Basketball legend Lisa Leslie was just 22 when she signed her first contract with Nike in 1994 after graduating from college.
At the time, the 6-foot-5 athlete said Nike’s women’s activewear was pretty limited. It came in black, gray, navy, light blue, and white. “And I said, ‘You don’t have anything in pink?’ So, it’s nice to hear there’s something special now for women,” said the former Los Angeles Sparks team member who recently attended a three-day women’s event. held on the campus of the Nike office in Los Angeles.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Nike plans to spend more time making a better product for women and integrating their needs and goals on and off the court. One of the company’s goals is to help break down barriers that women and girls face in sport.
To do this, the Beaverton, Oregon-based company studies how different female body types move and how to incorporate them into clothing and clothing. Nike’s goal is to make women feel comfortable when they exercise and move. “Nike is steeped in innovation,” said Shannon Glass, vice president and general manager of Nike Direct North America. “We spend a lot of time with women to understand what matters to them.”
The activewear company is also harnessing the power of new digital platforms and apps to make shopping easier and incorporating exercise tips to help women take control of their lives. “Women want the ability to find the right fit, style and fit in their shoes and styles. We’re going to help women find this product faster,” Glass explained.
Nike is also considering ways for women to share their experiences with other athletes. “We are looking at our digital platform and wondering how to make it a community and a space where she feels good and happy?” Glass added.
One of the first big changes for women was the range of Nike sportswear launched two years ago for pregnant women. It’s called Move Like a Mother and the Nike(M) collection takes women through their 48-week pregnancy and postpartum journey while still training and moving.
Nike combed through pregnancy data from more than 150,000 comparative analyzes of non-pregnant women with those of pregnant women. Designers collected extensive feedback on fit, feel and function from nearly 30 pregnant or postpartum female athletes.
This research has led to more generous coverage, leggings cut to fit a belly or not, and specially designed sports bras that allow easy access for breastfeeding.
The program also offers workouts and additional content in the Nike Training Club app to help with health, comfort and movement from early pregnancy through postpartum.
Nike’s first 50
At first, Nike focused on sneakers, mainly for men. But women have become a growing and important consumer for the company. For its three-day event, Nike brought in a handful of retailers who have been pioneers in opening shoe stores. They shared how they’ve seen Nike women’s products change and what they want for the future.
“The fit is so much better,” said Sally Aguirre, who in 1988 opened Sally’s Shoes in El Monte, California. “We are not being pushed into an uncomfortable elementary school shoe. The shoe is cut and fitted for us. I feel like the consumer is getting a lot of what she was looking for.
In the future, she said, female consumers will be looking for fashionable, quality products at an affordable price. Women also want to be able to purchase products online for themselves through stockists, who primarily sell men’s sneakers.
Abby Albino, whose Makeway store in Toronto sells sneakers, streetwear and other merchandise, said succeeding in retail means listening to the customer. Her women-funded, women-owned store makes sure women see themselves in the products on the shelves. That’s why she wears Nike.
An important factor for sports shoes is comfort. “I’m going to think, ‘Can I wear these sneakers to work?'” she explained.
Going forward, Albino would like to see more female executives involved with sneaker companies like Nike. “The sneaker industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and not many women have a seat,” she said. “In the future, more women could impact the culture.”
Jennifer Ford, owner of Premium Goods, a sneaker store in Houston, said she’s seen shoes turn into currency. “A pair of sneakers can get you into a club. You can exchange them for other products,” she said. “There is a love of sneakers between people who would never have communicated with each other.”
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