Our perceptions of bodies, identities, and others have totally been reinvented by the global social and cultural shifts of recent years. It has all happened at a breathtaking pace – with platforms and voices emerging globally after decades of activism, initiatives and artists advocating for change. There has been a dividing debate around standing behind these movements or to hinder them. Luckily, in the fashion industry, some brands – whose core values have always aligned on movements – are putting their resources in the right places.
Nike is, for one, not going to stand for slowness. With Nike Women, the global activewear brand is setting its priorities: having the voices of women* globally at the forefront is a key development. Laying out plans in Paris during a two-day immersion in their vision, product and design innovations, Nike brought a concrete reality to the table. That of making their platform a motor for change. Through panel talks, workshops, workout and styling sessions, Nike Women presented a clear position, led by women who are responsible for spearheading this movement.
“We feel a responsibility as a brand to not only serve change, but also to create a product that continues to perpetuate a change. This means change that allows women to feel seen and reflect back the global shifts that we’re seeing,” explained Liz Weldon, VP of Nike’s Global Women’s Brand Management, as she walked us through the changes that Nike Women is bringing about. “Since the last World Cup, we’ve doubled our investments in womens’ innovations. The why is because women are truly standing up, and we want to actually accelerate the pace of progress that we’re seeing. We want to be the biggest champion of women’s voices, we do have a great platform to lift women’s voice’s up. We can be a fire starter behind all of this – and we can make it go faster.”
The world of sportswear has conventionally looked at men’s performances and men’s way of moving as the universal neutral when designing. Women have had to literally step into men’s shoes, without having access to sportswear that takes notice of the specificities of different bodies. During the two-day immersion the message was clear: to empower women, we need to listen to women’s needs, and to heed to how they move – IRL, not just in some idealised, marketing-friendly vision.
This can be translated concretely in accelerations in Nike Women’s presence on and off the pitch. The focus is on women’s bodies and needs, by backing athletes or initiatives, and of choosing to back key players in the changes in the way sports and movement are contemplated. Nike Women invited trail coach Dora Atim, founder of Ultra Black Running, to speak at the event about the needs of black women and non-binary people in running, for example. Atim was joined by athletes such as B-Girl Jilou, who is an Olympian hopeful breakdancer championing the dance form globally. Speaking to Schön!, Jilou explained how the ascension of the dance style to global platforms was a crucial process in making movement available to everyone, especially women. Having entered the Olympics as an official sport, the world of breaking has been turned on its head, and Nike played a key role in providing the support the dancers needed: “Nike has more female breaking athletes than male athletes, which is unusual because breaking isn’t usually considered a ‘female’ sport,” Jilou tells us. “Breaking is a very masculine sport. Nike offers female athletes a very big platform – and amplifies their voices. That’s a statement. As breakers, we are happy that brands are picking up on supporting breakers, because we feel that a lot of us are actually transmitting messages.”
Jilou, who hails from Berlin, migrated from gymnastics to breaking in 2006. She explains that the global changes have been reflected in the world of break dancing, with women rising to prominence in the space: “Ever since we have had access to this platform, the level of women has gotten so much better, so fast, because we can see what is happening and we can see the levels of other girls too. It makes you think, ‘Hey, if she can do – maybe I can do it too’.”
Design is an obvious starting point, with fit being at the heart of all the products coming out of Nike Women. Liz Weldon explained that when she took on this new role at Nike Women was, first of all, that of listening. She spent time hearing directly from women what was missing in sportswear for them. The main question that arose was that of feeling invisible – of not being seen. “Fit is really important. And inclusivity within sizing is part of what we’re developing, and making sure that we’re truly serving all women, all shapes, all sizes, all journeys.”
Tania Flynn, Nike’s VP of Apparel Product Design, chimed in to explain that product innovations are key to accompanying changes: “What I love about what’s been happening in society is that shift around bodies. It’s not just about inclusivity, but also it’s about being ‘body bold’. If you want to show off your body and have that positivity, that’s cool – regardless of your size. Some people prefer being covered in layers of fabric, whereas other people want to be a little bit more body con. For us to be truly inclusive, it’s up to us to provide those options, and to recognise and cater for the full spectrum.”
One design innovation is Nike Leak Protection: Period, an invisible textile innovation that is an ultrathin, absorbent liner that protects against period leaks, so people who menstruate can avoid leaks, whether at professional level or simply on a job, allowing them to enjoy sport with an easy mind.
Sportswear with hidden functionalities is just one part of the innovations – Nike also released the Motiva shoe during its Paris residency, with a new sole design conceived to facilitate movement in walking, jogging and running. A sole designed with a curve ensures that impact is absorbed, so that every step is absorbed and accompanied. The Cushlon 3.0 technology and ComfortGroove bumps on the sole are all designed to facilitate movement.
Bringing our chat to an end, Jilou closed on a vision that echoed everything that Nike Women had narrated, both directly and indirectly through the athletes and visionaries that had been invited to the event: “Something that we have to realise is how big the responsibility that we’re taking really is – we’re creating opportunities for the next generations and we have to be really careful about which opportunities we’re taking and which opportunities we’re staying away from, because they might be good right now but not good for the future,” she explained. True vision comes with great responsibility – something Nike Women is here to take on. “We need to adapt to the responsibility that we’re carrying right now.”
We’ve had a preview of changes and designs to come – and we can spoil that this is only the beginning for Nike Women.
Discover more here.
words. Patrick Clark