To mark Nike's 50th anniversary, some of Britain's best talent and brand ambassadors - from sprinter Dina Asher-Smith to fashion designer Martine Rose - come together to talk about change, championing female athletes and more
Sponsored Editorial with Nike
Thanks to household names, such as British sprinter Dina Asher-Smith and rising star swimmer Alice Dearing, young women are gaining more and more sporting role models. And Nike wants to keep it that way – which is why its goal for the next 50 years is bringing more women into sport and marking their individual success along the way. Because over the last 50 years the brand has been at the forefront of product innovation, change, breaking down barriers and inspiring young people into the world of sport.
“Leveraging athlete performance data, advanced robotic machines and digital tools enables us to engineer products for women at the pixel-by-pixel level," Janett Nichol, vice president of NXT apparel innovation, tells British Vogue of the brand's future vision for women. “With the ability to shape, mould and form products based on human performance data, creating products that go beyond the fundamentals of fit, form and fashion, Nike can create products for women in ways never done before.”
And it starts from the ground up, with the help of local communities. That’s exactly why formidable women, such as Romina Calatayud, founder and CEO of Girls United, and Debra Nelson, presenter and educator at Football Beyond Borders, are making sure that young girls are given the opportunity to play sport from the get-go, while the influential fashion designer Martine Rose is finding inspiration from sport for her designs. In short: when a group of change-making women come together with an innovative brand such as Nike, sporting visions become reality.
Dina Asher-Smith, Athlete
“I was very fortunate that I grew up watching Kelly Holmes, Christine Ohuruogu, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Allyson Felix, Serena Williams, so when I was a young Black girl looking to be a sportsperson, I had loads of role models,” Dina Asher- Smith, British sprinter and the fastest British woman in recorded history, tells British Vogue. It’s for this reason that Asher-Smith feels passionately about not only inspiring other young women to get in to sport, but making sure that the door is open for them too – which is why it was a no-brainer to be part of Nike’s Athlete Think Tank. “I do think it’s really cool and special to be part of it,” she says of the initiative created to better assist female athletes. “It is great that a big multinational corporation such as Nike wants to hear from athletes,” she says. “They want to know, just generally, how they can improve, how they can serve us better and how they can serve communities better.”
Martine Rose, Designer
“Everything about football I find completely engaging,” London- based designer Martine Rose tells British Vogue. Growing up, Rose was always playing sport, which is why it’s often referenced in her fashion design work. “One of the reasons I will always reference sport in my collections is because, when I was growing up, football hooliganism was a massive issue. It wasn’t until the rave culture really took over, in 1989, that it broke down all of that sort of stuff... At the same time, it’s tribal and it’s completely uniting too.” Championing female athletes and pushing for innovation is at the heart and ethos of Rose’s work. “Every time I walk into Nike or do something like this, and I meet the other women that Nike are working with, I’m bowled over,” she concludes.
Romina Calatayud, Founder & CEO of Girls United
“I’ve played football my whole life. It was a very important part of my experience growing up. I think, along the way, I just met too many girls and women who didn’t have the opportunity to play,” Romina Calatayud, founder and CEO of Girls United, tells British Vogue. “I felt really passionate about doing something about it, so I went for it.” That’s exactly why Girls United’s vision marries perfectly with Nike’s. It’s about levelling the playing field and closing the gender “play” gap. “The partnership with Nike,” says Calatayud, ”hopefully we can strive to be a network of players, coaches and fans who really believe in the power of football for creating a more gender-equal society. I think giving them a platform is also so important – and something I know Nike really tries to do – so it’s exciting to be a part of it.”
“Hopefully, with Nike, Girls United can strive to be a network of players, coaches and fans who believe in the power of football for creating a more gender-equal society”
Janett Nichol, VP of Apparel Innovation
There are many ways in which female athletes ensure they stay at the top, but one way that ultimately aids them is apparel innovation. “Innovation utilises advanced technologies, science and digital tools that move design forward. Although the two share a symbiotic relationship, innovation advances design capabilities to bring forth concepts and ideas that remove barriers that hinder women in their everyday lives,” Janett Nichol, VP of Apparel Innovation, tells British Vogue. So what can we imagine for design and innovation for Nike over the next 50 years? “The data shows that we are all uniquely different,” explains Nichol. “We want the experience that we want, we want the fit and the style and the expression that we want. In short, individuality is key. Over the next 50 years we can expect to see individuality become a very easy experience to have, whether it’s in your choice of product, how it fits you or what it looks like. Technology continues to unlock the advancements to make this a reality.”
“Innovation advances design capabilities to bring forth concepts and ideas that remove barriers that hinder women in their lives”
Alice Dearing, Athlete
For Alice Dearing, making history as the first Black female swimmer to go to the 2020 Olympics for Great Britain was a groundbreaking feat. Maybe that’s why she’s ensuring others get a look in on the lesser- celebrated sport. Showing her support for Nike’s Swim All – an inclusive programme that allows swimming to be accessible to communities – she met the women trying their hand at her beloved sport. “I’ve cried both times [I’ve been], because it’s just so moving to hear what swimming can do for somebody who hasn’t had that opportunity in the past,” the 25-year-old co-founder of the Black Swimming Association tells British Vogue. “Going from being fearful of putting their face in the water to doing full lengths is just the start. It’s amazing that Nike is backing such projects – and setting them up in the first place – because it’s so cool to support people in that way and literally unlock a life skill for them,” she says. “There’s so many things that learning a new skill gives you. It’s amazing to be able to be a part of that.”
Debra Nelson, FBB Graduate & Educational Assistant
“The most powerful thing about sport, and why I love it, is because of everything that revolves around it: the journey it’s led me on and the places it’s taken me to,” Debra Nelson, presenter and educator at Football Beyond Borders (FBB), tells British Vogue. “I was a participant at FBB and now I coach for them. I’m just trying to give back and allow young girls in London to have the experiences that I had.” Being the only girl on an all-boys programme, she’s determined for the next generation of girls to have access to the sport and the relationships it allows to foster. “The reason why I say relationships are so important is because football allows young girls to build the skills that they can then take into their school life,” she explains. And Nike’s current actions back this up too. “Nike has – especially with young people in London – created a social and cultural hub. I think if you have a big brand such as Nike having these conversations about promoting inclusivity, then it’s going to have a big impact.”
Tania Flynn, VP Creative Director, Women's Apparel
“The industry should be asking itself: who are we really designing for? If the average woman in the UK is a size 16, have we been serving the majority?” Tania Flynn, Nike’s VP creative director women’s apparel, poses to British Vogue. It’s exactly these types of imperative questions that Nike has been answering themselves in a bid to service women. “The shift you’ll continue to see at Nike is we’re listening to more voices,” says Flynn. “Today, inclusivity is at the heart of our vision, in which we’re driven by her pursuit of progress, not perfection. To back that up, Nike’s investment in women’s research and sport science has more than doubled since 2019. As we explore her needs, we’re embracing the spectrum of body shapes and prioritising comfort.” She adds: “The timing for Nike couldn’t be better. We turn 50 this year, but instead of looking back, we’re building the next 50 for the next generation.”