At a time when every brand under the sun is screaming “women empowerment” from the rooftops – in a way that will often and unfortunately make you question their intentions – Nike is not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk. Although, in Nike’s case, it’s probably a run.
While Savoir Flair have been reporting on this movement long before Maria Grazia Chiuri made feminism a bona fide fashion term (and rightly so), later to be imitated by seemingly every fast-fashion brand in existence, a recent trip to Budapest with Nike was the first time I really understood it in context.
To launch its #BelieveInMore campaign, the sportswear giant partnered up with influential athletes* from around Europe and the Middle East – you might have even spotted some of them in the windows of your local Nike store. More on that, here. The project culminated in a three-day event in Budapest, during which some of these women were invited to “co-create” something with the brand.
If you have a body, you’re an athlete.
If you noticed the asterisk next to the word “athlete” in the previous paragraph, well done. It’s something I picked up in Budapest from the Nike team that explained the brand refers to all women as “athletes*” because, in their own words, “If you have a body, you’re an athlete. If you have a body, you can achieve something with it.”
Case in point: Our time in Budapest kicked off with a four-kilometer run through some of the most picturesque parts of the city. The idea of running four kilometers with strangers in a city that we’d never been to, led by a professional triathlete – and just a couple of hours after getting off a plane?
It was almost too much to bear for some of us, who couldn’t help but smile nervously at each other as we started with a pre-run stretch outside the hotel. Fast forward to 40 minutes and four kilometers later, however, and the general consensus was that we could have gone another four! There’s nothing like the electric energy of girl power and a new set of gorgeous running gear (thank you, Nike) to give you wings.
She grew up in a city where women were not allowed to participate in sports.
On day two, I was introduced to the triathlete in question, Esra Nur Gökçek, who was representing Turkey in the campaign. We sat around her as she told us her story – how she grew up in a city where women were not allowed to participate in sports and how her mother, who had always wanted to be an athlete, was forbidden to do so by her grandfather.
With tears in her eyes, she explained that this drove her even more to succeed when, after they moved to a different city, she was finally allowed to train with her brother. Some of us teared up, some of us got goosebumps, but all of us were clapping for her and what she has achieved. This is a woman who trains six hours a day, 29 days a month. Inspiring doesn’t even begin to describe her.
After a short panel, during which some of the co-creators discussed their collaboration with Nike, we were introduced to the brand’s new ‘Chrome Blush’ collection. The best way to describe it would be as follows: imagine your dream workout wardrobe, the kind that would actually get you out of bed at 6 a.m. every morning and into the gym, the kind that has just the right amount of girliness to have you feeling your best while you’re kicking butt.
The pièce de résistance, IMO, was a zip-up bra (available in pink, amongst other colors) that came about as a result of client feedback. According to the brand, women were complaining about having to slither out of a sweaty bra at the end of a grueling session, which led to the creation of the ‘Zip Bra’. Bonus points to Nike for making our lives easier.
After getting familiar with the new products, we were asked to slip into them, and proceed to hair and makeup for a little surprise shoot. Nike had a stylist, a team of eight hair-and-makeup artists, a professional photographer, and a set waiting for us. Used to being behind the photographer as opposed to in front of him, I found posing to be a real challenge (cue a total loss of hand-eye coordination). But after a few of the girls caught on to my level of camera shyness, they stood around the set to encourage me. I will forever owe my less-awkward snaps to them.
Later, on that same day, we were treated to a ballet class by Olga Kuraeva and a hula-hoop workshop with Saudi artist Balqis Al Rashed. In a similarly heartbreaking moment to Gökçek’s, the Russian ballerina shared her own story and we couldn’t believe that the strong, beautiful woman standing in front of us had been told that she would never make it in ballet because her face was too round and her legs were too muscular (click here to see just how ludicrous that is). After a two-year hiatus, during which she couldn’t bring herself to even think about dancing, Kuraeva decided that she would dedicate herself to empowering a new generation of dancers by becoming a teacher.
Meanwhile, Al Rashed – who rose to fame after a video of her hula-hooping in a niqab went viral – is a firecracker of a young woman with more soul and love for life than most people you’ll be lucky enough to meet. As we clumsily stumbled around with the hoops, her words of encouragement kept everyone’s spirits high.
On the third and final day of the trip, after a beautiful rooftop yoga class led by Nike trainer Jessica Skye, we gathered in an art gallery for the unveiling of some of the co-creation projects. Esra Nur Gökçek, Lebanese blogger Lana El Sahely, Olga Kuraeva, and 16-year-old (!!!) indoor skydiver Maja Kuczyńska had each produced a photo or video project to showcase their talents and describe what it meant to them to be a Nike ambassador. You can browse them all below.
Representing the Middle East alongside Balqis Al Rashed was Lana El Sahely, who was one of the first influencers in the region to collaborate with international brands and the first to launch an e-commerce platform as part of her blog. Bringing a fashionable touch to her project, she teamed up with photographer Tarek Moukaddem and styled a shoot featuring special customized Nike pieces. These read, “Ethaddi Nafssek” – or challenge yourself.
After three days of being surrounded by inspirational women, three days of supporting women, and three days of being with women who make you feel like you can take on the world, I returned home with a new appreciation for the term “female empowerment”. Truly, there isn’t much we can’t achieve – and there are even fewer things we can’t achieve with each other’s support.
Lana El Sahely
Esra Nur Gökçek