Nike has a gender problem on its hands, and it’s not about Dylan Mulvaney.
Anyone paying attention to the Daily Outrage Machine can tell you how ugly social media has been to Mulvaney lately. After spending a year documenting her transition on TikTok and hooking up with Bud Light, she’s now representing Nike, modeling the latest in its sports bras and leggings.
Of course, all the usual suspects hate her and Nike by proxy: Fox News, Megyn Kelly, the Daily Mail, Caitlyn Jenner (oh, the irony) and the predictable parade of TikTok and Twitter trolls. They insist she is a threat to any woman who’s ever struggled with spandex.
They can all jump in Lake Tucker Carlson for all Nike cares. Nike’s primary audience is Gen Z, an enormous cohort broadly supportive of trans people. And 20% identify as LGBTQ.
Nike knows this will blow over soon. Remember, this is the same crowd of haters who insisted their 2019 boycott over the Colin Kaepernick “Dream Crazy” campaign would bring Nike to its knees. Ha. Within weeks, its stock price bounced back and rose, and sales for the athletic giant started trending higher.
The company continues to flourish, and quarterly results released last month reported sales of $12.4 billion, a 14% jump from the prior quarter.
But Matt Powell, an advisor at Spurwink River, sees a bigger gender problem in Nike’s recent launch of the signature line for WNBA player Sabrina Ionescu. While he sees it as an intelligent move, building on Ionescu’s talent and rising interest in women’s basketball, the shoe is being billed as unisex. Nike says it engineered it based on insights from both men and women.
“Over the last couple years, we’ve seen the big brands admit their dirty little secret: that most of their performance shoes they had made and sold as 'women’s' were simply relabeled and recolored men’s shoes and not appropriate for a women’s foot,” he writes in a note on the launch. “Most are said to be 'designed' for women; here, designed meant 'made in a different color.'”
Lululemon pounced on that industry weakness with its launch last year of Blissfeel, a line of women’s shoes that it claimed are the first ever designed specifically for women’s feet. And Lululemon is fast gaining on Nike in other women’s apparel, including sports bras.
Powell is still shaking his head about the Ionescu. “It’s a shame to see the industry take a major step backward on a young star’s first signature shoe.”
In a follow-up email with Marketing Daily, Powell says, “Nike needs to rethink its entire go-to-market strategy for women. It needs to commit to footwear made for a woman’s foot, not 'unisex.’”
Experts say that shoes designed for men are one reason women athletes suffer more ACL tears than male counterparts.
Powell isn’t worried about Nike's partnership with Mulvaney, who has close to 11 million TikTok followers. “Old angry white folks are not a key demographic for Nike,” he says. “It needs to continue to lift up its trans athletes and elevate their presence.”