Is This the Coolest Job in the Sneaker Industry? Life as a Nike EKIN
Amongst sneakerheads, Nike’s EKIN program (that is, Nike spelt backwards) has a near-mythical reputation. An EKIN’s reach, access and insight into the world of the Swoosh, not to mention its veil of mystery, is enough to get any fan hot under the collar. And that’s even before the EKIN-exclusive shoes!
Though it may not be quite the secret society that conspiracy theorists would have you believe, EKINs do form an exclusive club within the ranks of the sportswear behemoth. At once story tellers, product gurus, and community leaders, an EKIN’s multidisciplinary work crosses departments, mediums and borders, all the while engaging with their communities and spreading Nike’s message.
Here, London-based EKIN Niamh Coghlan lifts the curtain on what it’s like having one of the best jobs in the world.
So Niamh, tell us, what is the role of an EKIN at Nike?
An EKIN, first and foremost, must put sport at the heart of everything they do. An EKIN’s role can never quite be defined as it’s more about the essence and the feeling we leave people with than product training. If I had to put it into words, I would probably say our role is to be the face of the brand and embody Nike’s values. We do this through telling the stories of Nike to the people we meet and, in turn, sharing the stories of the people we meet back to Nike, so we can continue to be authentic in our mission to the consumers we serve.
It’s truly the best job in the world, and it’s not until you have been an EKIN that you can ever truly understand its role.
How do you become an EKIN? Do you have to be an existing Nike employee?
This is one the greatest kept secrets of our time… kidding! Every EKIN will have a different story, but the one key strand you will find in each is that every EKIN is passionate about making a difference and is proactive in their community.
I was not an existing Nike employee, had never worked for them before, and had never met anyone who had worked at Nike. I was a coach and personal trainer, and fortunate enough to meet some EKINs via them coming to my classes. I spent years getting to know some of them just through living out my passion of getting more people active and, particularly, more women moving.
It was my authenticity and true calling of increasing female participation in training and sport that ultimately led to my role here. In an increasingly crowded marketplace of personal trainers and coaches in London, I guess I stood out to the Nike team as someone who truly cared and had a mission, a mission that was aligned with Nike. Day-to-day as a trainer I could coach maybe 100 people, but here at Nike I have a platform and opportunity to have impact on a much larger scale!
So, it’s not the straightforward ‘apply online’ answer you were maybe hoping for, but find your passion and focus on impacting your community and that’s when opportunities like these open up to you.
How does your sporting background influence your role as an EKIN?
For me personally, it was hugely important. It’s how I met the team at Nike and, ultimately, how I got my opportunity to join the company. Beyond my sporting background giving me an entry point to EKIN life, it has been an essential knowledge base to allow me to flourish here. When you have an authentic passion for sport, and you work for a company whose priority is to get more people moving, the synergy is powerful. It allowed me to work on and deliver some of the most impactful and meaningful projects of my life.
Authenticity and passion are clearly two important driving forces, but what is your overall mission as an EKIN?
For EKINs all across the globe, our mission is 'To move athletes* any time, any place through impassioned storytelling'. By 'move' we mean both emotionally and physically. (* If you have a body, you are an athlete).
On a personal level, my mission as an EKIN is to help bring to life the real image of sport across the market and showcase to young women in London the joy and fun in being active. I want to help remove the barriers to sport and activity that young women face in London, both through the issues of access and through images of perfection they are bombarded with online, and to grow a truer representation digitally and physically of what it means to be active.
My role as an EKIN has enabled me to live out my mission on a much larger scale than before. From connecting at the grassroots level, to delivering those insights gained to the teams here at Nike. Being the connector between community and company has provided me a unique ability to help more young Londoners move more and move better!
What is the importance of EKINs to Nike?
EKINs are the lifeblood of Nike. One of the earliest and original roles in the company, we’re not only vital to bring to life the stories and innovation behind our incredible product and initiatives, but we’re the pulse and sense-check for the organisation to ensure everything we do is right for the consumer. We are the links and the voice of our local communities and cities, and we are truly able to be the megaphone of our consumer for the discussions and decisions that matter. This is how our company stays grounded in what truly matters, and what difficulties and realities our consumer faces so that we can show up and be there when it matters.
Nike's community engagement is so important. How is the role of an EKIN relevant today in the ever-changing industry?
Nike have always been a purpose-driven company, but the consumer demands that more than ever now, and so we have to step up and not only deliver in regards to our mission and values, but over deliver in the area of purpose. You can’t be purposeful without being authentic, and this is where EKINs become invaluable, more so today than ever before. We continue to provide that link to grassroots and communities so that everything Nike does can remain purposeful and authentic. We are living in an increasingly digital world, and the role of the EKIN is to continue to be local, personal, and in touch with the surroundings. Without that link we lose our connection, we lose our authenticity and, ultimately, we lose our purpose.
How do EKINs fit in with the rest of Nike's team?
We’re unique and lucky in that we get to work across teams and functions more than anyone. EKINs are highly regarded. Often when we introduce ourselves as an EKIN, the next line out of the person’s mouth is, ‘Oh EKINs! I love EKINs!’ It’s amazing to be a part of a team that’s loved and regarded highly throughout the business.
It’s often because we hold information that’s valuable to every category. We can share insights from being out on the ground, staying connected and integrated in our local culture. Those relationships and that knowledge is not easily replicated or found, so it gives us a unique position to integrate and work across all teams.
Our hardest task is to know what projects and teams take priority, as some would argue almost every project that goes on at Nike would benefit from having an EKIN on board!
Who is a standout figure in the sneaker scene and why?
It’s impossible to say in London. We really lead the way as a city when it comes to trends and style. I’m constantly inspired by the people I meet, and the constant ways Londoners continue to innovate. It’s all relative to what ‘standout’ means to you, but for someone like me who is a style and sports polygamist, there are countless standouts. Just take a five-minute stroll around Soho and you’ll be mesmerised by London’s eclectic style.
Finally, what is a project that you are working on at the moment?
We recently launched the Nike Training Camp Croydon, where we have gone to the borough in London with the highest number of young people (aged 16—24), which often gets forgotten about. Months of hard work from a small team here in London have created a Nike PT qualification (the first and only in the world), that is taking 50 young Croydoners through their level 2 and 3 PT qualification for free.
The school has state-of-the-art equipment and environment in their local borough, with the highest level of coaching and teaching available. We have removed the biggest barrier to entry, cost, that young people can not only learn and grow their training skills but can ultimately be set up and supported for a career.
It has been incredibly rewarding to hear the stories of these young women and men, who may never have otherwise been able to afford a qualification, coming together and forming friendships and bonds and, in turn, becoming our megaphone for building healthier lives for those around them.