LOS ANGELES — In right this moment’s world of celeb branding, captions converse louder than phrases. But Naomi Osaka’s are decidedly understated.
“Keep on keeping on,” the 23-year-old tennis champion posted on Instagram beneath two on-court photos after making it by the fourth spherical of the Australian Open (which she went on to win).
For a slide show that started with a shot of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose Costume Institute Gala she’s going to co-chair, in September: “oh we lit.”
Below a portrait of herself draped in Louis Vuitton and Nike (each sponsors of hers), merely: “yo.”
Her nonchalance, maybe, is a means of guarding herself on social media, the place many extra loquacious celebrities have made unforced errors.
“You don’t really know people, by looking at their profile,” Ms. Osaka mentioned lately. “You feel like you can sort of catch a glimpse into their life, which, in a way, is a bit wrong.” She mentioned she has to remind herself to publish on Instagram: “My mind hasn’t been able to keep track of it.”
But actually her profile, nicely outfitted as it’s, supplies a glimpse into her enterprise — and just like the meme decrees, business is boomin’. Ms. Osaka is overlaying every thing from ears to rears, making headphones with Beats, athleisure with Nike and denim with Levi’s. Dresses? She designed them with Adeam, a Japanese-American model. Swimwear? She crafted a group with Frankies Bikinis.
In April, she introduced that she would function C.E.O. of her personal firm: Kinlò, a line of skincare made for individuals with melanated pores and skin tones, produced with GoDaddy. According to Forbes, she made $37.four million in endorsements and event prizes between May 2019 and May 2020, probably the most a feminine athlete has ever earned in a single yr.
“She’s the first professional tennis player we’ve worked with,” mentioned Jen Sey, the model president of Levi’s, “but for us, she rises above that. She’s such a powerful voice, the way she’s encouraged others to speak out about equality. She’s outspoken. That’s what we like about her. There’s no point in partnering with someone if you’re just going to tell them what to do.”
With Nike, she based an academy to introduce extra younger girls to sports activities; with L.V.M.H., she joined a judging panel to decide on an rising clothier worthy of a 300,000-euro grant. Her imprint appears to be all of the sudden on every thing from enterprise administration software program (Workday) to water (Bodyarmor).
“She is the perfect storm,” mentioned Cindy Gallop, a model advisor who has labored with a number of of Ms. Osaka’s sponsors. “She’s a spectacular athlete. She has a strong sense of social justice, she’s prepared to speak her mind.”
“Thirdly,” Ms. Gallop mentioned, “she’s female, and fourthly, she’s not white. I hate, loathe, and detest terms like this, but she is, in quotes, diverse. She ticks every box. You can practically hear the brand managers thinking: ‘She is absolutely the right person to sponsor, right now.’”
Tennis stars of the previous hawked rackets, pain medication, watches (which Ms. Osaka additionally does, for Tag Heuer) and the ever-changing class of fast food. On a Monday in March, Ms. Osaka discovered herself within the Los Angeles take a look at kitchen of the chain restaurant Sweetgreen, the Supreme of salad, attempting to wrap her head across the notion that one of many restaurant’s dressings — rémoulade — would quickly be disappearing from the menu.
“What’s in it that makes it seasonal?” Ms. Osaka mentioned.
“The pickles,” mentioned Katelyn Shannon, a analysis and growth chef of Sweetgreen.
Ms. Osaka nodded. She was carrying a face masks and a excessive bun; inexperienced and black sweatpants poked out beneath her apron. She had extra questions: “Are the other dressings seasonal, too?” “What is a salad ‘hack’?” “What’s more popular, kale or romaine?” “How quickly does Sweetgreen go bad?” (Answers: principally, no; it’s a option to reverse engineer an ingredient, like a seasonal dressing; kale; after two days, stir fry it for 10 minutes for an entire new meal.)
Last yr, Ms. Osaka signed a take care of Sweetgreen that offers her fairness within the firm and makes her its first celeb sponsor. While each events declined to reveal the phrases of the association, Nathaniel Ru, a founding father of Sweetgreen, mentioned the corporate “wanted to make sure she had some skin in the game.”
“We’re not going to get a logo on her shirt, maybe we’ll get a salad on the sidelines,” Mr. Ru mentioned. Ms. Osaka stars in a brand new Sweetgreen advert marketing campaign, on billboards and the web, that options 4 sides of her character (two of the lesser identified: “the gaming mogul,” “the meditation master”). The objective, Mr. Ru mentioned, is to “shift the paradigm of what fast food can be.”
Traditionally, salad has not had a sponsor; maybe the closest it got here was 10 years in the past, when the blog post Women Laughing Alone With Salad went viral. Most of these girls have been white; maybe none of them compelled anybody to eat a salad (unironically, anyway).
“Representation is important,” mentioned Ms. Osaka, who’s Haitian and Japanese. (Part of the proceeds of a salad she designed for Sweetgreen — with child spinach and tortilla chips, amongst different components — will go towards nonprofits working to extend meals entry in Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities.)
“It’s important for me to represent things I actually believe in,” she mentioned of her model partnerships, “that I actually eat. I would never do, like, McDonald’s or Coca-Cola, because I don’t consume them. I consume Sweetgreen once every three days. It’s not something that you can fake.” She added, “you can always tell when someone’s lying.”
So radical is her authenticity that it appears to override any need to appease. When a Sweetgreen worker requested her what she eats on the highway, Ms. Osaka mentioned, “at tournament sites they have a salad buffet, so I like to make my own salad.”
“Is it sad?” the worker mentioned.
“‘Is it sad?’” Ms. Osaka repeated.
“Is the salad buffet sad?” the worker clarified.
“Oh,” Ms. Osaka mentioned. “Wimbledon has a really good one.”
In September, Ms. Osaka gained the U.S. Open whereas declaring solidarity with the Black Lives Matter motion by her face masks. From a company sponsorship perspective, this was a turning point: taking a stance elevated her model worth. She shortly thereafter teamed up with Basic Space, an internet swap meet for hype beasts (pattern objects on the market embody a St. John coat and a Range Rover) to promote 500 masks designed by her 25-year-old sister, Mari. They offered out in 30 minutes, with proceeds going to UNICEF.
“We have a mutual appreciation and respect for what we’re all trying to build,” mentioned Jesse Lee, the founding father of Basic Space, “something cool, unique and authentic.” It was he who launched Ms. Osaka to the founders of Sweetgreen.
The Osaka sisters returned to Basic Space final month to public sale off a collection of N.F.T. artworks, with the ultimate bid for one, “The Unsuspecting Player,” reaching $150,000. It is a Mangaesque imagining of a brown-skinned lady with a tennis racket and a cascade of pink hair not in contrast to a wig Ms. Osaka wore in a current Instagram post.
“I’ve always felt like my sister knows me best,” Naomi Osaka mentioned throughout an April interview on Clubhouse, the audio broadcasting app. “I’ve grown up watching her draw and do digital art and paintings, I always wanted to find a way to use my platform to showcase that.”
“Though maybe not exactly how I am,” she added, “she captured me well.”
It was Ms. Osaka’s first time on Clubhouse, and she or he didn’t disguise her bemusement when the quantity of Mari’s audio dwarfed her personal. “I’m literally right next to my sister, so I don’t get why I have a bad connection and she doesn’t,” she mentioned.
Many of her model partnerships contain Mari. They collaborate on sketches for clothes Ms. Osaka designs together with her vogue sponsors, like an upcoming capsule assortment with Levi’s. “I draw really badly, she can make it look good,” Ms. Osaka mentioned. “She’s able to interpret. Sometimes we don’t even have to talk for her to understand what I’m thinking.”
Before the pandemic, Ms. Osaka visited the Levi’s workshop in West Hollywood to conceptualize the items, which embody an obi-inspired bustier and denim shorts with crystal fringe. When in-person assembly turned unattainable, she went on Zoom, signing off on 10 designs earlier than they went into manufacturing.
“As a little kid, I would watch ‘America’s Next Top Model’ and ‘Project Runway,’ and those were sort of scratching the surface of what goes on behind the scenes,” she mentioned. At Levi’s, she mentioned, she might see the method, “how technical they are about buttons and cutting fabric.”
Far from the celeb sponsorship mannequin of yore, by which stars of syndicated TV reveals declare to paint their very own hair at house, Ms. Osaka doesn’t need to work with an organization except she’s studying on the job.
As firms scurry to make up for many years of underrepresentation of races aside from white, Ms. Osaka is conscious that she might seem to be the golden ticket.
“I don’t just want to be a figurehead, or someone used,” she mentioned. “If I’m with a brand, I want it to be from my heart instead of just trying to promote a message, just for money.”
Surely, some thirsty manufacturers have supplied some fairly candy offers?
Ms. Osaka laughed. “That’s really a him question,” she mentioned, gesturing at Stuart Duguid, her agent and supervisor.
“She’s not taking incoming calls,” he mentioned.
Back within the take a look at kitchen, Ms. Osaka had solid herself, convincingly, as scholar in salad grasp class, asking concerning the professionals and cons of varied greens, what components go collectively, watching and studying as Mr. Ru, the Sweetgreen co-founder, demonstrated the right option to combine with tongs “You’ve got to do the twist,” he mentioned, flipping his wrist.
Upstairs, in a makeshift convention room, she photographed a temper board taped to a concrete wall. She gazed on the unfinished ceiling and a rattling display window. “Really pretty architecture,” she mentioned, sincerely. Many celebrities are extra eager on checking their texts than wanting across the room. That’s not Ms. Osaka, or her model.
“I’m very curious about a lot of things,” she mentioned. “Being curious is one of the happinesses of life, because if you’re not curious, that means you’re sort of settled. I feel really humbled, that I play tennis but I’m able to have all these new experiences and opportunities, like getting to make a salad here. I don’t think a lot of people can say that.”
“I’m really good at tennis,” she added, “but I’d like to be really good at other things, too.”