I’m generally not the biggest fan of motivational quotes. You know, the sort that flood social media updates and get people nodding along and saying “Wow, so true!”. Can people’s complex, multi-layered and situational problems be uplifted and solved with a a snappy, cliche-ridden (and often nonsensical) statement written in a cool Sans Serif font, accompanied by a generic stock image? The Nike Women’s showcase for S/S 15 in New York was exactly the type of event, from which said motivational statements are borne. “Just Do It” is arguably the godfather of these sentiments. They were dotted everywhere at the event and in their line of communication. Mark Parker, CEO and president of Nike, took to the stage to kick off the showcase last week and said things like “We know how much crossing the finishing line matters but so does the collective joy of that journey.”
Except at Nike, I allow myself to drink all this proverbial kool aid because by physically going from couch potato/sitting lemon to running 5-10k, these are exactly the sort of sentiments that pump through your head whether you want them to or not. Parker stated some facts that have vast significance to how women at large are changing their lifestyle and why statements like the ones below resonate increasingly. For the first time, women outnumber men in gym memberships. Health and fitness apps have grown faster than any other app category. Nike’s women’s apparel is now worth $5 billion in revenue with a view to growing it to $7 billion by 2017. With Nike alone, 65 million women engage through social media. Women have downloaded the Nike+ Training Club app 16 million times. The Just Do It slogan, which was originally rendered in a blocky heavy font in 1988 – on the occasion of this special showcase dedicated to women, was all brush-stroky and without wanting to give fonts sexual identities, more feminine.
And so we got a lot of “she” power that was bound to psyche even the hardiest of cynics. 27 powerful and inspiring sportswomen to be precise, which included the likes of marathon legends Paula Radcliffe and Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympics gold medalists Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce ,and Allyson Felix and tennis star Li Na. More importantly it was also a multi-generational line-up that asserted Nike’s position in the women’s activewear – they’ve been doing this for years and they’ll carry on doing it bigger and better than anyone else was the main missive. It was interesting that I arrived in New York to hear Alexander Wang talk about performance and a lifestyle where gym merges into nightclub and that a woman is ultimately more active today and then towards the end of my trip, Nike were declaring the same. Only their product has a conviction that is hard to fault. The fashion world may be trying to get a slice of the fitness pie but how do you gain a woman’s trust when it comes to apparel and footwear that need to support, perform and also look good?
The looking good was answered with a fashion show – a bit of a surprise move from Nike. When I interviewed Parker at the event, he once again asserted that fashion is never the primary goal and that it’s the subsidiary effect. “Often times we solve problems in unique ways that could become fashionable. It’s not the purpose or the intent to create a fashion statement. Performance solutions have interesting aesthetic outcomes.” To debut a collaboration with Brazilian designer Pedro Lourenço in women’s training, both female athletes and models walked the catwalk amongst flora and fauna and new Nike campaign star Karlie Kloss (who admittedly is a bona fide runner, ballet dancer and yoga aficionado) descended from the ceiling on a platform with Joan Smalls, Damaris Lewis and Jeneil Williams behind her. This was significant on more than one accounts. There’s much to be said for enticing the female customer with the format of fashion – a show, the models and an editorial worthy campaign. In this instance though, Nike have worked with Kloss for her fitness credentials though as opposed to her aesthetic ones, which rings true. If fashion has been co-opting the surface of performance and sportswear without the technological prowess, then Nike can surely flip reverse that and borrow a few things from the fashion world, without compromising what is at the core of their product which is innovation gained from athlete interaction. “Performance is our foundation ultimately,” said Parker. “We had 27 athletes today – they’re 27 out of of hundreds, and really out of of millions. From world class to everyday athletes, we have the ability with them and dig out insights that fuel the innovation.”
Nike’s new womenswear collaborations was the big story of the day but we were also presented with an overview of S/S 15 product where once again aesthetics took centre stage. Or to be more specific, the idea that aesthetics and performance can be combined so that you can wear these clothes and go from the gym out to wherever you’re going afterwards. The printed “tights” (not sure why Nike shirk from calling them leggings) equipped with waistbands and pockets for runners and jazzed up with saturated digital prints that are placed strategically on the body, took centre stage in a myriad of patterns.
Nike’s Flyknit, three years after its groundbreaking debut is getting wilder in colour palette and being applied to an increasing number of styles such as the popular Roshe (I’m a recent Roshe convert…). Parker hinted at Flyknit’s yet-to-be-tapped potential for the future. “The advancement in the type of knitting that we can do in one shoe and to o see where it’s going is incredibly exciting. It’s in the infancy stage really. We’ll be able to scan your foot, knit right to your foot… and you’ll see printing and digital technology come together so that the ability to customise will be very exciting.” Like Apple, people will look to Nike expecting the next big thing, but for Parker, what is “big” to him is to evolve what he already has and move it forward into new realms. Flyknit’s possibilities within apparel for instance is still something that I personally get excited about. Watch this Flyknitted space…
The main “fashion-focused” takeaway from the day would have been Nike’s collaboration with Lourenço, which will soon be available online and is currently in Nike Lab stores now. One of my questions to Parker was how he chooses collaborators for Nike and more to the point, why doesn’t he go for the obvious (as in the biggest designer likely to generate hype) – “It’s less the name and more the approach to what they do,” he said simply. Lourenço seems like an idiosyncratic choice from the outside but when he met with Nike, both parties found they had a common interest in innovation and technology. “I wanted to add a sense of luxury to work out gear and I had always in mind a collection that you could merge elements from two different worlds,” said Lourenço. Parker is equally effusive. “In the case of Pedro Lourenço, he comes from a more luxury standpoint. There is an awareness of performance and to function but he’ll interpret it in a way that makes it more appropriate for moving the clothes into a lifestyle mode.” Whilst this young Brazilian designer is rethinking the way he presents his own mainline, with Nike he has come up with a beautiful collection that combines his aesthetic with Nike’s technological aspects. You wouldn’t expect to see nude and black as a colour combo at Nike, leggings with an attached skirt across the front or flocked pixel dots on mesh but Lourenço and Nike collectively came up with a combination detailing and silhouettes that reflect both parties. This synergy is best seen in a croc embossed neoprene jacket, originally based on a 1960s croc jacket that Lourenço had found, which Nike have transformed into a performance piece. “Sportswear feels like such a luxury – today, it’s a luxury to being able to test new ways to manufacture clothes and to find function to find new aesthetics,” The process of working with Nike has also made Lourenço think about the current state of fashion’s manufacture and stagnation. “As the industry develops itself, it’s a great move for fashion to incorporate more of these elements that I’ve seen at Nike.” said Lourenço. “Ideally for me, if I think about how fashion is established today, pret-a-porter should become something like high-tech haute couture, mixing the old and the new. The contemporary market is what people buy and pret-a-porter should be pushing things forward.” He wasn’t the only one to pass similar comment. A British fashion journalist, who had never been to a Nike media trip, wondered why the fashion world doesn’t borrow more from a company like Nike. That points to a bigger discussion about innovation within the industry, which perhaps Nike is instigating.
Another collaboration that was partially unveiled was even more left field than the one with Lourenço. Try Googling Joanna F. Schneider. You’ll find little about this German designer who has worked for numerous sportswear and activewear brands over the years. Schneider also works out heavily with a regular regime that means she has developed personal needs and requirements for her clothes. This is essentially a personal collection of modular pieces that Schneider is connected with, offering something different to the world of women’s training from fold-up capes that can be worn as a warm-up piece to loose culottes with air vents. We only got a sneak preview here of a few pieces but the full collection will drop in different stages in February and April. It’s an interesting collaboration to get your teeth into as you wonder why it is Nike would choose to work with someone who is essentially a behind-the-scenes designer. Basically though, Schneider knows what she’s talking about as someone who regularly works out and wears performance gear and her insight as a designer is more valuable to Nike than having a razzle dazzle profile. It goes back to this idea of authenticity that Nike emphasises time and time again.
On the subject of collaboration, Parker’s words reveal more about why he chooses the collaborators that he does and why the projects are normally so specific and not in the fashion-norm of going for market-driven hype. “The most important collaboration is obviously with the athlete but in terms of with fashion and industrial design – you get different perspectives which you might not have gotten on your own, which I love. We don’t have pre-conceived notions of where things should go when we collaborate. We don’t try to brief collaborators. I love this kind of cross-pollination of ideas. It’s not that the result is something we couldn’t have done but that we might not have done it.”
Once we had gone around and done our media duties interviewing and taking notes, it was time to move. I mean, really move. Truth be told, I had been lagging in a couch potato mode following my New York tech disaster where I basically sat in my hotel room bed, scanning and trying to recover SD cards, watching SATC E! channel marathons and ordering too much room service. I was desperate to break into a neuron-driven sweat. Cue a mass collective of 300 media folk participating in a high intensity NTC Live class held at the Cunard Building, a venue that I’m familiar with because I’m normally there attending fashion shows. This beautiful space was transformed into a church of work-out where you’d look up to see a neon-clad motivators moving atop a digital cube, flanked by more neon-clad work-out instructors. This is where all that “fitspiration” came in handy, like the one I’ve used as the title of this post, which @NikeWomen tweeted me with. I did emerge sore and yes, I felt stronger the next day. Mainly because I hadn’t spent the day wallowing in my bed eating an odd combo of room service fries and longans from Chinatown. But also because it does strengthen and empower you to see a massive group of people high-fiving each other throughout the session, cheering each other on and yes, feel some vague feeling of sisterhood. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t follow the instructors’ moves with precision and pace. It wasn’t about competing with each other or doing this to attain a level of physical perfection that defines who we are. It’s about doing it for self-gratification and moving to feel good. Here comes a quote to better summarise the experience. And it’s a believable one courtesy of basketball star Skylar Diggins. “It’s not about being the best. It’s about being your best.”
To feel that extra bit of soreness that surely means strength is on its way, kitted out in our new Pedro Lourenco pieces and in a more intimate environment, we did an intense modelFIT class. Dubbed the class in New York that trains Victoria’s Secret models, this class was less about pace but more about stretching out those muscles you never knew you had to sculpt, tone and work on your core strength. Being a complete newbie to such a class, neon rubber bands, light weights and sliding discs were all a novelty to me. And my muscles are feeling the pain benefit as we speak. I’m surprisingly keen to do it again or find something similar in London, to compliment my lonesome runs to M83. Can you tell that the kool-aid has gone right to my head? You’ll soon see “Strong alone, unstoppable together” popping up on my Instagram. Accompanied by a blurry picture of a female group hug of course.
Lou Stoppard of SHOWstudio wearing her new Pedro Lourenço x Nike jacket well
P.S. Last time I posted about Nike, a few commenters had a LOT to say about their CSR and sustainability policy. I have an interesting follow-up as I briefly interviewed Hannah Jones, vice president of sustainable business & innovation at Nike, aka my new favourite person because everything she said at the Nike event and in our interview was so salient and inspiring. It will continue on from my own take on “Half-Arsed Ethics”.