Nike aims to make the 2020s the decade of women’s sport, led by superstars Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, Megan Rapinoe, Billie Eilish and Megan Thee Stallion, as well as everyday athletes.
“There are WNBA viewership records, insane numbers of fans in Europe watching women’s football…there is so much energy in the space,” said Whitney Malkiel, vice president and director. Nike Global Women’s General Manager, during an interview with WWD about the brand’s 50th anniversary.
Nike is the world’s largest women’s footwear and apparel company, with business growing 20% in fiscal year 2021 to $8.5 billion.
More than just an athlete sponsor, Nike believes “if you’ve got a body, go enjoy fitness and movement,” executive said of pivot to greater inclusion of ability and type of body, which led to more innovation in style and comfort. , size and performance apparel for every stage of life, pushes into the maternity and modesty markets and more.
While Nike has taken a beating, including a class action lawsuit alleging gender discrimination at the company, Malkiel, an 18-year veteran of the sportswear giant, believes he is on the right track when he works to support women.
“There’s a consistency across the organization that sees women, women’s sports and apparel as massive growth opportunities for the business,” she said. “It’s not incompatible with what we were able to say three or five years ago. What’s different now…is our commitment to the investment side. We’re backed by the biggest investment we’ve ever made in women, we see it in research, design and sports marketing.
Organizational changes allowed creativity to express itself. “Unlike in the past, the women’s organization can now work across the business; we no longer have categories, we are able to look at the entire portfolio and make decisions,” she said of how the company moved from silos to sports divisions individual.
“What we see selling well is in the comfort and versatility zone,” she said. “Our lifestyle apparel business is doing very well, our classic footwear business, Blazer, Dunk and Air Force One, and now it’s a question of how to size all of these franchises.” (In other words, build them.)
To better serve women, the brand is in the midst of what it calls a “fit revolution.” “We spent so much money studying body shapes, doing 70,000 body scans,” she said. “We look at the relationship between shape and size; where to put reinforcements and trim on 1X to 4XL. The response has been great, she added, mentioning a client email she received from a woman saying she finally felt confident enough in her workout gear to return to the gym. .
Two standout products were bras and leggings, namely the simplification of their classifications to create three new family franchises: Indy, Swoosh and Alate.
“It evolves into three silhouettes that capture her personality, and no matter your cup size, you can be in that style,” she explained, sharing how the same strategy is used in leggings to go from specific to sport to the specific to the feeling. Zenvy, Go and Universa brands.
“Historically we only led with activity, so here’s your running tight, here’s your yoga tight. Now that’s how do you want it to feel tight, do you want it to feel soft or secure” , Malkiel said of the insight that came from listening to female athletes.
On the footwear side, running shoes continue to do well. The Pegasus sneaker has been one of the best performers in retail. So the women’s team worked on creating offerings in that style, offering it as a trail running shoe, winterizing it with Gore-Tex, and creating a version using sustainable materials. “She sees it, gets it, and loves it, so maybe we create multiple uses for it, and provide her with different reasons to buy it. It works well with Peg, and we’ll apply that concept to other franchises. “, she explained.
Nike also continues to innovate in footwear. The Nike Spark shoe was sparked by insight into how much women walk daily and how tired their feet are. “It’s a nice shoe, but at the same time it has a performance platform that gives you energy back so your feet don’t get as tired. So it’s a really interesting mix of lifestyle and performance,” Malkiel said of the design, which promises a pain-free 12-hour day on his feet.
In fashion, the expansion of the Jordan franchise to women, with Jumpman logo bras, shell pants and extended-waist trainers, was also a big hit for the brand. Fiscal 2021 was the biggest year in Jordan brand history, with triple-digit growth among women. “We think there’s a huge opportunity there…they have female designers creating some of their hottest launches,” she said. “It was a strategic move by Jordan that will continue to be in our playbook.”
Nike sees huge potential in women’s sneaker culture, expanding the limited editions launched with Sacai, Comme des Garçons and more. “We’re doing well, but the team thinks so much more about how we unlock and make it really relevant to them.”
That could mean going beyond the Nike Sneakers app, she said. “I think it’s the OG sneakerhead… what we’re seeing is a new opportunity to speak to a whole new set of sneaker culture. We’re trying to evolve this app to be more enjoyable for women. And whether it’s the app or some other future experience, the team is still debating.
“We have to be masters of our own destiny as far as the market is concerned, which is why the Nike Direct push is important for the business, and this is where our physical stores and Nike Live become important. is also how does she want to move through the world from nike.com to brick and mortar, we’re trying to get that journey, including our investment in digital and data and knowing her better than ever,” said she said, noting that digital sales accounted for a third of women’s business last quarter “It’s how to better serve her when it comes to services, products, experiences, support fits- throat, etc., that’s what we’re trying to create so we can get in his way at the right time.”
Brick and mortar is key to the brand’s high-end apparel strategy, and women-only Nike stores aren’t out of the question.
“Everything is at stake; we now have a healthy format in Nike Live, which is 50-50 [men’s to women’s product], and we derive excellent income from it. But I would love to push the team to think about other ideas. We have an amazing product and we want to make sure she knows where to find it and experience it.
The work-from-home sweats aren’t over, at least not for Nike. “Women always like the idea of comfort and versatility. What we see them doing is starting to mix it with something more personalized and structured as they get back out into the world and back to work. We we’re excited to play into this as we move forward.
The Nike-Sacai collaboration featured a skirt and more structured clothing, perhaps a la Gucci x Adidas, is a possibility.
“That’s where we experiment, that’s with our collaborations,” she said, hinting that more names will come this year. “And someone like Billie Eilish can see it in a different way, not just through a female lens, but a genderless lens…”
From pop stars to athletic collaborators, not just winning, but being real and relatable guides Nike’s storytelling.
“Naomi [Osaka] talking about mental health is an example… she talks about her journey to greatness versus her moment of greatness, and she talks about what it takes to get there, which makes it extremely relevant for women,” Malkiel said. “As athletes do it more and more, women’s sport becomes even more relevant. … Our job at Nike is that if we tell these stories, it helps change sport for the better, it makes it more inclusive, attracts new fans and driven new thinking.
Increasingly, brands — including Nike — have been thrust into public discourse on issues of political and social equity, and Malkiel sees gender equity as a value going forward.
“We’re the biggest women’s sports brand in the world, so we have a role to play,” she said. “Gender equity is a big issue and there are a lot of moving parts and it’s systemic. Where I focus our team is where we can have the most impact. to sport and access to participation. We have a role to play because we’re in 12 cities, we have amazing community programs that we invest in, and it’s part of our job to create this platform where girls can go and play sports.
Nike has invested in improving the quality of coaching for teenagers, for example, which has reached 300,000 girls.
“Having been an athlete myself, having played ice hockey in college and being in the early days, it’s considerably better today,” she said. “But there is still a lot to do… We wake up every day thinking how to get girls into sport because we believe there is a lifelong journey on which she benefits. It’s fun to come and work with the team on this every day.
And you have a great collection of sneakers?
“Yes,” she laughs. “There’s that too.”