Boardroom speaks with the former UCLA gymnast and face of Adidas x Stella McCartney’s newest campaign to discuss her journey from the mat, the power of healing, and being a force for good.
During her senior season as a member of the UCLA Bruins gymnastics team, Nia Dennis crip walked her way into America’s hearts. Her floor routine, set to a mashup of Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre, and Soulja Boy, netted a 9.95 in the Pac-12 Championship. And with it, Dennis embodied something rarely seen in competitive gymnastics, setting a new model of what was possible.
For Dennis, the flawless routine was a testament to how far she has come in her personal journey.
“I wasn’t always authentically me in my gymnastics career. I was definitely put inside a box and expected to conform to a certain style of gymnastics and dance,” she told Boardroom
In addition to grabbing millions of views, the routine caught the eye of iconic designer Stella McCartney, who invited Dennis to represent her Met Gala.
That was only the beginning of the partnership between the 22-year-old breakout star and the British designer. Today, they jointly announce that Dennis will serve as the face of the Adidas by Stella McCartney AGENT OF KINDNESS campaign as part of a two-year deal.
As McCartney reflected on the collaboration in an official statement: “When crafting this collection, we wanted to provide active activists with the opportunity to move freely in bold looks that do not compromise on comfort…We’re so excited to have Nia Dennis front this campaign.
“She’s part of a generation of athletes who don’t shy away from using their platforms to push for equality and inclusivity in and outside of their sports. Our intention was not only to celebrate athletes’ movement in sport, but the movements they stand for, and Nia truly represents what it means to see beyond yourself and give back to your community. Not only is she an incredible athlete, but she is also an activist that radiates positivity through the freedom of her movement and her incredible performances, and we wanted this to shine through in the campaign visuals.”
The collection features pieces that blend fashion and function, including a onesie, crop top, and parka.
For Dennis, the collaboration presented an opportunity to share her personal growth with the world.
“I feel very aligned with this campaign because I always try to be kind. And I’ve always talked about being kind and authentic to people around you. This feels like it’s very fitting for me, I feel very aligned with this brand… Stella is dedicated to the environment. The line uses recycled materials and faux fur, so it is good for the ecosystem and the planet,” she said. “Plus, I feel like a baddie because Stella McCartney is an icon and she makes you feel like a queen in whatever print and pattern that you put on. I’m really honored to be in this position.”
And while she is thrilled to have the opportunity, it felt surreal in the moment. She reflected on receiving the call saying with a laugh. “I was like, ‘am I being pranked right now?’…I was speechless, honestly,” she said.
The journey to becoming a spokeswoman has been a long one for Dennis. Her personal style of explosive, strong gymnastics was oftentimes rejected, and she felt like an outcast. But at UCLA, she found herself as an athlete and as an individual. And the authenticity that she harnessed drove her to new levels.
It’s this blend of movement, self-love, and power that grounds the Agent of Kindness collection — and makes Dennis the perfect face for the campaign.
“My coach [at UCLA], Ms. Val [Kondos Field], really encouraged me to do a lot of self-reflection and do a lot of healing and do a lot of trauma work because there was a lot of trauma that wasn’t dealt with which was definitely holding me back… I was able to dig deeper and figure out what makes me me and how I could bring that to gymnastics and how I could bring that to the floor.”
“I feel like I did a pretty good job with my last floor routine,” she laughed. “I felt like it was authentically me, that makes up who I am as the woman I am today.”
“The best part is I wasn’t trying to be extra or over the top; I was just trying to do me. That resonated with so many people and that made me feel so reassured that I was doing everything correctly and was on the right path. I felt like this journey was supposed to happen this way.”
And Nia’s impact on the sport is obvious. At meets around the country, young women are bringing a new level of authenticity to their routines inspired by her success.
“I feel so proud of them. It’s now their time to shine. I can’t really believe that I started that… I aspire to inspire and be kind,” she said.
As she enters this next chapter, Nia is looking for the same type of connection and support that she got as a member of her several teams throughout the years. Working with the Adidas and Stella McCartney teams has provided just that — as they have given her the opportunity to tell her own story. She was profoundly impressed by the way that the team got to know her, listen to her, and provide her with support.
“I put in a lot of time and effort to tell my story. It’s a moment of how I got here, what’s next, and where I’m headed,” Dennis said.
As for what’s next, the Agent of Kindness campaign is only one part of her life off of the mat. Dennis is “in a year of challenging myself.” Her ever-lengthening to-do list includes acting, modeling, stunt doubling, and securing a spot as a dancer on a major tour.
Her night at the Met Gala may have put her one step closer to that dream, as she connected with a whole host of celebrities, including Serena Williams and Megan Thee Stallion, who spied her at the event and approached her.
“She was just hyping me up before I even got there. She was like, ‘Yes, girl! I know all about you.’ That just made my whole life,” she recalled of meeting the Houston rapper.
In the meantime, you may have caught her as Boardroom’s red carpet host for last weekend’s Super Bowl festivities.
Nia Dennis is excited for a whole manner of new challenges. But through it all, she will keep movement and kindness at the foundation — and this new partnership with Stella McCartney and Adidas will keep her looking fly in doing so.