Naomi Osaka has been unveiled as Louis Vuitton’s new global brand ambassador in a massive partnership that cements her place as one of sport’s most marketable figures.
Osaka’s partnership with the French fashion house was announced on Monday, with the Japanese tennis star describing it as a “full circle moment”.
Coming off the back of a year where she dedicated much of her time to social activism and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, featuring in Louis Vuitton’s spring-summer 2021 campaign is a sign of her commercial appeal being intrinsically linked to her social advocacy.
At just 23 years old, Osaka’s rise to the heights of tennis has been rapid. On the court, she qualified for her first grand slam tournament in 2016, and, in just a few short years, she has won three grand slams including the US Open and Australian Open.
She is now ranked No.3 in the world and in 2020, she eclipsed Serena Williams to become the highest earning female athlete after bagging lucrative endorsement deals with the likes of Nike, All Nippon Airways, MasterCard and Nissin.
As she’s risen to become one of the most recognisable faces in tennis, Osaka has leveraged her influence to push the boundaries on social issues, setting her apart from other sports stars.
During the height of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US last year, Osaka made waves when she became the first tennis player to strike in solidarity. Her decision to withdraw from the semi-finals of the Western & Southern Open in New York in August prompted the entire tournament to follow suit and postpone the competition.
“Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman,” she offered on social media at the time. “I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction.”
“Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach.”
In each of her seven US Open matches, she chose to wear face masks with the names of Black men, women and children who had been killed by police violence. When asked to clarify what her message was after wearing 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s name on her mask, she said: “‘What was the message that you got?’ is more the question…I feel like the point is to make people start talking.”
On social media, she posted images of herself taking part in the peaceful protests that followed the police killing of George Floyd. And she’s continued to yield her influence over her 1.8 million Instagram and 820,000 Twitter followers by consistently talking about racial injustice. She has a passionate following of young people in her home country, Japan, and is expected to be one of the major faces of the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
In January 2021, she graced the cover of Vogue, becoming only the second tennis player to do so. Her spread was shot by veteran celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz.
Osaka’s willingness to engage so fiercely and consistently as an activist and her continuing domination on the court has turned her into a commercial powerhouse. Her power to generate conversation and make change is unparalleled when compared to other athletes in the current moment.
With further collaborative projects in the pipeline as Louis Vuitton’s global ambassador, Osaka is truly making a shift in what constitutes a role model. Sticking to her convictions and speaking out when it matters is the path Osaka has chosen to follow, and it looks like brands can’t get on board quick enough.
As Louis Vuitton’s creative director Nicolas Ghesquière said: “Naomi is an exceptional woman who represents her generation and is also a role model for everyone. Her career and convictions are inspiring. I am in awe of Naomi, she stays true to herself and doesn’t compromise on her values.”
Want more stories about women in sport? Sign up to The Sporty Wrap.