Visa Unites Women in Sports and Design at New York Fashion Week

Expanded NYFW footprint included startup pitch competition

women holding a giant check
Visa brought its global startup pitch competition to New York Fashion Week for the first time. Visa
Headshot of Ian Zelaya

Key Insights:

As a longtime sponsor of the NFL, FIFA and the Olympics, Visa has experience engaging consumers and clients around major sports events. Now, the financial services company is creating dynamic activations on the runway.

Visa has focused on expanding its footprint in fashion since it became the first official payment technology partner of New York Fashion Week (NYFW) in 2018. And for the latest season of NYFW, which kicked off Feb. 3 and runs through Feb. 12, the brand merged its involvement with fashion and sports by highlighting women impacting both industries.

For Visa’s fourth season as a NYFW sponsor, the brand worked with agency IMG’s fashion division to expand its event footprint at Manhattan’s Spring Studios venue with a new startup competition, a revamped retail experience, and a panel featuring brand ambassadors across fashion and sports.

Mary Ann Reilly, svp and head of marketing for North America at Visa, said connecting women’s empowerment to fashion and sports at NYFW was a no-brainer; the brand had just come off its Super Bowl activations in Miami, and is already planning on-the-ground projects in Tokyo for the Olympics this summer.

“[For New York Fashion Week], we always have a message about women’s empowerment. We showcase female designers and give them an opportunity to speak on panels,” Reilly said. “This year, we wanted to highlight women in sports, design and fashion who are paving the way for other women.”

The brand brought the Visa Everywhere Initiative, a global program through which startups pitch ideas to solve payment problems in retail, to NYFW for the first time. Since the program launched in 2015, more than 6,000 startups have participated.

The Fashion Week edition of the program tasked five women entrepreneurs with pitching retail technology ideas to a panel of female judges including Reilly, Swaay Media founder and CEO Iman Oubou, and The Helm CEO Lindsey Taylor Wood. The event awarded $25,000 to Eon, a sustainability-focused startup run by CEO Natasha Franck, who pitched an idea for making the products that consumers purchase trackable after point of sale.

Reilly said the decision to bring a women’s edition of the program to NYFW was partly inspired by the state of women’s businesses in the U.S. According to the brand’s 2019 report on the state of female entrepreneurship, women own nearly half of small businesses in the U.S., but 61% of women surveyed reported self-funding their businesses, while 73% found it difficult to obtain funding.

“We want to make sure women feel empowered and confident around the topic of money,” she said. “The Visa Everywhere Initiative puts us in position of supporting these businesses.”

Visa also hosted a panel called Designed to Compete that aimed to merge sports and fashion. Moderated by Endeavor CMO Bozoma Saint John, the panel featured fashion designer Cynthia Rowley, best known for her wetsuits and swimsuits. The panel also had two Visa-sponsored athletes: football player Saquon Barkley, who recently participated in the brand’s Super Bowl activations, and Hawaiian surfer Carissa Moore, who’s slated to compete at the Tokyo Olympics. Each panelist shared insights on how they achieve their goals.

The brand worked with IMG to create a sports-themed pop-up shop with products and decor in gold, silver and bronze.

The brand expanded its onsite Visa Everywhere Pop-Up Shop, which kept with the event theme by spotlighting sports gear from women-founded companies. The brand tapped Claudia Lebenthal, founder and editor of sports fashion platform Style of Sport, to curate the shop with products including Rowley’s wetsuits, and leather accessories from The Daily Edited and Clare Vivier, which could be monogrammed onsite. According to Reilly, the brand will donate 100% of proceeds from the shop to Women’s World Banking, a nonprofit that provides women entrepreneurs with financial resources.

Like many of Visa’s recent shoppable activations, customers could pay for items at the pop-up using the brand’s contactless cards or digital wallets. Reilly said showcasing the brand’s payment technology is a priority for all of Visa’s consumer experiences; at Cannes in 2019, the brand showed off its sensory branding technology, which allows consumers to see an animation or feel their phone vibrate after they make a purchase.

Visa is no stranger to supporting women in sports—the brand celebrated the U.S. women’s soccer team with a 2019 spot and also launched a seven-year deal as the first sole sponsor of UEFA women’s football. Reilly didn’t offer specifics on what Visa has planned for its Olympics campaign and activations in Tokyo, but said the brand will continue to leverage its athlete partnerships and tap more influencers for future sponsor activations. The success of these activations is measured based on social and earned media impressions.

“Our sponsorships are based on the ability for us to connect with consumers, our clients and fans of [a particular] sport or fashion,” Reilly said. “We believe in bringing our brand to life with all of these sponsorships. It’s not just about slapping our logo on it.” Ian Zelaya is an Adweek reporter covering how brands engage with consumers in the modern world, ranging from experiential marketing and social media to email marketing and customer experience.