Last week, athletic footwear and apparel giant Nike (NYSE:NKE) announced its first shoe targeted toward a particular ethnicity by unveiling the "Nike Air Native N7" for American Indians. I found the development interesting on a number of fronts, and I have the ideal spokesperson for the new brand.

Nike's announcement could signal a new step in its product-development ambitions. Traditionally, it has designed footwear for particular activities -- tennis, football, golf, running, even lacrosse. The fact that the industry had to develop a "cross-training" category, which about.com tells me is necessary for when an athlete steps outside his or her "primary sport," suggests that it is in dire need of new markets for its products.

What better way to branch out than to "address the specific fit and width requirements for the Native American foot" -- not to mention the other groups that could also potentially benefit from specialized designs that might not be readily available in the current marketplace? And as a fan of and shareholder in Nike, this demonstrates to me that the company hasn't lost sight of what has turned it into one of the world's most ubiquitous and valuable apparel brands: a focus on improving individual athletic performance, whether by sport, geography, or now nationality.

A recent Wall Street Journal article covered the developments of rookie pitching phenom Justin Chamberlain. I think if the company really wants the Air Native to take off, it should immediately sign "Joba the Heat" as its star athlete. He apparently has quite a fast ball and is one of the most touted American Indian baseball players ever, with a catchy nickname adapted from a character in Star Wars.

The article also highlighted that Major League Baseball could be "the most ethnically diverse of all major sports," and Nike's recent shoe brand could put it in the lead as a versatile provider of shoes designed for a particular ethnicity. It will be interesting to see if the idea catches on, especially with competitors such as Reebok, Sketchers (NYSE:SKX), or K-Swiss (NASDAQ:KSWS).    

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Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann is long shares of Nike, but has no financial interest in any other company mentioned. Feel free to email him with feedback or to discuss any companies mentioned further. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.