Nike plays to the women's game

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The Independent Online

Nike, the global sportswear giant, is to create a new unit specifically designed for the women's market. Its move comes as companies finally start to realise that female consumers are interested in a great deal more than make-up and cleaning products.

Nike, the global sportswear giant, is to create a new unit specifically designed for the women's market. Its move comes as companies finally start to realise that female consumers are interested in a great deal more than make-up and cleaning products.

The new division will be spearheaded by Clare Hamill, appointed vice president of women's business by Nike chairman and chief executive Philip H Knight. Mr Knight this week praised Ms Hamill: "Nike's women's business is one of our major growth accelerators in the US, and ... such a critical initiative requires a strong and visionary leader, which is exactly what we have in Clare."

Nike currently sells only 20 per cent of its $7.5bn annual turnover to women. However, it is the leading sportswear brand for women and has seen an opportunity to capitalise on the rapidly increasing interest in women's sports and fitness in the US.

The success of the American women's national soccer team, which won the World Cup in 1999 and the Olympic title at Atlanta in 1996, and then the introduction of the Women's National Basketball League, has attracted huge media coverage across the pond. Increasing interest in women's sport, prompted by these achievements, has sparked a surge in demand for women's sports clothing and footwear.

However, the products will not only be designed for "active" sportswomen. Corby Casler, communications director at Nike's headquarters in Oregon, revealed that its women's products aim to "expand beyond the 'core athletics' and reach active women who do not necessarily consider themselves an 'athlete'."

She added: "The business model we will follow is to build upon the way women think. They want to be fit in a way that fits their lifestyle, and that may mean comfortable, performance clothes all day long."

This approach will be mirrored in the way Nike plans to promote these products. Certainly, it will use its selection of top athletes such as Marion Jones, the popular US sprinter, to gain the required attention, though it hopes to shed a slightly different light upon them.

"You will be seeing us signing on more high profile women athletes and expanding the visibility of our current athletes," explained Ms Casler. "Our marketing will help consumers better understand these athletes as people who have lives beyond the professions in which they compete."

Nike's soccer duo, Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain, are sure to be at the forefront of this campaign. Ms Hamm was the star of the national side, leading it to victory in the women's world cup in 1999. However, she was eclipsed in the end by Ms Chastain who scored the penalty to seal the win and hit the headlines by tearing off her shirt in the victory celebrations.

Nike has historically benefited from close links with top sporting figures, such as Michael Jordan, Ronaldo and Michael Johnson. However, it has recently run into trouble with its deal to sponsor golf sensation Tiger Woods. After persuading Mr Woods to swap his Titelist golf balls for Nike, it was discovered that the Nike balls he used were not the ones on sale to the general public.

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