Nike’s world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, spans nearly 300 acres and dozens of enormous edifices—including the just-opened Serena Williams Building, officially the largest structure in the state, clocking in at more than a million square feet. But tucked away amidst all the imposing corporate sprawl, you’ll find the campus’s beating creative heart: Blue Ribbon Studio, an off-the-wall workshop where the Swoosh’s design minds retreat to play around with different mediums, recharge their imaginations, and just get weird in the pursuit of their next big idea.
Named for Nike’s original moniker (the company started as Blue Ribbon Sports), the studio is an ode to the kind of hands-on tinkering that led co-founder Bill Bowerman to some of the brand’s greatest early innovations (like the running soles he originally crafted using his wife’s waffle iron). Anyone who’s ever spent time in a high school art room will recognize the vibes, from the metal stools to the big wooden drafting tables to the glut of materials and supplies stacked in every corner. Chances are, though, your tenth-grade art teacher didn’t have access to a budget the size of Nike’s—hence the state-of-the-art 3D printers, presses for screenprinting, laser cutters, and dip dye stations.
While visiting the campus for our feature on Nike’s 50 greatest sneaker collaborations for GQ‘s September issue, photographer Michael Schmelling also fixed his lens on Blue Ribbon Studio. Here’s an inside look at the place where so many of those collaborations first took shape, providing the initial spark or crucial design breakthrough for some of the most hyped sneakers of all time.