Update: There have been a lot of complaints on Twitter that this essay doesn’t place enough blame on Bella Hadid’s role in the Complex video fiasco and that is a fair criticism. As a 21-year old she has agency and responsibility. While her use of African American vernacular was very clumsy and she was called out and roasted for it on social media, it doesn’t erase her attempt to use it and is akin to what brands do when they steal ideas from independent designers and profit from them.
For women of color who have been a part of building sneaker culture from day one, seeing Hadid not only pretend she owns the space, but also make money from it is another painful reminder of how black women are so often relied upon to be a foundation but never the flag bearer.
Why did she receive a light-handed critique originally? Because as an employee her role is temporary and while she may not be relevant in five years, mega-global corporations will continue and as such their decisions have far more impact. On social media, there is a tendency to overly-focus on the individual and gloss over the companies that are funding them and the article was an attempt to fix that dynamic but probably went too far.
Read the original story below.
Complex linked with Nike brand ambassador Bella Hadid last week as part of a sneaker shopping series hosted by Joe La Puma. Ever since it went live, Hadid has been getting clowned non-stop on social media not only for sounding like a try-hard cool girl, but also for having what appears to be a very shallow understanding of sneaker culture.
For icing on the cake, Hadid was shot striking a pose in a pair of Air Jordan Retro 1 x Off White sneakers that appeared to cause a crease in the toe box, a move that strikes pain in the heart of anyone who cares deeply about their sneakers.
While Hadid is catching heat, in many ways she is a parable for why sneaker brands struggle to connect with women. Nike announced Hadid as a brand ambassador in November 2016, a move viewed as surprising given that Nike historically has invested the vast majority of its marketing spend on athletes.
No doubt, Nike signing Hadid and Kendrick Lamar reflected the brand’s realization that it needed to be in the influencer game, an approach that not only fueled Adidas’ return to success, but also has enabled it to knock Nike back on its heels in the United States.
Nike’s first campaign with Hadid promoting its Cortez shoe was largely successful because Bella is actually a great model. The issue is that Nike chose to position her as a life long sneaker lover who’s always had a thing for Air Force 1 sneakers. Given her upbringing as a wealthy California girl with a passion/talent for horseback-riding, it was a backstory that immediately rang false.
Nike could have gone with the true story and positioned Hadid as a newbie to the culture who legit likes sneakers, but admittedly has a lot to learn. Given her popularity as a model, people would accept that approach and respect her for her honesty, and, you know, actually just being herself.
Instead, she went on the Complex series and got exposed as a poseur, which sucks for her (how did her manager let that number of “dope” and “homeboy” mentions fly?), and at the same time irritated women in the culture who feel disrespected by Nike and Complex’s male-gaze-fueled approach to the female customer.
Athletic brands all talk a very big game about capturing the female customer and yet always seem to fall short of those goals, waving it off as women being less brand loyal. There’s truth to women being more label mutable, but Nike and other brands should ask themselves what would happen if men were on the receiving end of the same disconnected and at times hostile messaging women are sent on a daily basis. They might discover men aren’t all that loyal either.
Check out the episode below.