Originally founded in Beaverton, Oregon in 1964, Nike has grown to become the biggest, most dominant player in the world of athletic apparel.
Created by Phil Knight, a former college track runner, and Bill Bowerman, Knight’s university coach (and coach of Team USA’s Olympic track team), the company originally began importing Onitsuka track shoes from Japan under the name Blue Ribbon sports.
They officially became Nike in 1971, and in 1972 began manufacturing their first pair of sports shoes, the Cortez track shoe.
From those humble beginnings, Nike experienced years of strong growth that led it to its current perch as a multinational behemoth and global market leader with worldwide revenue of $10.36 billion.
Today they not only dominate footwear sales, but rank at or near the top of most categories within the global sports apparel market.
They’re also easily the most well known sports apparel brand on the planet thanks to their smart marketing strategies and athlete endorsement deals with professional players like Michael Jordan, Roger Federer, Tiger Woods and (many) more.
But while the “Just Do It” brand may be the biggest sports apparel company in the world, it’s far from the only game in town. (Pun very much intended.)
Over the past few years, a slew of new manufacturers using the direct-to-consumer model have joined longstanding athletic apparel rivals, increasing competition as they present consumers with ever more choices.
In this post we’ve rounded up new and established brands alike to break down 25 of the world’s top Nike competitors.
Who Are Nike’s Competitors?
Breaking Down the Brands That
Just Also Do It
Number one with a bullet, German manufacturer Adidas is unquestionably the biggest Nike competitor and its closest rival globally.
It was the leading brand in sneakers before Nike founder Phil Knight entered the athletic footwear industry, only to see him eventually overtake much of its market share (first in the American market, then internationally).
Today Adidas vs Nike is probably the single biggest rivalry in athletic apparel, as the Adidas Group competes in pretty much all of the categories that Nike is in, from shoes and workout gear to athleisure and professional sports jerseys.
Originally both a Nike competitor and an Adidas competitor, Reebok was actually bought out by Adidas in 2005 in its ongoing efforts to compete with the juggernaut Nike has become.
Since then, Reebok has continued to operate as a sub-brand under the larger Adidas umbrella, competing in many of the same categories as both Nike and the main Adidas brand.
Once known as one of the leading sports footwear brands, today the Boston-based company specializes in fitness and running apparel.
Up until very recently it had a particular focus on Crossfit, the intense fitness regimen founded by Greg Glassman, for which Reebok served as the primary sponsor until 2020.
Founded in the mid-’90s by Kevin Plank, Under Armour still feels kind of like the new kid on the block when it comes to Nike’s top competitors, especially when compared to Adidas and Reebok, both of which have been around for decades longer.
As its name implies, Under Armour started by making thin, sweat-wicking performance apparel you could wear under other clothes and athletic equipment, then expanded into many of the same categories Nike is in today, including footwear, casual apparel, sports equipment and more.
One of the oldest athletic brands still in operation today, New Balance was originally founded way back in 1906 as the New Balance Arch Support Company.
Unlike many other major manufacturers of sports footwear and athletic apparel, New Balance still manufacturers some of its apparel in the United States, which both supports the American economy and allows them to keep a close eye on product quality.
That’s one reason why sneakers like the popular 990 model are more expensive than the shoes you might get from Adidas or another top competitor of Nike.
Champion is an iconic American sportswear brand that’s almost as old as New Balance, dating back to 1919 when it was originally founded as the Knickerbocker Knitting Co. (I’m no rebranding expert, but I feel like the name change was a good call.)
Though its mission and offerings have evolved over the years, Champion has long been known as a supplier of official jerseys for major sports franchises, having produced jerseys for the NBA, NFL, U.S. Olympic teams and many others over the years.
Today they’re not as well known for their performance wear, but have enjoyed something of a resurgence as people have embraced old-school athletic gear like the tees, hoodies and sweatshirts they’ve long been known for.
(Their slim fit jersey sweatpants made my list of the best men’s joggers, as did the lightweight pair they made in collaboration with designer Todd Snyder.)
Another German brand, many North Americans might be surprised to learn that Puma is one of Nike’s biggest competitors worldwide in terms of market share.
Though not as popular stateside, it’s actually the third largest sportswear brand on the planet, behind only giants Nike and Adidas, and is a direct competitor of both.
In fact, Puma and Adidas were founded by the same family. Puma came first, founded in 1948 by Rudolf Dassler, who brought his brother Adolf “Adi” Dassler into the fold early on.
But the two brothers had a big falling out and eventually decided to split the company in half, with Rudolf Dassler retaining the name Puma for his half, and Adi Dassler essentially naming his new company after himself:
“Adidas” is a portmanteau of his name, Adi Dassler, and not – as rumor had it back in sixth grade – an anagram for “All Day I Dream About Sex.”
Technically Converse is no longer a Nike competitor – they’re a Nike subsidiary, after the swoosh company bought the star company in 2003.
But for decades prior, Converse was one of the leaders in the U.S. athletic footwear market, and one of Nike’s chief rivals.
Today their focus is geared more toward skating shoes and the kind of alternative styles you’d find at stores like Hot Topic, epitomized by their flagship Chuck Taylor All-Stars, which started as a basketball shoe but has been embraced by skaters and punk rockers for years.
Originally founded back in 1911 by Italian brothers Ettore and Giansevero Fila, today Fila is based in South Korea after Fila Korea, its Korean affiliate, purchased the whole company in 2007.
The Fila brothers were originally focused on making underwear for skiers and other people in the Italian Alps, and the company only expanded into sportswear in the 1970s. Like Nike, Fila adopted a strategy of sponsoring well known athletes, starting with tennis player Björn Borg.
But unlike Nike, Fila never really expanded its roster of athletes much beyond tennis (though notable exceptions include basketball players Grant Hill and Jerry Stackhouse).
And today their most famous signing ambassadors aren’t athletes at all: in 2019 they signed the global phenomenon K-Pop band BTS to be their newest endorsers.
Another brand associated closely with tennis, K-Swiss was founded in 1966 by Los Angeles-based Swiss brothers Art and Ernie Brunner.
It has the rare distinction of being a heritage American tennis brand with a distinctly European flare, which toda happens to be owned by a Chinese sportswear company that’s based in Hong Kong. (Got all that?)
Their focus is narrower than some of the other brands on this list, specializing primarily in sport shoes, though in recent years they’ve tried to distinguish themselves from other Nike competitors by doing promotions with decidedly non-athletic spokespeople:
In 2016 it decided to “make sneakers for entrepreneurs,” teaming with popular entrepreneur and social media personality Gary Vaynerchuk, and in 2019 it released a shoe inspired by – of all things – the RV/meth lab from Breaking Bad.
Vancouver-based Lululemon Athletica doesn’t make shoes, but they compete with Nike in the worlds of athletic apparel, athleisure and casual wear.
The brand started in 1998 with a focus on yoga pants and other yoga clothing aimed primarily at women, before expanding to offer performance wear and athletic clothing for both women and men in just about every category, including shirts, shorts, pants, accessories and more.
Known as much for their outerwear as for their sportswear and athletic apparel, Columbia was founded back in 1938 in Washington County, Oregon, not far from where Phil Knight would eventually set up Nike headquarters in Beaverton, OR a few decades later.
Columbia originally made its name on breathable, waterproof jackets that featured an interchangeable shell – a novelty at the time, which led to big sales and rapid growth when the company switched from being a hat maker to a sportswear manufacturer in the 1960s.
Based in Japan and traded publicly on the Tokyo stock market, Asics is a pretty close Nike competitor that offers products in many of the same core categories, including footwear, athletic apparel and accessories.
Interestingly, Asics actually began its life as Onitsuka Co., which manufactured the famous Tiger sneaker in the 1960s. As Nike founder Phil Knight relates in his memoir Shoe Dog, he was so impressed with the shoe that he started Blue Ribbon Sports, which later became Nike, to serve as the American sales rep for Onitsuka stateside.
The two companies eventually had a falling out and parted ways, after which Onitsuka merged with two other companies to form Asics in 1977.
Specializing in comfortable shoes of all varieties, Skechers is a California-based company founded in 1992 by Robert Greenberg, the same guy who created LA Gear, one of the most popular shoe brands of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
While Skechers does make some lifestyle apparel, their main competition for Nike comes from their footwear, which has always been their focus/specialty. And while Nike might be the bigger (and arguably much more successful) company, Skechers isn’t afraid to take the fight right to them:
In 2019 they created an ad campaign called Just Blew It, which reminded everyone of basketball phenom (and sponsored Nike athlete) Zion Williamson’s famous shoe fail, when his foot went right through his Nikes, causing him to sprain his knee—and Nike’s share price to drop by $1.1 billion the very next day.
Although much lesser known in North America, China-based Anta Sports, originally known as Anta Footwear Company Ltd., had the third-highest total revenues of any athletic apparel company in the world in 2019.
Anta makes and markets sports apparel and accessories bearing its own name and logo across pretty much every major category.
And like Nike, they also own a wide variety of sub-brands that might be more familiar to North Americans, including the Arc’teryx product line, Louisville Slugger and dozens more.
Though infinitely smaller than Nike, Public Rec has made a splash in the activewear and athleisure categories by selling stylish, comfortable clothes using the direct-to-consumer model.
(Which means they focus on selling clothes through their own website, rather than selling it to department stores or other intermediaries, who mark the price up before selling it to you and me).
Though they started with a focus solely on men’s activewear, they recently expanded into a line of womenswear, and continue to offer more shirts, jackets, pants, shorts and other offerings each year.
- I’ve put a number of Public Rec pieces to the test. Click here to check out the results of my full, in-depth Public Rec review.
Another Chinese sportswear company, this one was started by former Olympic gymnast Li Ning, who founded the company (and named it after himself) in 1990.
Though the company is much more popular in China than in other markets, NBA fans may be familiar with it thanks to the league’s conscious effort to grow the sport in the Chinese market.
In addition to being an official partner of the league, Li-Ning has sponsored many NBA players over the years, with its two most notable ambassadors being Shaq and Dwayne Wade.
A legendary brand in the worlds of both skateboarding and punk rock, Vans makes skate shoes and other apparel for skateboarding and snowboarding.
(But they might be best known for sponsoring the Vans Warped Tour music festival, which was the longest running concert series in America before it halted in 2019.)
Vans earns its place on the list of competitors to Nike thanks to its famous skate shoes, which, like many of Nike’s sneakers, transcended the sport they were created for.
As a result, Vans have become a staple among pop-punk fans and those who embrace Southern California skating and surfing culture.
A UK-based fitness and apparel brand, Gymshark is one of the newer entries on this list, having been founded in 2012.
Co-founder Ben Francis started making sportswear and athletic apparel in 2013, sewing made-to-order garments on a sewing machine in his parents’ garage, before the company’s luxe tracksuits became a hit at a British sports expo and quickly went viral.
From there the company expanded into all manner of fitness apparel and accessories, and today is worth nearly one billion British pounds.
Arguably a closer competitor to brands like Lululemon and other yoga-focused companies, Alo’s gear still competes with Nike, since it can be worn for just about any athletic endeavour.
Like other yoga-centric brands, Alo’s primary focus is on the women’s athleticwear market, though they also carry a wide variety of products for men, along with yoga related accessories like mats and bags.
Another running shoe company headquartered in the Pacific Northwest, Brooks has been around since 1914, but went bankrupt and almost went out of business in the early ‘80s.
In 2001 they shifted their focus away from being a broad manufacturer of athletic apparel to focus more narrowly on high-performance running shoes.
The gambit worked, winning Brooks praise from major sports publications like Runners World and Sports Illustrated, and helping Brooks earn 25% market share in the specialty running shoe category of the sports footwear market in 2017.
Another Chinese sports gear manufacturer that focuses more on international markets than the U.S., Xtep is actually a conglomerate that owns multiple athletic apparel brands, including the aforementioned K-Swiss, along with Palladium, Saucony and Merrell.
While Xtep manufacturers and markets sports equipment and athletic apparel across pretty much all categories, it made a deliberate push into the running market back in 2015, and has since become the single biggest corporate sponsors of marathons in Mainland China.
Originally founded as Vanity Fair Mills all the way back in 1899, VF owns multiple apparel and equipment brands across three broad categories – “outdoor,” “active” and “work” – including well known names like Timberland, North Face, Jansport and more.
While VF does compete with Nike in the activewear category, they’re full portfolio is broader, as Nike has little if any presence in the work and outdoor categories.
Another upstart direct-to-consumer brand, San Francisco-based Rothy’s began life as a women’s shoe company in 2016, before adding handbags (and more recently, masks) to its roster in 2020.
In addition to modern styles, Rothy’s distinguishes itself from Nike competitors and other shoe companies by focusing on sustainability; its shoes are made from recyclable materials, and the company aims to have a fully closed loop production system in place by 2023.
One of the most successful examples of a direct-to-consumer shoe company, Allbirds debuted in 2016 with a running shoe made from superfine New Zealand merino wool, and like Rothy’s has since made sustainability a core part of its philosophy and mission.
Today the company has expanded beyond shoes and offers sustainable athletic wear for both men and women, including tees, sweaters and jackets, along with accessories like socks and underwear.
Toms began life as a shoe company when it was founded in 2006 by Blake Mycoskie, a former contestant on The Amazing Race, and immediately distinguished itself with its “one for one” model, in which it promised to deliver one pair of shoes to a child in need for every one pair it sold.
Today both the company’s offerings and its mission have expanded well beyond shoes: they now sell eyewear, apparel and accessories like handbags in addition to shoes, and claim to commit one third of their profits to “grassroots good.”
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