PARIS — Tailing Paris Fashion Week, Nike Inc. on Monday staged a show for the global unveiling of the home and away soccer uniforms for 14 out of the 24 national teams set to participate in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, due to take place June 7 through July 7 in France. Marking a record number of teams for the brand in a World Cup, the countries being dressed by Nike include Australia, Norway, England, the U.S. and France.
Twenty-eight female athletes took to a circular podium in the Palais Brongniart here to showcase the designs alongside pieces from the brand’s women’s lifestyle collections, joined by local budding athletes. Record-breaking gymnast Simone Biles, champion fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, two-time Grand Slam winner Li Na and other elite athletes participated in the event.
Fashion figures in the audience, meanwhile, included Naomi Campbell, Virgil Abloh, Marine Serre, Sarah Andelman, Adwoa Aboah and soccer fan and Nike collaborator Christelle Kocher who created custom pieces for the show.
As reported, Martine Rose and Yoon Ahn, cofounder of Ambush who was also in attendance, are collaborating with Nike on lines around the event, though they’re still being kept under wraps.
“It’s not something I thought I’d ever do. It’s amazing to see where the women’s game has come to be doing something like this, making sure we look the part when we go out to the World Cup,” said English professional footballer Fran Kirby, fresh from walking the runway in her white uniform.
“It felt pretty empowering to be up there with everyone,” echoed Hannah Wilkinson, a player from the New Zealand team whose uniform was embellished with ferns. “We are known as the Football Ferns,” she explained.
With women’s outpacing men’s at Nike, sales of women’s in the brand’s most recent fiscal year through June 2018 totaled $6.9 billion, making up 22.8 percent of total business, Nike said, with double-digit growth in the women’s business for the second quarter of the current fiscal year.
Amy Montagne, vice president and general manager of global categories at Nike, described the event as the “next chapter” in the deepening of the brand’s commitment to the next generation of female athletes. “We’ve been seeing this incredible momentum around women’s sport,” she said, adding that the development is also happening outside of “traditional sports,” with the launch this spring of the brand’s men’s and women’s yoga line, and the way they “play into sport as a lifestyle, too.”
With the World Cup being such an exciting global moment, the brand views working with the elite athletes on performance insights “as the North Star of how we translate these insights [for] our everyday athletes,” she said.
It all starts with performance and innovation. “We obsessed over those kits,” added Montagne, describing how the company brought the athletes to the Nike Sport Research Lab to perfect the fit of the garments, including women’s-specific innovation. Showcased in the event’s bra space was a Flyknit model borrowing from Flyknit footwear innovations, which was fitted specifically to each athlete.
There’s also a sustainable bent to the collection: each Nike football kit uses at least 12 recycled bottles, while the brand has ranked as the top user of recycled polyester in the industry for five years in a row.
The research for the fit of the kits, which will be sold in the brand’s physical and digital locations, involved extensive body mapping of the world’s best football players.
“We obsessed over the necklines, the armholes, the arms, the shorts and the way the shorts fall, even down to the hemline,” said Janett Nichol, vice president of apparel innovation at Nike, adding that the development of the highly technical materials “went down to fiber level.”
“We’re looking at how materials respond to the body when it’s in motion. We spent a lot of time engineering the types of textures we need to move moisture and air around the body, so that it cools the body and dries extremely fast,” she said.
“The kits went through 4-D modeling, we did a lot of 3-D speed motion capture, which gets us to a very precise level of fit. We’re able to look through the whole form while it’s in action,” added Nichol. “What’s beautiful about that is we’re able to deliver fit and a beautiful aesthetic, because you can both design it and engineer it while it’s in that 3-D form.”
The company earlier this year held a media event in Culver City, Calif., to preview the designs, hosting reporters and athletes who weighed in on the kits and future Nike women’s collections that were partially informed by the uniforms.
Much of what was learned and gleaned from the development of the uniforms helped inform the build-out and what vice president of apparel for global football Scott Munson called a “reset” of Nike’s training pieces and the women’s fashion collection, which was also on display during Nike’s Culver City event.
“This is inspiration for an entire collection that we’ve got, too,” Munson said. “So you’ve got training and lifestyle product that’s all going to take inspiration from these designs. We’ve been on this journey for three years.”
For the off-the-field looks, the company went back to its archives, referencing pieces from the Nineties all the way to the early Aughts. Items include a top that can become more fitted with the pull of a draw cord, a tank with laser-cut detailing, tights, and shorts with high-low hem detailing, and an adjustable waistband. That last point is something Jess Lomax, Nike design director for women’s apparel, said the company continues to expand more as it designs its women’s collection.
New Nike initiatives include a three-year partnership with UEFA Women’s Football, building on its support of elite footballers from North America to China. In basketball, Nike is partnering with the WNBA, FIBA and the Chinese Basketball Association to grow the women’s game, while at the collegiate level, the brand is partnering with more than 200 universities across the U.S. to support more than 25,000 top female athletes across multiple sports.
At the grassroots level, Nike said it is partnering with several organizations to break barriers of sport participation through community programs. They include Sport dans la Ville in Paris, geared at training female coaches and engaging girls through sports ranging from football and boxing to tennis and dance. The brand is piloting a program to provide products such as the Nike Pro Hijab and Nike Classic Sports Bra to girls in need through schools and community partners worldwide.
A showcase in the Paris event’s foyer, meanwhile, presented Nike DNA archive pieces worn by female athletes across the brand’s history. Items included a singlet worn by Joan Benoit Samuelson for her Olympic marathon win in 1984, and a signed Nike Air La Quinta worn by tennis player Mary Pierce in 1994.