Nike: The Most Woke Sportswear Brand Around
In recent years, you’ve probably heard of several scandals facing high-fashion brands. Gucci recently came under fire for selling a black sweater many felt was racist, Prada discontinued a line of products mimicking blackface, and Dolce & Gabbana spent most of November apologizing for a culturally insensitive commercial that aired in China.
At a time where society – and certainly the UC Berkeley campus – is engaging in debates about cultural appropriation and representation, many fashion brands seem to be failing when it comes to diversity, and some continue to sell products and present advertisements that are clearly insensitive. Nike, however, has proven that a fashion brand can take a stance on social issues and be successful while doing so.
Sportswear giant Nike has become increasingly involved in conversations surrounding inclusion and diversity, producing commercials and campaigns that promote gender and racial equality. In September of 2018, Nike celebrated the 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” campaign by revealing former NFL star and current racial justice activist Colin Kaepernick as its spokesperson. A large, captivating billboard first mounted on 34th Street and 7th Avenue in New York City showed a close-up black-and-white headshot of Kaepernick, with the text, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”
But support for social equality did not start with the Colin Kaepernick campaign. Nike has been consistently releasing commercials and advertising campaigns that support women’s rights, LGBT rights and racial equality for several years. At this year’s NFL Super Bowl, viewers saw a commercial narrated by Serena Williams called “Dream Crazier,” promoting women in sports and taking a clear jab at masculinist culture in sports that calls women athletes crazy or irrational for participation and contesting calls. During 2018 Pride Month, the company released a commercial celebrating transgender vogue and ballroom dancer Leiomy Maldonado.
The company has taken a firm stance on social issues that affect its athlete brand ambassadors, demonstrating that a brand should not only uplift and endorse diverse spokespeople but also play an active role in supporting the causes that shape the experiences of those athletes. Moreover, the intersectionality represented in recent campaigns (Serena is a black woman and Leiomy a transgender afro-Latina woman) reflects the experiences of Nike’s consumer base more accurately than its commercials have in the past.
But Nike certainly isn’t perfect. In fact, many critics have seen Nike’s socially conscious content as a tool for the brand to distance itself from previous endorsements of athletes like Lance Armstrong and Michael Vick. Furthermore, ignoring the financial benefits of Nike advocating for social equality would be naïve; a recent survey also shows that urban and young consumers are more likely to react favorably to a company that advocates the rights of protesters to kneel during the national anthem.
So yes, Nike isn’t flawless and shouldn’t be understood as such. But while most fashion brands prefer to stay out of politics, Nike uses its advertising to actively support social issues that affect its audience. And that’s more than can be said for most fashion brands.
Words by Manuela Abenante
Illustrations by Camila Stacchetti