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Female flag football players wearing Nike uniforms designed by Sydney Gayda, AS15.
Even during her senior year at UD, Sydney Gayda, AS15, was already challenging norms. While her fellow apparel design majors were sending high-heeled fashion models down the runway, she had guys in snow boots walking the catwalk.
“Most women in the fashion industry are pushed toward designing streetwear or high fashion,” Gayda said. “But I knew at a very young age, that I wanted to go a different route. I was breaking boundaries with my senior collection and thought I was innovative for featuring men’s snowboarding apparel. I’m from a very small town in southern Vermont, and I started taking sewing lessons from my neighbor when I was in fourth grade. So, I knew from then on what I wanted to do and already had a very clear vision for what I wanted to design when I was starting my freshmen year at UD.”
Now, as an apparel designer for Nike’s Promo Team & League division, Sydney is still breaking down barriers and leveling the playing field for women. Her latest project—two years in the making—recently launched: Nike’s first official women’s flag football uniform.
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Sydney Gayda Fashion Design Alum
Gayda’s process included flying to Florida to meet with female flag football players, learning what they hoped for in a uniform, in the sport, in life.
“It’s insanely impressive to watch these girls play this sport—and not because they are girls—because the amount of athleticism they show and the amount of mental strength it takes is amazing,” Gayda said. “When I spoke with them about the uniforms, they talked about wanting elite flag football uniforms, not just a takeoff of a men’s uniform, but their own. They kept saying, ‘when you design this, remember we are flag football players—not women flag football players. And when they opened them, and saw them for the first time, they said, ‘we feel seen.’ To see something I basically doodled come to life and make such a significant impact is amazing.”
While having the uniforms alone will make a difference for elevating the sport and validating the women who play it, Gayda is part of a larger movement. Nike invested $5 million to create female flag football leagues across the country, giving women more opportunities in sports. The ultimate goal is to grow the sport for women throughout the course of their academics—middle school, high school and college—to open new opportunities for success, scholarships and more.
Flag football uniform designed by alum Sydney Gayda
“I’ve been an athlete all my life, so I’m extremely passionate about making a name for women in sports and making sure they aren’t secondary to men,” Gayda said. “The timing seems to be right for this program because we’re seeing more and more inspiring women who not only perform better than some men, but are making sure people are taking notice of it. The world of Title IX where we just created women’s sports to just fill a quota has passed us now. It’s wonderful to be a part of giving talented and deserving women athletes a platform.”
Gayda’s desire to use her skills for a greater purpose was encouraged and cultivated during her time at UD. Specifically, she was inspired by Dr. Martha Hall’s work in applying design to improve patient health.
“I saw how Dr. Hall’s type of design addresses a very specific problem and is solution-oriented designs—she’s leading with purpose, not trends. She was one of the best mentors,” Gayda said. “It means something to me when what I do has a purpose and my type of designing is to solve problems too. I wanted to address very specific tangible problems—make a football player run faster; a volleyball player spike harder; flag football player elite uniforms to elevate the program to eventually get to a national varsity-level program. That’s what inspires me.”
Gayda gained confidence from Hall’s mentorship, challenges and encouragement to pursue and succeed in the male-dominated field of designing for athletes. Gayda also credits her parents with instilling a great sense of hard work and determination in her from a young age.
“I don’t care that I’m a woman. I don’t care that I’m so young. I don’t care what my demographics are. I will always have a seat at the table—you’ll never see me sitting in the background,” Gayda said. “To young women trying to make a name for themselves, I say fight for what you want. Work hard, stay humble but keep pushing.”
Thank you to the University of Delaware Alumni Friends Page