BEAVERTON, United States — Nike is partnering with Matthew Williams — founder of luxury streetwear brand Alyx — in an attempt to make its performance category more fashionable and culturally relevant. Williams, whose work takes cues from youth culture and is known for his utilitarian approach to fashion, will launch his 18-piece fashion collaboration with the sportswear giant on July 12, which includes technical outerwear, monochrome leggings and a wide range of accessories such as logoed socks, face masks and towels.
Williams's partnership with Nike, which includes men’s, women’s and unisex collections, will be housed under Nike’s Training category, marking one of its first major collaborations with a fashion designer within the division.
“It was a dream when I got asked to collaborate with Nike,” says Matthew Williams, who founded Alyx in 2015 and has been working on the collaboration with Nike for the past year and a half. “Sport was my first integration into fashion and clothing and Nike was a big part of that, so it was a match made in heaven.”
Williams has a young fan base, and his brand's roots in merging street culture aesthetics with practical garment construction fit well with Nike’s Training division. But the collection also symbolises a wider strategic shift in the sport firm’s ambition to marry its performance and lifestyle pillars, as it responds to the buying behaviours of young consumers, who often see less of a distinction between the two categories.
“[Consumers] are living a very multi-faceted life in the way they approach training, fitness and sport,” explains Kurt Parker, vice president of apparel design for Nike. “We were thinking in terms of them being a runner, a training athlete or [someone] into streetwear — it’s all those things together.”
When Nike launched its ACG (All Conditions Gear) subsidiary line in 1989, targeting athletes and amateur sport enthusiasts — who later praised the brand’s non-commercial take on outdoorsy athletic apparel and sneakers — it was one of the first signifiers that the sportswear firm was looking to crossover performance with lifestyle.
But Nike has faced aggressive competition from its main rival Adidas in recent years. The German sports company was an early adopter of crossing over its performance and fashion categories, while aligning itself with relevant musical artists, fashion designers and emerging sports stars, winning itself cultural credibility from young consumers around the world, at the expense of Nike.
While Nike remains the world’s leading sportswear player in terms of revenue, its performance-driven approach to apparel and footwear has lost it some degree of “cool” in the eyes of young consumers, who often favour aesthetic and lifestyle features over performance and still make up a majority of the company’s clientele. Nike’s designer collaborations, including those with Kim Jones, Olivier Rousteing and Riccardo Tisci, also made a smaller cultural impact than those launched by Adidas.
The sportswear giant hit back in August 2017, announcing a partnership with Off-White designer Virgil Abloh titled “The Ten.” In March 2018, the company made a significant crossover from fashion to performance when it released football shoes designed by Abloh and Kim Jones. More designer collaborations are said to follow later in the year.
“The collection is a typical sphere of what we’ll start to see from Nike in the space,” says Parker. “We’ll start to blur the lines a bit and let people make decisions on what they want to wear and how they want to look.”