By Christian McKenzie
- Serena Williams recruits external designers of color for her new Nike line
- Athletic apparel brands have a dearth of designers of color
Serena Williams has taken her 30 plus years of experience wearing high performance athletic gear and applied it to a multitude of fashion collaborations. She’s launching the Serena Design Crew to produce her newest clothing and footwear collections with Nike (NKE -0.43%). This seven-month apprenticeship program will recruit 10 designers from organizations like Harlem’s Fashion Row and Williams insisted that diverse candidates be included.
Why This Matters: At Nike, 8% of the vice presidents are Black, but it makes 61% of its revenue from footwear, which includes the cult classic Jordan brand. “Companies spend billions of dollars on marketing and advertising to attract African-American kids to their products, but they don’t do much to support the African-Americans on the inside,” said former Air Jordan designer D’Wayne Edwards. With pre-tax revenue up 25% year over year to $1.56 billion, it should have the ability to fund a recruitment team and process that prioritizes diversity. Williams is helping usher in this shift with her new collection, which will be released in 2021.
Prioritizing designers of color for a high-profile collection is a rare occurrence. Fashion has historically been criticized for its lack of diversity from the design studios to the runway models. This industry-wide practice has lead to misappropriated designs and campaigns being released by luxury brands and fast fashion retailers alike. Williams is leveraging her partnership with Nike to help change this.
Reminiscent of Williams’ work attire, Chief Design Officer John Hoke hopes “that the collection blurs that line…between high performance and high fashion. That unique space is what we’re trying to get to.”
The tone deaf business practices in athletic apparel designers extends beyond Nike. Just 4.5% of Adidas’ (ADDYY +0.37%) corporate staff is Black, although it continues to collaborate with and benefit from its partnerships with Black celebrities like Beyoncé and Kanye West.
Situational Awareness: It’s not just designers whose ideas are being appropriated by the broader fashion industry. In October, trade publication The Business of Fashion was called out by Pyer Moss’ Kerby Jean-Raymond for misappropriating his label’s tradition of incorporating gospel choirs into the brand’s fashion week shows for the BoF 500 gala. As a result, Jean-Raymond declared that he was removing himself from the BoF honorees list.
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