If any company in the footwear industry can write the book about successful collaborations, it’s definitely Nike Inc.
But as the athletic giant – and dozens of brands and companies around the world – continues to evolve its business strategy as part of a larger calculation of racial equality, its executives will tell you, the Executing collaborations takes on a new form.
And, much like the Swoosh, the brand – known for its provocative marketing and long-standing partnerships with black athletes – has been ahead of the curb.
For a virtual panel today, as part of Harlem’s Fashion Row’s third annual Digital Fashion Summit, two Nike executives sat down with HFR Founder and CEO Brandice Daniel to discuss the collaboration between the organization based in Harlem and Beaverton, Oregon. brand based has taken shape. (Daniel launched HFR in 2007 as a platform to support underrepresented black and Latin designers.)
And the reunion and efforts leading up to the release of the Nike LeBron 16 LMTD HFR hold key lessons for fashion brands looking for “non-traditional collaborations” – as HFR has dubbed it – with minority talent and talent. brands run by minorities in today’s racial climate.
Lesson # 1: Make yourself comfortable and uncomfortable.
“As the white man in the room I was really scared that we were going to mess everything up and it would become inauthentic and like we were trying to use this black women story in an inauthentic way and we were going to get the reactions from the community that we’re really trying to tell the story and bring to life, ”said Josh Wachtel, Managing Director of LeBron James & Athlete Business Development at Nike Inc. of the early stages of the HFR-Nike project, adding that her “greatest fear” quickly subsided once the meetings began.
Yet it is important for corporate stakeholders – who may perhaps view black talent as the primary beneficiaries of the racial calculation that has given rise to a multitude of monetary and other promises from national organizations – to recognize that the talents of minorities also feel this discomfort.
In fact, this unease is often heightened by the level of responsibility people of color feel when presenting themselves as the voice of their community in business.
“I was totally terrified because that was one of those things in my gut: I was like ‘this is a really good idea. But I’m a black woman telling this story to this group of guys and I have no idea how they were going to take it, ”said Melanie Auguste, vice president of Global Brand Definition, Goal and Athlete Brand Marketing at Nike, of her first experience in discussing an HFR collaboration with the brand.
Auguste was relieved to be “greeted with open arms” by her white male colleagues, but said she faced another fear-based hurdle when Nike brought the diverse HFR team to their campus.
“It was one of those [moments] where I was afraid of the other side of things, [I thought] ‘Oh damn, aren’t black women going to love us?’ She explained, pointing to Daniel. “Like you’re going to introduce yourself and say, ‘Oh, no’… I was like, ‘I know we’re Nike and we’re on this. [Black representation], ‘but we are also a company and we are everything that goes with it.
Throughout history, the collaboration has been successful and Nike probably has a lot more to come. But as more brands chart the course for meaningful change, the story is a case study for allegedly well-meaning brands that are in their infancy exploring their role in improvement. of racial equity within and outside their respective organizations: discomfort should not become a barrier to progress.
HFR’s virtual event, themed “Beyond the Black Box, A New Conversation About Race” is sponsored by American Eagle Outfitters Inc. and continues until 5:00 p.m. ET. More than 50 professionals from the fashion and retail industry are expected to speak at the event, including Tom Ford, Aurora James, Sergio Hudson and Tommy Hilfiger.