on our way to Lekki, I spotted another one on a Danfo, the mini-bus: a white sticker on the back and side of the bus. It had the size of a large plantain and was by far the best – or rather worst - I’d ever seen. It looked hand cut, had some straight lines in it and was mirrored, with the the pointy top on the right instead of on the left side.

The birth of the Swoosh

The Swoosh,the logo of the brand Nike, was designed in 1971 by graphic designer Carolyn Davidson. At that time, she was a student and looking for extra money. The founder of Nike was an assistant professor at the University of Portland, where Davidson was studying. He knew she was in need of a little extra money and asked her to help him with some projects- at an hourly rate of $2. He asked her to design something like a stripe that he could put on the side of a shoe that he was designing. She came up with the swoosh, the image resembling a wing and hints towards the name Nike- the Greek goddess of victory. Davidson handed over the design of the Swoosh for $35.

(Sources say that later she was compensated more generously…)

Let’s ask around

In Amsterdam, my friend Siji, who grew up in Lagos, smiles when I tell him about my research. He pauses his cooking and starts talking. His hands rest in his sides as he looks out the window and starts daydreaming. It was somewhere in 1986 when he got his first pair of Nike, a friend from London had sent them to him. A pair of white high tops that had a dark blue swoosh on the side. I somehow thought it could have been my favourite, the Air Force 1. Siji wasn’t sure and couldn’t remember the exact look of the shoe. “Having a Nike back then meant that you had access” he says. Nike didn’t have, or doesn’t have, stores in Nigeria. “Nike is, and was, a brand with which you signal your status” Siji continues. He compares it with Apple in Europe; “you broadcast your coolness by having a Nike”. That coolness is expressed through the logo of the brand: the Swoosh.

“It’s a symbol of greatness” says Em, stylist and trend forecaster in Lagos. “There are so many people that have worn Nike throughout the years. It’s part of the African culture, it’s part of us”, she continues. Ronke, founder of BWL agency observed a growth in the love for Nike since last summer. “Obviously with the release and the success of the Nigerian jersey, you see the Swoosh more and more everywhere. That was a campaign that really resonated and connected with everybody from the emerging middle class and the less advantaged ones. Everybody loved the campaign and the jersey was on fire”. I talked to Ronke five months after the world cup in which the Nigerian national football team, the Super Eagles, performed well- but didn't make it to the finals. Yet the jersey was, and is, still very popular. At Balogun market, Lekki art centre, in the streets of Lagos- the jersey is sold everywhere in different types of counterfeits versions. Some look like the original ones- others are highly copied. “Ever since I was little I feel that Nike has been a strong brand in Lagos, we even celebrate the counterfeit ones. We really love Nike for a very long time” Wavy the Creator, recording artist and allround creative, tells in one breath. “The swoosh, I don’t know. We just put it everywhere…”

In two weeks time I will continue my research in Lagos. I want to find out what the Swoosh means to Lagosians. I want to know why they mark their belongings, why they wear the counterfeits and what the meaning is of that one symbol- not the brand that it represents, but the symbol of greatness.