Many sneaker-loving women will know the frustration of spotting the perfect pair of trainers only to find out that, yet again, they only come in men’s sizes. The women’s sections of sports shops are often dominated by overtly girly details, from pink or gold trims to snakeskin inserts. Not everyone wants to do the tennis court or commute in sugary sneakers.
Now, Nike has taken this realisation and made it a central part of its new female-centric retail concept, Nike Unlaced. It will take the form of an online destination on the Nike website, launching March 27, as well as a physical, curated area in key Nike Stores from the summer. Amy Montagne, global vice-president and general manager of Nike Women, says: “One of the most important things we will be doing is giving women access to and choice of product like never before. We are removing barriers with unisex sizing throughout the lines — and that includes high-heat [the most covetable] products like the new Virgil Abloh x [Air] Jordan I — which is really important for women.”
Capitalising on women’s increasing appetite for cutting-edge sportswear makes sense for the brand. Although at the end of the last financial year the women’s sportswear business at Nike was worth less than the men’s, at $6.6bn compared with $16bn, sales of women’s shoes and apparel at Nike have been growing faster than men’s for several years, and they expect that trend to continue. The Unlaced concept was initially trialled in Nike retail stores in London and the brand saw strong double-digit sales increases compared with the same period the previous year.
Julie Igarashi, vice-president and creative director of Nike Women, picks up on the appetite for unisex sizing: “People are multidimensional today, especially the millennial generation; we want to express our style in a variety of different ways.” And she believes that a passion for sneakers isn’t restricted to men, as is often the stereotype. She reports that when Nike hosted a pre-launch of the 1 Reimagined collection, footwear created by a 14-strong female design collective, at New York Fashion Week, “we had women queueing up to buy it — there is definitely a rise in female sneakerheads.” As part of Unlaced, consumers will have access to personal stylists, and Nike has also enlisted global fashion experts and influencers to curate their women’s products and inject a fashion sensibility that reflects their particular city.
Women truly are the leaders of the sport and fitness lifestyle
The rise of athleisure-wearing sportswear-inspired garments as everyday clothing — and the boom in gym-going — has fuelled this growth. Montagne says: “One of the things we have seen over the last few years is that women truly are the leaders of the sport and fitness lifestyle. We see a big shift in how women are living their lives, and fuelling the overall industry, and this has pushed us into some new zones.” Recent high-profile launches for women at Nike have included the campaign for their new “Pro Hijab” modest headwear and a plus-size sportswear collection.
There will be a continued crossover between fashion and function. Montagne says: “We have been listening to female consumers and athletes for 40 years and we have always been rooted in performance and innovation. We have also learned that it’s really important to deliver on the fact that for women in particular there is no performance without style.”
And which styles are seeing the most demand? Igarashi cites the Cortez, which was Nike’s first shoe for women, introduced in 1972 and recently reinvented. The Monarch is one of the top-selling styles ever at Nike, but it’s not everyone’s idea of a hip shoe. It’s a clumpy white normcore running trainer of the kind American dads who wouldn’t know their Balenciaga from their Balmain might wear to the mall, but over the past six months Igarashi reports that it has had a major revival as part of an ironic dad-fashion movement Nike is dubbing “Mr Nike”. In a true rejection of preconceived ideas about what women like in their shoes, the stylist Julia Sarr-Jamois will be curating a whole Mr Nike selection for Nike Unlaced, available online. Igarashi says: “This launch is really going to put some gas under sneaker culture.”
This article was originally published by the Financial Times.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018.