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Matthew S. Vos

Abstract

Nike’s global dominance in the athletic shoe and sports apparel market is without serious rival. Its current worth stands at $32.4 billion worldwide. Nike manufactures through an “export-processing system,” where the intellectual work of design and marketing takes place in the US and the labor-intensive assembly work takes place in hundreds of factories spread throughout Asia. Consequently, most Nike labor comes from young Asian women who typically work 10-13 hours per day with frequent forced overtime, and who earn around 50% of the wage required to meet subsistence needs. Nike’s cultural hegemony and “hip” image gains traction through celebrated athletes of color who enchant the public and powerfully showcase the company’s products. Using ideas from W. E. B. Du Bois, as well as Immanuel Wallerstein’s world-systems theory, this essay draws attention to the relationship between the women of color who work in Nike’s factories and big sport – in particular the athletes who profit greatly from Nike endorsements. The focus falls on how some exceptional athletes of color offer, perhaps unwittingly, a potent legitimation for a glitzy industry that is inextricable from the exploited labor and lives of girls and women of color – the unseen strangers who make our shoes.

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Keywords

Nike, strangers, sport, capitalist world-system, meta-national corporations, supply chains, export-processing, endorsements

Section
Articles