With sneakers and sweatpants transcending the gym and taking to the runway, it is no wonder that sneaker collectors, Emily Hodgson and Emilie Riis, weren’t satisfied with the monotonous selection of women’s sportswear. It’s no secret that the realm of athletic apparel has catered to men, occasionally sprinkling in a few pink and purple pieces to appease the ladies. But last July Emily and Emilie decided to turn their frustration into action, by developing the fantasy site Purple Unicorn Planet.
PUP and the #pleasejustdoit campaign were created by the duo to target the lack of sizing and colorways in Nike trainers. The women, who met while working for the creative agency 18 Feet & Rising in London, came up with the fake online shop to grab the attention of the sportswear giant, featuring an array of popular Nike styles that aren’t available in women’s sizes.
When Nike finally reached out to Emily and Emilie to discuss the issue, it seemed that progress was being made with their movement. After a representative was sent to meet them, Nike issued a statement saying, “We have always been and will continue to be supportive of feedback from our consumers,” and calling the campaign “very interesting.” Unfortunately, Nike has since done little to suggest that they intend to respect the “feedback from [their] consumers.”
We reached out to the PUP creators to catch up on the progress with their campaign and see what their plans are for the future.
When did you both start collecting sneakers?
Emilie Riis: Our trainer collection is modest compared to die-hard sneakerheads. But that’s largely due to the fact that we can’t buy the trainers we want in our size. My favorite style is the Air Force trainer but they rarely make cool designs for women in this shape. My boyfriend is also into trainers so I get to live out my trainer dreams through him.
Emily Hodgson: My first pair of sneakers were K-Swiss Tongue Twisters, which I still love, they’re timeless. Now my collection is mainly Nike, but as Emilie said, it would be bigger and better if I could get the darker colorways with the more interesting textures and designs men get in their range.
Is that the root of the PUP campaign? You guys were fed up with the selection?
EH: It was born out of our joint frustration, months on eBay prowling online and the last straw – a trainer release in London which claimed to cater for both men and women. In fact, most of the sneakers started at a UK6. You can talk something to death, however actually doing something to change status quo was important to us. So we came up with the idea under of the guise of a fantasy shop.
ER: We knew, to get the attention from Nike, we had to show them that this is bigger than just Emily and I. We had to build a community of supporters sharing our point of view and frustrations. After speaking to friends and looking online we realized we weren’t alone – there were women out there from all across the globe who too were in search of sneakers that weren’t pink, purple or banana yellow.
I know you both hope that Nike will create the trainers on PUP in women’s sizes, but what other outcomes would you like from your campaign?
ER: We would love for PUP to shake up the whole female sneaker market. We have had feedback from girls saying this is not only a problem with Nike, it’s also a problem with other sportswear brands. There seems to be a general oversight in the market, a misunderstanding of what women want in a sneaker. It would be great if PUP could help put focus on the shortage and help the whole category shape up.
How do you feel about the way Nike has responded? Do you feel they have any intention of producing more women’s sizes?
ER: We are very disappointed about the response from Nike. It doesn’t address the initial question and as such it completely neglects to listen to the thousands of women and men who have expressed their gratitude and support for PUP. By neglecting their audience we feel Nike is doing themselves a huge disservice as it shows us (the customers) that they are only willing to listen to a certain point, which then tells us that they are not listening at all. We know there is a lead-time of up to a year on a shoe. This is currently being used as an excuse to tell us that no brand can turn around a shoe within a shorter time frame. But is this really an excuse? We doubt that you can’t turn around a shoe any quicker if you really wanted to. This also indicates that the trainer market is very inflexible to react to new trends, ideas and customer requests.
Do you think Nike just doesn’t believe in the commercial viability of unisex shoes? What are the pros?
EH: Unisex products are continuing to gain market share, as consumers loosen their gender barriers and many products gain a far broader appeal. We are currently undergoing an interesting shift away from masculine and feminine products, blurring the lines between the sexes to move forward in a more uniformed way.
ER: Brands like Calvin Klein and American Apparel have benefited from this approach. We think it’s good to have a women’s range and a men’s range – and a unisex range. The unisex range should definitely be bigger and more developed and then they should update their women’s range with a better selection of styles and colors. There is still a market for women’s and men’s footwear.