Nike CEO John Donahoe recently revealed how Serena Williams pushed for better representation in the company's workforce and hence helped provide a platform to a diverse team of designers. Williams has been endorsed by the brand since 2004 and wears custom-made Nike apparel whenever she takes the court.
In 2019, Nike and Williams joined hands to create 'Serena Williams Design Crew' (SWDC), an apprenticeship program for budding designers in New York. It aims to promote diversity in design and give designers from various ethnic and racial backgrounds a chance at producing a Serena-inspired apparel collection.
Donahoe recalled a time five years ago when the tennis great had expressed her desire to see more black and brown designers working on her collections and products.
"Serena Williams is obviously one of the greatest tennis players in history and been a long-term Nike athlete," the Nike CEO said. "About five years ago before I joined full time, [Serena] came to our campus and said, ‘You know what? I would like to see more footwear and apparel designers that look like me, I would like to see more Black and brown designers that create the product that you put my name on."
He admitted that since the design community lacks diversity, Serena Williams' proposition came as a welcome challenge. SWDC was then formulated where black and brown designers could apply and showcase their talents at Nike.
"It was a wonderful challenge and a very appropriate challenge because the footwear and apparel design community is not particularly diverse," Donahoe said. "So we created the Serena Williams Design Crew where we’re young Black and brown designers could apply, show their work and join Nike as a designer."
Donahoe also spoke about an aspiring Nike designer who applied for the program and became one of the 10 people comprising the crew. He later went on to join the footwear team as a graphic designer.
"I’ll tell a small story of a wonderful individual, Juan Huerta, who joined Nike retail in New York five years ago and his goal was to become a Nike designer. Two years ago, he submitted his portfolio to become part of the Serena Williams Design Crew, and out of hundreds of applicants, he was one of the 10 selected, and today is a graphic designer for the footwear team," Donahoe said.
"It’s a wonderful example of how one of our elite athletes has made us better"- Nike CEO on Serena Williams
The crew released their first Serena Williams collection in August this year. It reflected the 23-time Major winner's compelling style while showcasing her vision for inclusiveness and representation.
John Donahoe claimed that the collection was a wonderful example of how Williams changed Nike for the better and forced them to rethink their recruitment and training programs.
"Earlier this summer, that design crew launched the first Serena Williams collection. It’s a wonderful example of how one of our elite athletes has made us better, challenged us in a completely appropriate way, and by listening to the athlete, it’s made us rethink how we recruit and apprentice and train designers," the Nike CEO admitted.