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How Nike Is Making Basketball Gear Better For Women

WNBA's Elena Delle Donne, standing second to right in this photo of Nike athletes, has praised the new basketball gear Nike is making for women.WNBA's Elena Delle Donne, standing second to right in this photo of Nike athletes, has praised the new basketball gear Nike is making for women.
WNBA's Elena Delle Donne, standing second to right in this photo of Nike athletes, has praised the new basketball gear Nike is making for women.

WNBA basketball star Elena Delle Donne has spent most of her athletic career playing in apparel made for men. But she says the newest gear unveiled by Nike, with silhouettes designed specifically for female athletes, are a slam dunk.

“It fits perfectly and it moves with you when you are playing,” the WNBA MVP told Fortune, while wearing the new slimmer cut gear at a media event Nike held last week in New York City. She added, “When you are on court, you don’t want to think about what you are wearing. You just want to play.”

That seems like a simple request, but in a world where many athletic gear design decisions are made with a male point of view first, it hasn’t always been a guarantee that sports apparel should fit women too.

Delle Donne, who plays for the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, has been a Nike (NKE) athlete since 2013 when she first entered the league. She told Fortune that female players had been working with the world’s largest athletic gear maker for about two years to ensure that the styles would work for the professional athletes.

One key request Nike granted: making two different cuts for women. Delle Donne says she wanted something slim and long to fit her body type, but Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird wanted a shorter cut top with more wideness at the hips.

“We aren’t built the same way as men,” Delle Donne, as she sat on a chair in new Nike gear that was tailored neatly to her frame. The women’s basketball apparel was one of many new innovations Nike showed off this week, including a pair of shoes that feature adaptive lacing that tightens automatically.

When asked about the biggest frustration about the gear she traditionally wore to play basketball, Delle Donne complained about both the tops and the short. The shorts were too long, so she was forced to roll them up, resulting in a massive waistband. Tops were wide and loose–too big for a female player’s build.

The changes Nike showed off come before the Rio Summer Olympics this year–Delle Donne is a finalist to play on that squad. It is also a nod to Nike’s broader promise to better address the women’s market. Women make up roughly 40% of the basketball community, so this is a very large market to address. And with Nike’s vow to achieve over $11 billion in sales for women’s gear within the next five years–up from $5.7 billion currently–upgrades to apparel in basketball and other sports can help spur more sales.