When we were lucky enough to find ourselves at an exclusive event hosted by Nike Women, truthfully we felt a little like fish out of water. However, as the event unfolded it became clear that Nike is determined to be world leaders in product, diversity, accessibility and inclusion as well as in embracing and championing women.
There’s a reason they’re calling this new strategy the Decade of Her.* It feels important to note that from the first moment we arrived, the company made it known their definition of women is broad, inclusive of a whole range of identities on the gender spectrum and that made the reasons we were there all the more powerful. Not knowing what to expect, we certainly weren’t ready to be in the room when Nike unveiled the National Team Kits for the Australian and New Zealand Women’s World Cup Football teams.
But that wasn’t the only reason we found ourselves in that room. The other was because we’d been given the unique opportunity of getting the chance to interview Seema Simmons, the Nike Global VP of Women’s Running & Fitness. She’d travelled from Oregon to be in that room and immediately commanded the space. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and is behind so many of the changes seen recently at Nike, especially when it comes to the relationship between women’s health and sport, specifically periods.
We knew straight away the intersection between those two things (as ridiculously taboo as it still is in 2023) was exactly what we wanted to talk to her about. After all, we know, at least on a biological level, that some of the world’s greatest athletes have had periods while breaking world records and achieving sporting glory. So why then, do having the words menstruation and sport in the same sentence still make so many people flinch?
So why then, do having the words menstruation and sport in the same sentence still make so many people flinch?
For Seema, who grew up playing basketball and learned never to mention her period, there’s a clear link between those attitudes and the over-representation of cisgender men in positions of power across sport and the fitness industry. Luckily, she says change is finally coming. “It’s 2023 and we are talking about this now. You can really see how the conversation is evolving: we are starting to hear more coaches, athletes, players, mentioning the word period, which is helping to normalise things and remove the stigma. I also have teenage daughters who are active in sport, and have really active conversations with their coaches. It’s giving me hope having these kinds of conversations. Nike is part of that conversation.”
They certainly are - while running us through some of the new product innovations Nike plans to roll out this season, we could tell that menstruation and periods have been top of mind. From in-built leak protection in their new shorts range, to Nike Sync, a new app designed to help athletes track where they are in their cycle and adjust their training accordingly, they really are thinking of everything.
For Seema and her team, their innovation just makes sense. “Women are at the forefront of change, and as we keep women athletes at the centre of everything we do, we know we can remove barriers to sport and make sure all women feel comfortable and confident throughout their fitness journeys. We know periods are a key barrier to sport for women and can be distracting or a source of anxiety whether someone is competing professionally or just trying to go to the gym. I think it’s on us to think about, for one, how we innovate with body and movement - and that includes the leak protection. We want to create solutions for her that are meaningful and that solve and make sure she’s confident - even when she has her period.”
Nike’s commitment to this issue doesn’t stop there though - they recognise that to really make a difference, they need to focus on education as well, because let’s face it too many of us don’t know enough about our periods. That’s why they’ve partnered with Her and FEMMI, and are also unafraid of inviting men to the table too, “because they need to be part of the conversation. It’s the only way forward.”
Seema says, “We are proud that we have been investing in serving her needs during menstruation over the course of the last 2+ years. As we look to the future, we will continue to partner with industry leading experts in this space, while also listening to the voice of athletes around the world, to identify the best ways to serve her through during menstruation. It is always a journey! Our partner in Australia and New Zealand is FEMMI and Lydia O’Donnell who we look forward to continuing to build on this in coming months and years."
But Nike’s intersectional approach to fitness and looking after your body doesn’t end with periods. They also provide for athletes going through motherhood and in various stages of pregnancy as well as those with disabilities and other more individualised needs. Seema says, “The thing that’s important about diversity is that representation matters so much. As we highlight athlete stories and journeys, it allows us to bring in inspiration for younger girls and women - when they see it, they can be it. That’s one of the things that we are proud of at Nike."
The next time we’ll get to see the magic of those relationships play out? On the world stage at the 2023 Women’s World Cup where Nike proudly sponsors 13 of the 34 teams. In fact, where in 2019 you saw the beginning ripples of change and excitement, for this year’s tournament Nike is proudly launching the largest football specific collection for women that has existed in the game’s history. The Decade of Her* is just beginning and we for one can’t wait to see how it unfolds.
*Nike acknowledges gender is a spectrum therefore when we reference her we are inviting everyone into the space