nike vs the world: the clash of the sportswear titans

From celebrity collaborations to wearable tech, i-D commentates the race between the sportswear giants going head to head for market gold.

by Laura Hinson
19 February 2015, 11:25am

Gone are the days when a pair of Reebok Classics and a Fruit of the Loom tracksuit would be enough to get you through the weekend. Sportswear shows and presentations are a growing fixture on fashion week schedules and brands are constantly contending for the best celebrity collaborations and endorsements.

It's no secret that adidas and Nike are vying for the number one spot in terms of sales. This week, adidas declared their plan for world domination, which includes a focus on 'superior design,' poaching key players from Nike's design team and relocating to 'Nikesville' aka Portland, Oregon. To lure in the US market, adidas also plans to launch a whole host of products in the US as well as opening up a design studio in Brooklyn. Hypebeast reports that whilst football has always been a key area of dominance for adidas, they are turning their attention to 'running', perhaps after the success of the Nike 'fly knit' trainer.

One area of the sportswear market that cannot be ignored is the power of the collaboration. Your iPhone must have fallen down the toilet if you missed the launch of Kanye West's adidas collaboration at New York Fashion Week. Fashion editors the world over covered the highly anticipated presentation which featured the unveiling of the 'Yeezy Boost' trainer, a brand new track with Sia and a front row money-can't-buy. Diddy included. Most notably there's no recognizable branding, no three stripe logos or pool slides in sight, as previously demanded of previous high-profile collaborators. In his interview Kanye describes the drive behind the project; "I'm only concerned with making beautiful products available to as many people as possible … The least I could do is spend my time trying to give other people a piece of the so-called good life." If hype is anything to go by, Yeezy, the good life and adidas won this bout.

Traditionally aligned with athletes rather than celebrities, Nike works closely with model Karlie Kloss on all of their female targeted marketing. Kloss is a yoga bunny ballet supremo and Nike has never before partnered with a fashion model on this kind of level. In October Nike staged a high-profile fashion show at the Women's Innovation Summit in New York, attended by international fashion editors featuring Kloss and a small army of models to unveil its collaboration with Brazilian designer Pedro Lourenço. Nike definitely sees its future in womenswear. It also announced this week the opening its first standalone womenswear store in London on the King's Road, Chelsea. In a bid to attract even more of the female fitness market, which currently accounts for approximately a fifth of its sales, this area is outperforming the rest of the business, according to the Evening Standard. So which icon would women like to see Nike collaborating with next? FKA Twigs, Beyonce?

What other competition exists in the market for these two sportswear giants? Part of the Kering stable, Puma waits in the wings with Rihanna as their new Creative Director. She will oversee the direction of the womenswear line and join athlete, Usain Bolt and footballer Mario Balotelli as a brand ambassador. What direction will Rihanna drive Puma in and what impact will the millions of her fans have on the brand? She's taking a "hands-on approach," according to WWD, working on Puma's fitness and training collections across apparel as well as footwear.

Then there's Baltimore-based 'Under Armor Inc', the new kid on the block and creator of athletic clothing who recently acquired the American apps MyFitnessPal and Endomondo in a bid to become the world's biggest tracker of fitness information. This acquisition sent its share price soaring and will give Under Armor access to a total of 120 million users, an online community that could allow it to compete with the biggest social-media sites out there. That's a lot of fitness freaks and a nod to the future link up and inevitable marriage between fashion and technology. As Under Armor founder and CEO Kevin Plank explained to the Baltimore Sun: "The more someone exercises … the more apparel and footwear they are going to ultimately buy. … This will help us sell more shirts and shoes and reach more athletes." Savvy. Under Armor was originally founded as an apparel company in the 90s, making workout-wear from synthetic materials that soaked up sweat better than cotton. After the idea took off, Under Armor maintained growth by pushing into categories such as shoes and casual wear. It also expanded distribution overseas and has taken on strategic sponsorship with the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, the Welsh rugby team and a four year contract with Andy Murray, who waved adios to Adidas.

Collaborations are undoubtedly an inventive way of sportswear brands keeping their customers engaged and excited. The internet has made everything move at double the speed, even in the 'real' fashion world, designers look to pre-collections and resort to continue providing their customers with something new, something unexpected. The partnership with Kanye builds upon an already solid foundation of fashion collaborations for Adidas including Stella McCartney (Adidas by Stella McCartney), Yohji Yamamoto and more recently Raf Simons, Rick Owens, Jeremy Scott and London star, Mary Katrantzou. One thing's clear, in this market there's a huge momentum for change and an appetite for new ideas, innovations and designers. As Kanye will attest to, there's something all the more democratic, forgiving and embracing about sportswear. For the people, by the people, the race is on for sportswear number one. 


Text Laura Hinson
Photography Kate Owen

Karlie Kloss
Yeezy Boost
under armor
under armour