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Nike, Harvard Enter Into Apparel Deal

To some, swoosh logo symbolizes oppressive labor policies

By Eugenia V. Levenson, Crimson Staff Writer

The Nike swoosh made its debut at the Coop several weeks ago when the store introduced a new line of Harvard-wear produced by the Nike Corporation. Many T-shirts, hats and other athletic retail apparel adorned with Harvard’s name will now include the ubiquitous swoosh symbol directly below the usual logo.

The new line—the result of a year-long process initiated by the Nike corporation—is selling well, according to Coop President Jerry T. Murphy ’73.

“Nike is a terrific brand,” Murphy said. “We were interested in Nike as a vendor because of the popularity of the brand and how well the logos look on the apparel.”

The athletic brand first applied for the trademark license in the summer of 2000 and secured it this summer. Under the agreement, Nike has permission from the Harvard University Trademark Program to use the Harvard name and shield, as long as the designs are approved by the Trademark Program.

“It’s simply allowing Nike to produce a sweatshirt with the Harvard name on it, and that’s it,” said Kevin Scully, who oversees US trademark licensing for the Harvard University Trademark Program. “There is no implied endorsement, sponsorship or anything else.”

Nike’s labor practices have previously come under fire at campuses across the nation, including this one as well as the University of Michigan and Stanford University campuses. But Scully said Harvard is satisfied with Nike’s active participation and membership in the Fair Labor Association.

Benjamin L. McKean ’02, a member of the Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) which has previously spoken out against Nike’s labor policies, said he had not heard about the Nike-Harvard appparel deal but was nevertheless concerned about their business partnership.

“Nike’s human rights abuses are numerous and documented,” McKean said. “And Harvard itself has documented human rights abuses that take place in factories that already produce Harvard apparel. Clearly a contract with Nike is not a step towards solving problems that exist in these factories.”

According to Scully, “extensive discussions” between Nike and the office of the General Counsel ensued after issues of sweatshops and labor conditions arose during the license application process. He said the University was ultimately satisfied with the corporation’s labor policies.

“Certainly I support, as does the trademark office and the General Counsel’s office, all efforts to work towards improving working conditions of people around the world,” Scully said.

Murphy said he felt confident that the Trademark Office would not license a manufacturer with a questionable labor record to produce Harvard clothing. As for whether students will agree, Scully said he could not speculate on any possible backlash.

“Each and every consumer who walks into the Coop will vote with their wallet,” Scully said.

Nike’s prominent presence in the Coop’s athletic apparel section will not spill over into corporate endorsement of the Harvard Athletic Department, said Director of Athletics Robert L. Scalise.

“Nike has agreed to put athletic retail apparel in the Coop, but that’s very different than the athletic apparel worn by teams representing the University,” Scalese said.

In the past, the athletic department has opposed the full-fledged corporate sponsorship that is common policy at both athletic powerhouses and other Ivy League universities. Scalise said the possibility of an endorsement is “on the list of potential things we might look at, but it’s not in the top ten.”

“The fact that the Coop chose Nike has little bearing on what anyone else decides to do,” Scalise said. “There’s been no phone calls to my office from Nike about this.”

While other colleges look at trademark licensing as a source of revenue, Scully said Harvard’s main priority is to protect the trademark. Other schools have been known to license anything from food products to caskets, Scully said, but Harvard limits trademark licensing to “traditional college products,” such as apparel and gift items.

“Harvard has the most conservative college trademark license in the country,” Scully said. “There is actually very little that we do license.”

As one of hundreds of companies to license the Harvard name and shield, Nike is bound to a standard trademark license agreement that requires the company to pay $125 in annual administrative fees, advance royalty ranging from $100 to $1,000, royalty rates of 7.5% wholesale and 3.75% retail, and to submit quarterly royalty reports. In addition, Nike submitted artwork designs as well as a list of products as part of its application process last summer, and the trademark office reserves the right to review and refuse designs they deem to be inappropriate for the trademark name. Nike will be selling its products directly to the Coop.

—Staff writer Eugenia V. Levenson can be reached at levenson@fas.harvard.edu.

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