Woman wearing Nike sneakers

Nike Proclaims This Its Year for Women

Brand Finance, the London-based valuation and strategy consultancy, is out with its top 50 list of the world’s most valuable fashion brands. While luxury brands, including watch, jewelry and fashion accessories brands, lead the list in numbers, holding 27 of the top 50 slots, Nike remains the fashion industry leader in brand value.

The athletic and sportswear giant, valued at a whopping $32.4 billion, leaves number two Zara ($18.4 billion) and number three Adidas ($16.7 billion) in the dust. Richard Haigh, managing director Brand Finance, credits Nike’s “bold marketing” and its values-based messaging as key to its continued hold on apparel’s number one slot.

Nike stands for something and as a result it stands out. With its iconic swoosh logo and its collaboration with world-class athletes, like Michael Jordan, Nike has transcended from an aspirational brand–“I want to be an athlete like MJ”–to an inspirational brand–“I want to be the best athlete I can be.”

Last year Nike took a bold stand in support of Colin Kaepernick in its “Dream Crazy” campaign, which alienated some but inspired many others. Regardless, its sales were reported to have risen the weekend following the ads’ release.

It continued that theme on Oscar night in launching a “Dream Crazier” campaign spotlighting women’s exceptional athletic performance. Launched for the Academy Awards and to continue through this summer’s Women’s World Cup soccer tournament in France, the commercial was narrated by Serena Williams, and featured world-class athletes’ struggle to achieve against incredible odds including Williams, Simone Biles, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Chloe Kim and members of the US Women’s National Soccer Team.

Calling out the double standard for women in sports, Williams says, “If we show emotion, we’re called dramatic. If we want to play against men, we’re nuts. And if we dream of equal opportunity, delusional.”

Behind her narration, the ad captures women athletes in moments that would be accepted, even expected in male athletes. Williams ends by challenging women to “show them what crazy can do.”ADVERTISEMENT

2019 marks a turning point for women athletes and Nike

After nearly 50 years of supporting women in sports and being an early supporter of Title IX, Rosemary St. Clair, VP and GM Nike Women, explains the company originally defined women athletes and athletics in a narrower context around team sports and individual sports like gymnastics, tennis and running.

But now the company sees its role as inspiring women to any and all athletic performance which is critical to their identity and self-esteem.

“Today, we are at a turning point for women in sport,” St. Clair wrote in a statement. “The definition of sport has broadened overall; we recognize that the same lessons in self-esteem and confidence that come from participation in traditional sports also come from yoga, boutique fitness, functional fitness and so much more. We see superhuman ability not only in elite athletes, but in the efforts of our peers.”

Nike helping women to “Just Do It”

Empowering women athletes takes more than just inspired marketing, however. It takes merchandise and Nike is pivoting to give her more of what she needs to perform at her peak.

New product development starts with research, and not just market research, but the scientific kind. The Nike Explore Team Sport Research Lab combines disciplines including biomechanics, physiology, biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering, physics, math, kinesiology and systems science, to understand the science behind athletic performance. With women’s bodies structurally different from men, Nike is now going full tilt to understand those different dynamics and design them into the products it develops for women.

An important innovation for Nike’s global footprint in this increasingly diverse world is the introduction of the world’s first Pro Hijab for Muslim athletes. Developed and tested with both elite and everyday hijab-wearing athletes, champion fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad said, “The Nike Pro Hijab will help advance the conversation around hijabs and Muslim women in sports and further make sports an inclusive space.”

Sports bras are another special need for female athletes and Nike has that covered too. It created a Motion Adapt Bra that is described as “hyper-adaptive” and “super comfortable.” It has technology designed in its core, with a special fabric that is soft and flexible during low-impact activity but becomes more supportive as activity gets more intense. Nicole Rendone, design director for Nike bras and innovation, describes it as similar to how a seatbelt works.

“If you pull the front of the bra very slowly, you will feel the adaptive fabric moving with your hands,” Rendone explains. “But if you pull it very quickly and with force, the fabric will resist movement by locking out, feeling almost hard. And that quality—that it doesn’t move during high-velocity movement—is the major benefit when it comes to support.”

Nike is also embracing active women in all sizes, offering a Plus Size collection from 1X to 3X, and bras up to 44G.

Nike has only scratched the surface marketing to women

In Nike’s most recent 2Q19 earnings call, Mark Parker, chairman, CEO and president, declared 2019 will be its year for women. “ We think 2019 is going to be a true tipping point for women in sport, with more participation, more coverage , and overall, more energy.”

Recognizing that women’s footwear and apparel globally is one-and-one-half times larger than men’s, according to Andy Champion, Nike’s EVP and CFO, the company reported it only generates about one-fourth of its revenue in women’s wear. The Nike team plans to change that.

“We aim to redefine and expand the definition of sport, that is with a sharp focus on women. Similar to the strong returns we’re seeing from having doubled our investment in innovation, we see the potential for asymmetrical returns, by editing and more aggressively shifting resources towards our Women’s business,” Champion said.

Nike’s focus on women is producing strong results. “Women’s business grew double-digits in Q2, but we see step change growth opportunities ahead by serving women more deeply within classifications and across more occasions for her,” Champion continued.

Thanks to Nike’s awakening to the huge potential in women athletics and sportswear and its investment in learning more about her special needs, next year Nike may even top this past year’s 16% gain in brand value according to Brand Finance’s calculation and put more distance between itself and the number two.

“There’s incredible momentum for women in sport right now as athletes, elite and every day, lead a movement of health and wellness, while driving a strong appetite for athletic footwear and apparel,” Parker exclaimed.

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