Women in sport: Kate Sutton

Elana Shapiro speaks to alumna, Kate Sutton, about her experience working for adidas in the third interview of our Women in Sport series.

Elana Shapiro
3rd March 2021
In 1924, whilst sat in their mother’s washroom, Adolf and Rudolf Dassler, started the company Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory). Flash forward to 1949 and an argument between the brothers has led to the end of Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik and Adolf and Rudolf have parted ways.  Adolf founds adidas and Rudolf creates Puma. Today, both companies are still situated in the small town of Herzogenaurach, Germany, where the brothers grew up.

Kate Sutton, former Newcastle University student and current senior manager of digital growth at Adidas, describes Herzogenaurach as a “tiny, rural village with two major, global headquarters”. Kate has now been living and working in Germany for 3 ½ years and admits that initially the move was “nerve-wracking”. She explains, “What made it harder was that everyone else thought it was weird as well. I don’t even speak German!

With the reassurance of frequent Ryanair flights home if needed, Kate joined the sports giant as the youngest of only six global brand trainees. More recently she has joined the digital growth team, an area of the business which has become massively important as Covid-19 shut many of its physical stores and consumer shopping habits changed. Furthermore, people’s need for adidas products have also developed as a result of the pandemic. For example, grassroots sport might have taken a hit but running has exploded as people look to escape the monotony of a Covid-regulated routine, and it’s Kate’s job to track these trends and help the company to capitalise on them.  

Along with a global pandemic, Kate’s time at adidas has also seen a change in the perception of female athletes. Kate describes it as “maturing in its understanding”. She reflects, “Some of my frustrations when I first joined were that people tended to talk about ‘the female athlete’, as one homogenous being – the idea that all women are identical, all want the same thing from our brand and can be won with a single swing. I think it’s been amazing to see such a growth in understanding of how we improve not only our building and selling of products to female athletes, but how we use our platform to tell more stories, encourage participation and sponsor elite sportswomen.”

Kate speaks with pride as she tells me about working with Katherine Switzer. A partnership with the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, despite the abuse she faced at the starting line from men, epitomizes adidas’s goal to celebrate women who “tackle challenges head on, defy conventions, express themselves and fuel creativity in the name of sport”.

We’re past the point of empowering women. Women are already empowered. This campaign is about celebrating real women who tackle challenges head on, defy conventions, express themselves, and fuel creativity in the name of sport.

Alexa Andersen, Adidas

Growing up Kate dreamt of being a professional athlete, playing hockey at the Olympics and whilst she did represent Newcastle University Ladies Hockey 1st XI, she admits, “There were definitely times when I wondered why I had spent so much of my life dedicated to sport when it hadn’t come to fruition. No one was going to hire me because I could hit a hockey ball top bins. But what I didn’t ever really realise was how many other things I had learnt through playing sport”.

After graduating, Kate applied to adidas’s prestigious trainee programme. Within two days she was rejected and so spent a year working as a sports assistant at a school. Whilst coaching there, she realised the positive impact that sport could have and was more determined than ever to pursue a career where that impact could be amplified and reach a greater audience. She applied to the same trainee programme at adidas a year later with renewed resolution, “I worked really hard. If I hadn’t gotten in, I didn’t want it to be because I wasn’t prepared enough or didn’t know my stuff. I made a 30,000 word adidas bible and revised it every night” and that leads on to Kate’s parting advice, “Back yourself. You don’t need to know everything straight away but apply for things and if you get knocked back, try again”.

Tomorrow, we speak with Janine Anthony, founder and CEO of LadiesMarch and BBC Sports journalist and presenter.

Featured Image: Kate Sutton (centre right) at the Boston Marathon 2018 with Katherine Switzer (centre left).
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