Wilson didn’t just slap together an Earth Day promotion for 2021, rather the Chicago-based hard goods manufacturer spent 15 months crafting a new sustainable paint for its tennis rackets, launching as the limited-edition Wilson The Naked Series and “as luck would have it,” says Jason Collins, global product design director, coinciding with Earth Day.
The new Wilson The Naked Series rackets, which span the popular Clash, Blade, Ultra and Pro Staff lines, release 4/22 with 422 rackets available for purchase, all at a price point of $499, translating to €422.
The water-based paint offers the most striking sustainable feature, something Collins called a priority. But moving from solvent-based to water couldn’t sacrifice durability and performance. “It is no good to buy a racket and have the paint chipping off or wearing off,” he says. “The durability testing we had to go through was a critical part.”
The new process, designed in conjunction with Sherwin-Williams
Collins says the biggest hurdle in the new paint was finding the right durability. Once that was achieved, the water-based finish could serve as the foundation for the sustainable series. “Our chief designer, his number one goal is to make products that look great and he is always coming to me with wild and crazy ideas,” Collins says. That’s when Wilson started exploring potential, eventually landing with Sherwin-Williams to learn the technology and gain a different point of view. “For us, it is an exciting time,” Collins says. “The capabilities that exist today didn’t exist two years ago. Working closely with Sherwin-Williams allowed us to bring this to life.”
Along the way, Wilson partnered with Agiplast to use reground plastic and plant-based plastic for the bumper and grommet—something that Wilson is now doing across the Clash, Pro Staff and upcoming for the Ultra. The Naked Series includes a new biodegradable PU grip and sustainable packaging.
Through The Naked Series efforts, Collins says Wilson has already started exploring using only post-consumer content for its head cards to eliminate plastic and featuring biodegradable materials whenever possible. The brand is also discussing eliminating head cards as they’re known now. “As we shift to a digital world, head cards play less of a role,” he says. “We are addressing consumer needs and how can they get information about a product.”
The sustainable story has grown at Wilson over the years, whether the company’s collaboration with RecycleBalls that takes used tennis balls and reuses them, an upgrade to tennis ball cans with an Eco Overcap to cut plastic use by half or the summer 2019 launch of the Triniti tennis ball that removes all plastic from the packaging and extends the life of the ball without sacrificing performance.
Collins expects that by 2022 Wilson will expand The Naked Series technologies beyond this initial limited-edition launch, with the eventual goal of getting the sustainable technology across all price points, especially as tennis welcomes an entirely new set of players during the pandemic and game’s popularity rise.
In conjunction with The Naked Series launch, Wilson is partnering with Tentree to plan one million trees. Wilson will donate $20,000 as part of the effort and an additional $400 for each racket sold, planting 2,500 trees per racket. Fetting says working with Tentree, an earth-first lifestyle apparel brand, allows consumers to verifiably track the trees planted. “I love Tentree, I love their philosophy,” she says. “Talking to them they have this great philosophy that it doesn’t take 10 super passionate environmentalists, it takes 10 million environmentalish people. Small steps can lead to big things if you can get them to scale.”