The W in Designer: Exploring Athlete Image in the Off-Season (Part II)

In the midst of an ongoing exploration of how WNBA players are redefining ideas around an athlete’s image, it’s important to take a break! The frequency of player announcements occurs at an exciting, rapid pace, but focusing on certain deals can reveal larger meanings and movements that may shape the upcoming season. Featuring insights from industry professionals, discovering new connections, style expressions, image additions in Han Xu‘s recent brand partnerships, Diamond DeShields’ feature for Notre’s “Our Friend” series, and Destanni Henderson becoming an ambassador for Moolah Kicks

As the first Chinese woman drafted to the WNBA in 22 years, Han Xu has an undeniable resonance with an international audience. Represented by Wasserman, a “culture-centric” agency, Han navigates her deals with a team that includes Lindsay Colas, Executive Vice President of Talent Representation, and Bo Hu, Vice President, Strategy & Business Development in China. Apart from commending Han’s incredible basketball skills, the Wasserman team notes the significance of her victories at key competitions on domestic and international courts: “Now, more Chinese players want to follow in Han’s footsteps and compete at the highest level of women’s basketball. We expect to see more Chinese players in the WNBA soon, especially given the Chinese national team’s silver medal at the FIBA women’s World Cup.” 


Han’s performance amplifies the positive impact of the WNBA on an overseas audience. If more international players aim for the WNBA, then “these players’ movements and connection to a diversity of fan bases will benefit the league brand and women’s basketball globally.” Other qualities of Han– as someone who’s constantly learning, Han pushes herself to take online courses to earn her master’s degree– are reflected in her public athlete image, allowing her to inspire the next generation of athletes. “Han is the face of China’s high school basketball league as a very successful alumnus,” says the Wasserman team, “Not only on the court but also off the court pursuing her education.”

Balancing Nike athlete and Glossier partner deals, the Wasserman team shares that “authenticity is what matters most, but diversity in a brand portfolio is a great way to demonstrate the multi-faceted nature of Han’s personality and interests.” Glossier was a brand that Han used “before a formal partnership was ever done,” and she’s worn Nike jerseys for every phase of her career. The Wasserman team views her Nike deal as a “full circle moment” as women’s basketball continues to grow in China and also having her as an alumni ambassador for the high school league. Studying Han’s athlete image emphasizes a commitment to authenticity, even in business deals, and introduces an international dimension to the WNBA’s expanding audience. 

Looking at Diamond DeShields’ feature in the “Our Friend” series by Notre, a curated boutique in Chicago, the elevated and gender-subversive styling signal a shift for the athlete image. Raf Porter, Notre’s Creative Director, remarks that DeShields is a fantastic model for “the range of clothing she can pull off” and an impressive height that fits the full spectrum of Notre’s designers. “Avoiding the identity of ‘sporty’ or ‘athletic’ was a conscious decision from both Diamond and our team, but it’s effortless for her,” says Porter, “That was expressed not only in this feature but the majority of her outfits she styles herself in regularly.” As a friend of DeShields, Porter has taken the time to understand her goals and her desires not to be “boxed into a label of how she should dress to match the status quo.”  

While scholarship on the early days of the WNBA cites normative portrayals of player coverage, the current league holds an inclusive environment where expression in style and gender identity can flourish. “I love that we could have her in a classically feminine skirt from a designer like Chopova Lowena in one look and pair casual men’s garments from JACQUEMUS with Dr. Martens Derbys in another,” explains Porter. Seeing DeShields in designer brands also pushes the needle in how the high-end fashion industry embraces players: “A lot of WNBA players match the traditional look and criteria we’ve come to accept for runway models of any gender, so we hope that sharing Diamond’s style in our editorial helps to bridge the gap.”

The authenticity within Han and DeShields’ personalities also appears in Destanni Henderson’s recent announcement as one of Moolah Kicks‘ first ambassadors for its Neovolt Pro shoe. “I’m a sneakerhead, so doing something with a sneaker brand has always been a goal for me,” says Henderson, “I was introduced to the founder, Natalie White, and was inspired by what she was doing… I was excited to partner with Moolah and help other women and girls find these shoes.” Working with the brand’s designers on the colorways she’ll wear, Henderson’s love for bright colors in her daily outfits and designs for HENNYTHING’$ PO$$IBLE®️ guides this partnership’s creative output. 

While White commends Henderson’s on-court talent, she also sees her as a “business owner with an eye for street culture, fashion and design, which separates her from other athletes.” Adding that Henderson represents the “next generation of female athletes,” their partnership points to a younger athlete image that’s also multidimensional. Working as a role model for “all athletes who strive to be both a leader and entrepreneur,” Henderson’s partnership is built upon her real-life business acumen. “The goal for me is to grow and reach more people if I can. If you look good, you feel good; you do good. And to spread the word that there are women doing this and leading the way. I’m proud to be part of that,” says Henderson.

WNBA reporter Kirsten Chen writes a lifestyle & fashion column on throughout the season and can be reached on Twitter through @hotgothwriter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.