Nike delves into zines to celebrate the Cortez, flaunts social media stars in street style photography

Since its debut during the 1972 Olympics, the Nike Cortez has come a long way from gracing the feet of long distance runners to the outfits of high fashion models like Bella Hadid. Now, to celebrate the shoe’s 45th anniversary, Nike NZ is dabbling in the business of zines (short for ‘fanzines’ or ‘magazines’) with the launch of The Rise, a photographic exploration into self-expression and female empowerment.

Pictured in the classic black and white kicks, 10 different Kiwi women—including The Rise photographer Holly Sarah Burgess—are showcased in a variety of dynamic poses and unique styles. The zine aims to embody the constantly evolving face and attitude of young New Zealand women, ranging from dancers to poets to rappers and more. Executed by Burgess, Nike NZ PR manager Lily Batt and Nike NZ brand manager Lydia O’Donnell, the small-scale publication is being distributed physically across Auckland centres, as well being hosted online through the Britomart website.

Speaking to Burgess, the 23-year old fashion photographer says that because the majority of women, including herself, primarily work in the online sphere, the idea of producing a physically tactile product to complement their digital work proved to be an attractive idea.

“A lot of the work that us girls are all doing is social media-based. We post our work on Instagram and Facebook, so I think [the zine]is a nice juxtaposition that accompanies all the work we do online. A lot of the work I do is digital…so it was actually really exciting to create something that I could hold in my hand.”

With its roots in 1970s underground punk culture and the accessible proliferation of photocopy machines, zines can be best described as small-circulation works of original or appropriated texts and images with the intent of advancing the views of its creator rather than for the purposes of profit. While the medium has generally been in the domain of independent subcultures and DIY creatives, the last few years has seen an increasing number of brands dabbling in the business of zines as a form of content marketing.

Overseas, zines have become a regular form of communication for Nike, collaborating with designers and innovators in London to celebrate 30 years of the Air Max, as well as working with high-profile creatives such as FKA twigs to promote its women’s range.

In New Zealand, Karma Cola has delved into the medium with a zine to tout its Gingerella concoction. Curated over six months, the 56-page product fronted by redhead model Lily Cole featured stories about its cover star, ginger farmers in Sri Lanka, a profile on Jonny Rotten and numerous ginger-based recipes and cocktails.

When asked why she thinks brands have started to gravitate towards zines, Burgess again refers to the notion of physicality, something which has helped fuel the rise of an analogue counter culture which is reflected in a renewed interest in vinyl music, film photography, upmarket stationery and more.

“I love that you can hold it and look through it and it’s not too overpowering,” says Burgess. “The images just sit so nicely without having too much information. Certain zines are like a snippet into something you want to know more about because they’re short and small…It’s like the girls are coming out of the paper and you can feel the energy through the pages.”

While the resurgence of physical products has to do with counterbalancing the prevalence of virtual mediums, the commercial adoption of zines has much to do with the aesthetics and habits those mediums have proliferated. Platforms like Instagram and Tumblr have helped to foster a much more visual culture, as Jian DeLeon writes for WGSN, and consumers have become “increasingly used to seeing seemingly disparate objects juxtaposed together, whether intentionally or not”.

“The highly-visual zine traffics in the same sort of cognitive dissonance while feeling far removed from the impersonal experience of scrolling through a feed. In this physical context, that sort of narrative becomes more arresting.” 

DeLeon also adds that in a world of freely accessible content, zines have the ability to feel more premium and niche, with brands elevating the medium from “shoddy photocopies” to something more akin to “a modern day coffee table book”. At the same time, the informal nature of this type of marketing manages to still appeal to the modern obsession with authenticity in brand engagement.

Commenting on its Gingerella zine back in 2015, Karma Cola’s Angela Barnett said at the time that when it comes to making a good zine, it’s important that the brand has “a story to tell that’s not just ‘Here’s my product, aren’t we great!’ You have to have something to say”. With Nike’s The Rise, a similar tactic is employed because while the Cortez fails to be amiss in any of the images, it ultimately takes a backseat to the presence of the women that front it.

“There is something magic about being a woman,” writes Burgess in her editorial. “The women in this book…each powerfully carves out the spaces they are in with such raw, positive energy. They are unapologetic about being themselves and their creative energy is not confined to preconceived ideas placed on them by society.”

To further extend the reach of the publication, the team behind The Rise decided to work with female influencers who had not just a strong social media following, but also a notable skill or talent. These influencers include fashion designer Rebe Burgess, dancers Shakaiah Perez and Jahra Rager, musician Jessica Bourke (whose track ‘Soul Free’ features in the behind the scenes video) and co-creator of the blog Rally Katherine Lowe.

“We wanted girls who had a really awesome skill, were confident just doing their thing and hustling in Auckland,” explains Burgess. “Because I’m a fashion photographer, we wanted chicks that had really great style, but their fashion sense would be an addition to their work. We wanted girls that had a really strong, powerful brand image who were working hard.”

“We wanted to find people that were influencing not a huge amount of followers, like hundreds and thousands, but who had a good following…We weren’t really looking for people with heaps of influence for not doing too much, but girls who were influencing because of their skill and art.”

This theme of empowerment, self-expression, creativity and authenticity have been themes that have flowed through all of Nike’s previous ventures into zines, tapping into the increasing prevalence of those values among a more individualistic and younger demographic. For The Rise, it attempts to tie these themes back to the shoe it’s commemorating, touting the Cortez as a “timeless” product that resonates with today’s youth.

“It just looks cool with everything. A lot of these girls were nineties kids who wore Cortez, so everyone was really excited about going back to it. And all the girls really care about health and wellbeing, so being in sportswear and cool fashion pieces is great,” says Burgess.

Timelessness, versatility and its iconic status are all aspects that are being pushed in overseas campaigns for the Cortez as well, with Bella Hadid fronting the commemorations in a variety of looks that include silk dresses, bomber jackets and denim kick flares, the latter of which serves as a homage to seventies icon Farrah Fawcett. And while celebrations for the shoe’s 45th birthday carry on in style, Nike remains steadfast in its belief that the Cortez—along with the women who wear it—will continue to rise and rise again.

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