50 years in: Nike’s game plan for winning with women

At 50 years old, Nike is charting a path into the future that starts with its past.

The company is adopting the motto, “We are never done,” to celebrate the occasion and resurrecting Spike Lee’s Mars Blackmon character for a campaign in which Blackmon gets a talking to from a new character, Zimmie, about all of the young athletes changing their respective gamesincluding Nike-sponsored Chloe Kim and Naomi Osaka.

“The past was great and all, but the future’s on deck,” Zimmie says in the ad before rattling off the achievements of some of the biggest athletes of the day.

And executives at the retailer’s Los Angeles headquarters last week made it clear that the future for Nike is female. In a women’s event celebrating the next 50 years for the retailer, executives outlined the ways they’re improving product for women and hoping to build a more inclusive company.

A scientific approach to product

As is standard for Nike, data is a big part of the retailer’s plan.

Bridget Munro, women’s research director at Nike, said the retailer’s investment in women’s specific innovation has doubled in the last two to three years, and is “accelerating and outpacing any other investment in innovation.” As part of that effort, the company has scanned “tens of thousands” of consumer’s bodieswhich have been added to a virtual database of sorts that Nike uses to test and design products for different women’s bodies.

“These data visualizations are really great because they allow us to build maps or places on the body where she sweats or where she needs to be cool, how she moves and where we might need to place different fabrics and materials,” Munro said. “And if we think about a designer, they’re usually pretty visual and so that sort of information helps us build a data library. And what’s super exciting actually is that our data library now becomes Nike’s own search engine. We can search across the company for information that we know and we all start at the same point.”

Once products are made, the company uses a variety of tools to test their efficacy. A soft tissue robot dubbed “brabot” lets Nike test different sports bra styles and measure for consistency. Nike also invested in a thermal mannequin that actually produces sweat and allows the brand to run tests around breathability or other thermal elements of clothing.

Bras have been a particular focus point for Nike — the brand changed its cup sizing to offer bras in over 70 different sizes, and has also simplified its sports bra offering.

“For many of us, no bra means no sport, and I’m definitely in that category,” Munro said. “So bras have been a real passion and trying to really think about how we learn about her and her journey and think about the bra not just as an object, but now: What is the experience that she needs to have with that bra? So we can meet her where she is in her movement goals, in her preference and how she wants to feel.”

The result is an emphasis on three core franchises which will now be available in low, medium and high support. That way, women can choose which style they prefer and then find it at the support level they need versus not being able to wear a style they like because it doesn’t provide adequate support.

Tania Flynn discusses Nike’s new bra strategy, which involves emphasizing three core franchises.

Permission granted by Nike

“[Just] Because you need high support doesn’t mean you only get one bra, you actually can choose from all three,” Tania Flynn, vice president of women’s apparel product design at Nike, said. “And that is revolutionary to me to know that, you know, if you think about our Indy bra, which is a little bit sexier, a little strappier: before I couldn’t wear this bra, but now I will be able to. ”

Nike is simplifying its leggings strategy in a similar way, and will no longer break out of its leggings by categories like running and training. Instead, the company will focus on three leggings franchises, its Universa, Go and Zenvy styles, which are differentiated instead by how they feel. For example, Zenvy is more lightweight and Go is more of a compression-focused legging. Those will each be available in five different lengths and two rises, and in sizes extra small to 4X.

Nike also revamped fit to make it more consistent across those styles as well, so that a high-rise or a crop would hit in the same place.

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