In 2018, Nike was valued at $28 billion USD. To give you some perspective, the sportswear industry, in its entirety at that time, was valued at $84.1 billion USD. With such an impressive market share, Nike is in a leadership position to set the standard for many other activewear brands. The question is, will the company use this position of power to drive sustainability efforts forward?
In June, Nike joined a long list of signatories to the UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Change, an initiative created to expand on current industry-wide sustainability efforts. Other brands to sign include the second largest sportswear brand, Adidas AG (which includes Reebok), New Balance, and Puma, as well as general apparel brands like Burberry, Stella McCartney and Levi’s. The primary goals of the charter include hitting net-zero emissions by 2050, and a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 2030. Brands and associations are encouraged to work together to tackle existing gaps, and to increase collaboration among stakeholders across all levels of the fashion industry towards meeting these new targets.
Current estimates of the sportswear industry’s continued growth of around 5.5% a year are expected to reach a staggering $108.7 billion USD by 2025. Largely driven by international health and fitness awareness, a growing middle class in developing nations, and a long list of global sports events taking place in the next few years, Nike remains on course to maintain the highest share of the market.
With such a stronghold on the athletic sector, Nike will be instrumental in taking a leadership role towards making real, visible change in support of the charter. It also means the brand will continue to build on new ways to restructure internally and to invest in innovative, tech-first solutions to improve all of their products.
For instance, this summer the brand will debut Nike Fit, a technology that allows buyers to scan their foot with the Nike app to determine the correct shoe size across all of their styles. The idea here is that by enabling consumers to purchase shoes with their exact measurements the first time around, it will serve to cut down on the number of returns, ultimately leading to energy-savings. This is the kind of action that will likely inspire other brands to develop their own cost (and waste) saving software.
Further examples of innovation include the brand’s Flyknit shoe and the recently announced Nike Adventure Club. The first is a sneaker engineered to reduce materials while simultaneously improving the wear of the product with the expectation that the item will save vast amounts of production waste from ending up in a landfill. The latter is a subscription service aimed at families with children between the ages of two and 10, offering monthly, bi-monthly, and quarterly options of new shoes delivered right to your door. The idea is that it will save time and money for parents and, of course, maintain brand revenue streams. While it sounds like a route to overconsumption, the caveat is that the program makes it super simple to return new or used shoes to Nike, all paid for by brand, in the form of recycling or as a donation. As children tend to grow out of things very quickly, this option should direct these would-be-garbage-shoes from the landfill and back into the circular economy. This model is likely to expand to include adult-age runners and possibly other yet-to-be determined demographics.
Fortunately, Nike isn’t the only brand committed to sustainability through solutions like tech innovation. Other signatories of the Charter like Adidas have been working on more environmentally-friendly apparel by collaborating with organizations like Parlay to create shoes from ocean plastic. Patagonia has also demonstrated a commitment to using ethically sourced materials and social responsibility.
The benefit of the Charter is that it presents an umbrella for all of these brands to work towards unilateral industry goals. The movement towards sustainability is already in motion, and with sportswear leaders like Nike leading the charge, activewear brands will be encouraged to not only keep up with these targets but also to evolve beyond them.