Nike and Serena Williams are releasing their first collaboration designed by the 2020 cohort of the Serena Williams Design Crew (SWDC) apprenticeship. Beginning in 2019 as a partnership between Nike and Williams, the design program aims to “promote diversity in design and establish a new generation of design talent at Nike and beyond.” The first cohort of design talent designed the inaugural collection during their six-month program at the sportswear giant.
The first of two installments, this drop is a true celebration of sports and culture, with inspiration drawn from '90s fashion and Serena Williams’s long list of accolades in competition. Available on September 1, you can shop the pieces on Nike.com, as well as in Nike stores and select retailers. This first release includes an exciting mix of sports and street apparel, as well as footwear.
The line features three pairs of low-top sneakers, including a pair of chunky heels, as well as platform sandals, which have been making a style comeback in recent years. The SWDC collection also offers sports apparel like an asymmetrical bodysuit adorned with every year that Serena Williams’ won a grand slam. Three other tops, as well as a pair of shorts and tights, were also created by the design crew, with breathability, stretch, and comfort in mind.
Beyond performance wear and casual street pieces, the Serena Williams Design Crew also created lifestyle offerings. Jumpsuits, pants, a fleece hoodie, a cool crop top, and a jersey dress round out the collection. All designs are sleek, sporty, and perfectly reminiscent of '90s fashion.
The collection draws inspiration from Serena Williams herself. “Williams 00” is adorned across the back of the women’s tennis jersey dress and is a tribute to Williams’ daughter, Olympia Ohanian, whose initials are OO. It is also a reference to the number zero, the titular “love” in tennis. Many of the collection’s designs feature the letter “S” as a tribute to Serena Williams, and all items are stamped with her signature.
The line also celebrates the tennis player’s achievement on the court. Both pairs of Nike Court Legacy sneakers are adorned with four gold eyelets referencing Serena’s four Olympic gold medals. Not only that, but each pair of sneakers was tagged with the SWDC logo (“10 4 01”), which “celebrates inclusivity, diversity, and the bond between team and individual.”
Many items also use Kente cloth designs, which Serena Williams asked to be featured in the collection. Kente cloth is a traditional Ghanaian cloth noticeable for its bright colors and zigzag patterns. Today, it is often used as a symbol of assertion of Black and African American identity.
The collection is also an ode to '90s streetwear. Materials like fleece and mesh, which have been everywhere this summer, are used across multiple collection items. The focus is on bold patterns (such as Kente cloth) and bright colors like orange, green, red, and blue. You will find items directly reminiscent of the decade, such as a pair of orange overalls, chunky platform sandals, and even a top and dress inspired by basketball jerseys.
A Program to Promote Diversity
For its first installment, Nike has recruited ten apprentices to develop a new and diverse generation of talent in design. “It was so important to me to have diversity. I wanted to make sure that we had that representation to believe in my vision,” says Serena Williams of the project. Out of the 10 apprentices mentored by Nike’s product team, seven were hired as full-time employees. With this program, Nike makes clear its intention to bring much-needed diversity to the fashion industry.
Others in the industry have also been working towards that goal. Virgil Abloh, the artistic director of Louis Vuitton men’s wear, launched a $1 million scholarship program aimed at fashion students of Black and African descent last year. Aurora James started the 15 Percent Pledge, calling retailers to reserve 15% of their stock to Black-owned brands.
Over the course of the program, the apprentices will work on all aspects of product design, from choosing and developing material and 3D design to creating footwear and apparel items. The first year of the program centered on New York City-based talent, and the second class of 2021 will focus on upcoming talent from Chicago.