Nike has regained leadership in sportswear through technical performance and driving the sustainability agenda.

Just do it, as they have been suggesting for many years now, seems to be very much at the heart of the Nike organisation. With steady growth in revenues and profits, major increases in innovation activity are becoming more apparent. The company very much owned the innovation arena in sports goods a decade ago with the introduction of Nike Air, the creation of the NikeTown retail format, memorable advertising campaigns and, behind the scenes, highly leveraged outsourcing of many activities including manufacturing, design and research. However with increasing competition from Adidas resulting in a loss of innovation leadership to its technology focused German peer for several years, Nike has had to regain its mojo. While programmes such as the Nike ID mass-personalisation platform has evidently delivered results and complemented partnerships such as the Nike + IPod one with Apple, there has been another steadily building innovation focus.

Nike has been on a journey to better embrace the sustainability challenge for most of the last decade. Back in 2002, Darcy Winslow, one of the early leaders of the sustainability movement within the company, said that; “we had come to see that our customers’ health and our own ability to compete are inseparable from the health of the environment.” Most notable in recent years has been the advent and growth of the Nike Considered Design programme. Moving on from the early experiments with using materials such as hemp, Nike has taken sustainable materials to heart: At the last World Cup it notably supplied the Brazil football team with shirts made from recycled plastic bottles. Nike’s Considered Design programme has further embraced the shift to raising standards through upgrading targets and aiming for a closed loop manufacturing process. With a 2011 ambition that “all Nike footwear newly developed, coming out of U.S. headquarters will meet or exceed Considered Design baseline standards,” it led the launch of a host of new products and revision of favourites to make them better environmentally. With the company now proactively embracing the water challenge, many see Nike as a standard bearer for sustainable design well beyond its core sports-wear market.

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