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BMX Star Nigel Sylvester Talks Sports, Culture Ahead of Air Ship Sneaker Launch

Nigel Sylvester wouldn’t budge when pressed by an audience member as to when the public would be able to buy his Nike Air Ship shoe, which was made exclusively for the BMX superstar’s “friends and family.” But the first non-basketball player to have his own Jordan shoe, and the first Black BMX rider to have a major shoe deal of any kind had more to share at the sixth Fashion Tech Forum in New York on Tuesday.

“I feel like what clothes and style can do is unlock or activate the superpower,” Sylvester said during a panel discussion with Calvin Klein EVP and global head of design Jess Lomax, and hosted by Boardroom writer Randall Williams. A pair of Jordan 1s and good denim are usually part of that equation, he said.

The Air Ship sneaker, which has the word “bike” rather than “Nike” on the top heel, has been rumored to be released for public sale May 10, based on an Instagram post by Sylvester on March 8.

Back in 2018, the Jordan 1 shoe Sylvester not only endorsed but helped design was also the first basketball shoe to come out of the box intentionally distressed. Others have followed suit.

“That set a tone, I feel, within the footwear world,” Sylvester said. “We did that because when I ride my bicycle, I don’t have any brakes so when I stop, I’m putting my foot on the ground and ripping that shoe up, or I’m shoving it between my frame and [tires]… So we decided to tell that story of how my shoes get distressed while I’m riding and people gravitated toward it because the story was real, it resonated and now those shoes can sell themselves.”

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Lomax, who in 2020 came to Calvin Klein from Nike where she was senior creative director, said the key to making collaborations with athletes connect, is to hook consumers into the storyline.

“It’s not selling the ‘what’, it’s selling the ‘why’, right?” Lomax said. “I think having more purpose behind what we’re designing, more intention and more of an emotional connection with our customer, that’s what can resonate and cut through.”

Nigel Sylvester, Jess Lomax, Randall Williams. Courtesy of FTF

The discussion on “Game-Changers: The Intersection of Fashion, Sports and Culture” was one of 11 sessions held as part of the first FTF since the pandemic at NASDAQ headquarters above Times Square. The event was also live-streamed on the Nasdaq website.

Fashion Tech Forum co-founder Karen Harvey. Courtesy of FTF

FTF founder Karen Harvey, along with Maia Wojcik, started the event in 2014 with the aim of helping leaders in the world of fashion better understand cutting-edge technologies related to their business.

“It was, how do you bring these two seemingly disparate sectors together at the leader level and have them get together for really good conversation to go and build stuff together for the future?” Harvey said.

The 2023 edition was themed “Building Brands and Teams in a World Emerging from Chaos,” referring not only to the disruption of the pandemic, but to the brewing storms associated with artificial intelligence, social media and understanding the first generation of digitally native consumers.

Angela Ahrendts, the former CEO of Burberry and SVP of retail at Apple when it launched the first iPhone in 2007, said 2023 will go down as the most innovative ever in business and the most disruptive in management structure.

“I think these are the types of things that are just going to be flipped upside-down,” Ahrendts said in a session hosted by Moira Forbes, EVP of Forbes Magazine. “I think probably the most important part is the whole organizational evolution that’s going to have to take place and finally, once and for all, we’re going to lean on the creatives to look ahead and run things in an AI world.”

Ahrendts, credited for turning around Burberry, said the key to the brand’s success in 2006 will be the same as it will be for businesses that can weather AI in 2023 and beyond—getting with the new technology.

“You have to use AI as your new lens and you have to make an assumption that every young person you hire is ahead of you,” she said. “If you don’t, you’re going to fall further and further behind because you don’t know the innovations that are going to keep coming out.”

Former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts interviewed by Forbes Magazine EVP Moira Forbes. Courtesy of FTF

Almost as unlikely as Ahrendt’s digitally driven turnaround of Burberry was the more recent one pulled off by Kristin Patrick and her team at Claire’s, the 50-year-old ear-piercing bulwark of the 1980s mall scene that convinced “Zalphas,” as Patrick coined them, that the legacy chain is cool once again.

Patrick pointed to four critical factors in Claire’s success: team-building inside the company and out, design, meeting consumers “phygital” needs, and understanding the customer. The result has been a customer loyalty base of 16 million, a newly launched flagship boutique in Paris and even a new lifestyle magazine that goes beyond glamorizing the products Claire’s manufacturers and sells.

“One thing I discovered while creating the magazines and the products together is you cannot tell kids what they should be doing; it has to be about incorporating and collaborating together,” said Nicola Formichetti, Claire’s director-in-residence who was formerly the artistic director at Diesel. “So, yes, this magazine is about style and fashion, but it’s also about mental health issues and politics and all of that.”

From left, Claire’s CMO Kristin Patrick, creative director in-residence Nicola Formichetti, and brand ambassador Lourdes Pereira at Tuesday’s Fashion Tech Forum in New York. Courtesy of FTF

Claire’s executives also credited their success to the launch of their own Web3 Roblox game called ShimmerVille, where players can access Claire’s fashions for their avatars and be motivated to purchase like items for their physical selves.

“The democratization of content, or the tools to make content, has made every consumer a creator and that’s what’s so incredibly exciting about this time that we live in is that everyone feels they have skin in the game,” said Brad Foxhoven, CEO of EverGame Media, which helped develop the ShimmerVille metaverse game.