Basketball legend Lisa Leslie was only 22 years old when she signed her first Nike deal in 1994 after graduating from college.
At the time, the 6-foot, 5-inch athlete said Nike’s women’s athletic apparel was rather limited. It came in black, gray, navy blue, light blue and white. “And I said, ‘You all got nothing in pink?’ So, it’s nice to hear there is now something special for women,” said the former Los Angeles Sparks team member who was at a recent three-day event for women held at Nike’s Los Angeles office campus.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Nike plans to spend more time making a better product for women and incorporating their needs and goals on and off the field. One of the company’s goals is to help break down the barriers that women and girls face in sports.
To do that, the company, based in Beaverton, Oregon, is researching how different female body types move and how to incorporate that into clothing and footwear. Nike’s goal is to make women comfortable when they exercise and move. “Nike is rooted in innovation,” said Shannon Glass, vice president, general manager Nike Direct North America. “We are spending a lot of time with women understanding what matters to them.”
The athleticwear 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, the right style and the right cut in their shoes and styles. We are going to help women find that 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 saying how do we make it a community and a space where she feels good and happy?” Glass added.
One of the first big changes for women was Nike’s dedicated line of athleticwear, called Nike (M) Collection, introduced two years ago for pregnant women. It’s recently introduced Move Like a Mother training program takes women through their 48-week pregnancy and postpartum journey while still working out and moving.
Nike combed through pregnancy data from more than 150,000 comparison scans of non-pregnant women against those of pregnant women. Designers collected detailed feedback on fit, feel and function from nearly 30 female athletes who were pregnant or postpartum.
That research led to more generous cover-ups, leggings cut to pull over a belly or not, and specially designed sports bras that give easy access for breastfeeding.
The program also features 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
In the beginning, Nike was all about sneakers, primarily 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 female retailers who were pioneers in opening shoe stores. They shared how they have seen Nike’s 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 shoved into an uncomfortable grade-school shoe. The shoe is cut and fit for us. I feel the female consumer is getting a lot of what she has been looking for.”
In the future, she said, women consumers will be looking for trends and quality merchandise at an affordable price. Women also want to be able to buy products online for themselves through retailers, who sell mostly men’s sneakers.
Abby Albino, whose Makeway store in Toronto carries sneakers, streetwear and other merchandise, said being successful in retail means listening to the customer. Her female-funded and female-owned store makes sure women see themselves in the products on the shelves. That’s why she carries Nike.
One important factor for athletic shoes is comfort. “I will ask myself, ‘Can I wear these sneakers at work?’” she explained.
Going forward, Albino would like to see more women executives involved in sneaker companies like Nike. “The sneaker industry is a multibillion-dollar industry and not many women have a seat,” she said. “Going forward, more women could have an impact on the culture.”
Jennifer Ford, who owns Premium Goods, a sneaker boutique in Houston, said she has seen shoes morph into currency. “A pair of sneakers can get you into a club. You can trade them for other products,” she said. “There is sneaker love between people who would never have communicated with each other.”
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