Anyone who caught the breathtaking new Serena Williams ad during the Oscars heard the “There’s no wrong way to be a woman” message. Nike is hoping to prove there’s no wrong way to be a woman’s brand, either.
Nike, which has been struggling with middling sales and slower growth and fending off new challengers, announced a series of new initiatives to regain some of its relevance. The flashiest is its recent Nike Unlaced, a new sneaker destination just for women. It’s no accident the platform was announced during Paris Fashion Week: It will offer the elaborate collaborations sneaker brands normally reserve for teenage boys.
In its announcement about the new platform, Nike proclaimed it has had something of a feminist epiphany: Size matters. By using unisex sizing on Jordan styles and collaborative collections, including the upcoming Virgil Abloh X Nike The Ten, Nike says it “recognizes the universality of sneaker culture and reduces the frustration of missing out due to size unavailability.”
It’s also muscling in on fast-growing Adidas territory, using a stepped-up ace of collaboration with fashion designers and stylists, and using different materials. Nike says its Flyleather Classic Cortez, made with 50% recycled leather, will be an Unlaced mainstay, for instance. And perhaps most significantly, the Unlaced will focus on a different kind of service, offering its VIP members better experiences, including personalized styling, exclusive hours and same-day delivery.
While Nike has always pursued women, the intensity has increased in recent years, including vastly expanded and improved sports bras, plus-sized activewear, and the Nike Pro Hijab.
Nike still reigns in both the women’s activewear and sneaker market, says Matt Powell, sports industry analyst for NPD Group. Women’s activewear sales were about $22 billion in 2017, up 4%, with Lululemon the second largest brand, followed by Under Armour, Victoria’s Secret and Pink Victoria’s Secret.
Women’s sport footwear, at $1 billion, is slower growing at about 2%, he says, with Skechers, Adidas, New Balance and Asics following Nike in the top five.
Nike thinks it can do better and sees the women’s market as “a huge opportunity,” Trevor Edwards, president of the Nike brand, told investors during its most recent quarterly conference call. “Already the number-one brand for performance bras globally, we expect to quadruple this business over the next five years,” and it also intends to expand its No. 1 position in pants and tights, with the Nike Pants Studio on nike.com and in thousands of stores around the world.
Meanwhile, Nike says that Serena Williams ad, created by Wieden + Kennedy, is meant to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8. The ad carries the #UntilWeAllWin hashtag Nike is featuring in its Equality campaign, and connected to its efforts to support Girls Inc., which aims to inspire 50,000 girls to be smart, strong and bold, and MENTOR, a group that promotes youth mentoring.