Naked Against Nike

To beat the swoosh, one has to think like the swoosh.

As noted in Westword feature "Sole Survivor", some people -- known as sneakerheads -- are crazy about their Nikes. Others, however, are as crazy about Nike in another way -- crazy about the shoe company's spotty labor and environmental practices. Many of these activists have found success combating these practices by using the same media-savvy marketing techniques employed by the big swoosh.

For example, tomorrow, Thursday, February 15, students at the University of Colorado at Boulder will host "Behind the Swoosh: Sweatshops and Social Justice." The two-hour, multi-media presentation, to be held in Ramaley C250 at 7 p.m., will chronicle two activists' travails while living for a month in an Indonesian factory workers' slum on $1.25 a day, typical Nike subcontractor wages. It's heady, attention-grabbing stuff on its own, but the local sponsors decided to up the ante by holding a promotional event they've titled "Nothing but the swoosh!" That's right: Today from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in front of the bookstore at the University Memorial Center, students will be essentially naked, save for Nike boxes or just swooshes covering their naughty bits (where does one find swoosh-shaped pasties?). It will all be accompanied by a slogan that would make Madison Avenue proud: "If you want to see what's behind the swoosh, come to the presentation tomorrow night."

"We definitely don't want to compromise ourselves, but at the same time we know what we have to do to get media attention," says Claudia Ebel, a member of the Coalition Against Sweatshop Abuses, the student group sponsoring the presentation. CU sweatshop activists have always known what to do to attract the fickle gaze of the local media. In their multi-year battle to improve the labor practices behind the university's licensed apparel, Nike and otherwise, they've discovered that the clever, headline- and attention-grabbing techniques Nike uses to sell shoes can be subverted to promote their own progressive cause. There have been hunger strikes, tent cities in the middle of campus, a corporate crime-fighting chicken mascot—all of which have helped force the gun-shy administration to accede to many of their demands.

CU's sweatshop record is still far from perfect, says Ebel, and so the marketing campaigns will continue. Next up: a glitzy sweat-free Fair Trade fashion show, to be held on campus in March.

So which event will probably get more media coverage: the sweatshop presentation tomorrow or the naked promotional event for it today? One doesn't have to be a Nike PR whiz to figure that out. — Joel Warner