Following the launch of its “Dream Crazier” campaign last month, Nike continued to put women front and center on Monday night in a global event unveiling its official Women’s World Cup 2019 kits.
Taking place at Palais Brongniart, the monumental evening brought together some of Nike’s most powerful female athletes as well as influential names in fashion such as Virgil Abloh, Jerry Lorenzo, Naomi Campbell, Yoon Ahn, and Koché designer Christelle Kocher, under one roof to showcase not only the new kits, but also the brand- and worldwide effort that Nike is powering to elevate all women in sport.
The evening opened with a runway show featuring 15 of the world’s top athletes, 28 professional football players, and models wearing the 14 federation's home and away kits, alongside Spring/Summer 2019 training wear and one-off collaboration pieces. The grand reveal of World Cup kits is always an anticipated moment in the build-up to the global competition (remember the 2018 Nigeria jersey that sold out in minutes), but this year had a more poignant note as it was the first time the women's football teams were getting their own dedicated design.
Until now, most women's World Cup kits were heavily informed by their male counterpart’s designs. In the ongoing push to better serve women, this year Nike decided to start from scratch, spending countless hours working with female athletes and using the most advanced innovations such as 4D mapping to create garments that will move and support a female's physique as they play at the World Cup.
Although this is a turning point for the brand, Nike has never been afraid to put women in the spotlight – the iconic Swoosh was even designed by Carolyn Davidson a female design student. The brand also heavily backed the ‘72 US legislation Title IX, which abolished sex-based discrimination in sports education, and the following year, the Swoosh introduced women’s size runs in footwear – a small yet significant step at a time when the definition of sport was much less broad. Add to that a string of bold campaign slogans in the ‘90s such as “I’m not just happy to be here” as well as the famous “the List” advertisement campaign, which featured in women’s magazines listing all the body modification solutions women are taught to consider through popular media, and you begin to see that this is a brand that has always had an understanding of women.
Now, over 50 years on and Nike is taking its devotion to women athletes to a whole new level. Alongside its marketing efforts, the brand has promoted women into leading senior roles, is investing in female grassroots initiatives and in women’s innovation, and is offering more product than ever before that is designed by, with, and for women.
“It all starts with thoughtful design”, explains Rosemary St. Clair, Global VP and GM of Nike Women. “Using our research lab, talking to the athletes, we learned it was about the cut of the jersey. The men's cut is much broader and lighter, she wants a more female cut. We do our body mapping to make sure that it cuts right where it needs to, that the collar sits as it should. She has nothing to worry about except scoring goals on the field.”
The same investment is occurring in footwear. “The same obsession we have in our labs on apparel, we're doing around footwear. Does she strike the ball differently? When she plants her foot to make her strike, is she gonna do it differently? We're using those same learnings to, for example, make sure that the cleats are placed in the spaces that they need to be for her,” says St. Clair.
Beyond the performance benefits of having a garment that doesn’t flap around but actually supports a woman's body, it’s also – and arguably more importantly – about fostering confidence and recognizing women's athletic worth. A kit is a player’s armor. It unites them with their teammates, it instills pride in their country, and, wearing your country on your back is a reminder of everything you’ve ever worked for and dreamed of.
“We were always given things that were second class to our male counterparts,” USA national federation player Alex Morgan explains. “Now we are finally able to play in our own product and it feels amazing”.
Alex is a FIFA Women's World Cup champion, Olympic gold medalist, and a passionate advocate for gender equality in sport. She's also one of the few female football players that can actually make a decent living from her work. Despite growing up in a country with no professional league, her commitment to the sport has never faltered, even when she was faced with challenges. “Growing up, when someone saw my name was Alex and that I was an athlete it was always assumed that I was a boy,” she says. “I would meet people and they would ask me what I do? I would say: "I play soccer", and they would say: "Yeah, but what else do you do?" I don't get those questions anymore.”
In 2015, she joined newly-established Orlando Pride football team, which she fought to help found. “I wanted to be part of a team of people that believed in women's soccer. These are things that men have never had to fight for, that they don't understand, not the struggles, but the adversity that we face every single day by being a female."
This echoes the message that Nike is sending. Recognizing that not enough has been done and events, such as the grand reveal on Monday night, may seem glitzy on the outside but signify that now is the turning point in an industry where there's still a lot to be done.
"Eventually, you learn that it's a part of who you are," Alex says. "If you're not going to get an equal seat at the table, at least you're going to fight for the next generation to get an equal seat at the table.”