Nike billboard unveiling in Downtown Los Angeles. Piʻikea Lopes and Native American Professional Track and Field Athlete Janee’ Kassanavoid were selected to represent Nike’s collection.

A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa haumāna (student) working toward a master’s degree in the College of Education is the new face of athletic apparel giant Nike’s N7 collection.

Street in New York City with a billboard featuring Lopes
A billboard previewing the collection was also on display in New York City’s Times Square

Piʻikea Kekīhenelehuawewehiikekauʻōnohi Lopes who is the reigning 2022 Miss Aloha Hula after earning the coveted title this past April at the Merrie Monarch Festival, was selected to represent the powerhouse brand’s special edition collection which celebrates Indigenous communities through footwear and apparel offerings and honors various Indigenous cultures and traditions. Lopes is the first kānaka ʻōiwi or Native Hawaiian featured in the N7 collection and is thankful Nike chose her to spotlight her Indigenous lineage.

“It’s nice being noticed by a globally known brand wanting to feature Hawaiʻi and acknowledge hula as a sport,” she said.

Woman in hula attire looking straight out
Piʻikea Lopes

In September, Nike officials flew to Oʻahu to film and photograph Lopes at Mākaha Beach for the collection. The professional shoot took more than nine hours and featured Lopes dancing her award-winning hula kahiko (ancient dance) in traditional aʻahu (costume) and an array of images wearing items from Nike’s new N7 fall collection.

Nike officials expressed to Lopes how much they appreciated her authenticity and commitment to ensuring the campaign was culturally appropriate.

“Whoever is representing any brand that’s featuring an Indigenous culture, I just want to make sure that they hold their loina (customs) paʻa (strong)…Just stick to your gut,” Lopes explained.

Paʻahana (hard work) to the core

Two women standing outside near the ocean
The advertising campaign was filmed in Leeward Oʻahu at Mākaha Beach.

Lopes earned a BA in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian language) from the UH Mānoa Hawaiʻinuākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge and is busy working on a MA in teaching degree and is on track to graduate in spring 2023. She is currently gaining field work experience at Roosevelt High School teaching first and fourth year ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi haumāna. The 22-year-old is the daughter of Kawaihuelani Center for Hawaiian Language Director R. Keawe Lopes, Jr., who is also her kumu hula (hula teacher) alongside her mother, Tracie of hālau (hula school) Ka Lā ʻŌnohi Mai O Haʻehaʻe. Her mother also captured the Miss Aloha Hula title in 1994.

Lopes, who is fluent in Hawaiʻi’s mother tongue, also won a Hawaiian Language Award while competing in the Miss Aloha Hula competition at Merrie Monarch, for her mastery of ōlelo Hawaiʻi during the oli (chant) portion of the performance. Lopes’ use of the language impressed many spectators and ʻōlapa hula (hula dancers).

“It’s how I was raised and how I went through life and how my parents taught hula, how my parents taught language and spoke language at home,” she said.

And the beat goes on

When you don’t find her dancing or teaching high schoolers, chances are good you’ll find her in the gym. Those closest to her know it’s like a second hale (home). Lopes is a competitive powerlifter who has four state records under her belt in bench press and deadlift. She’s preparing for an upcoming competition in mid-November.

On top of powerlifting, Nike photoshoots and graduate school, she still manages to cram jet setting the Pacific into a very packed schedule. Lopes will perform in a series of concerts in Japan over Thanksgiving weekend.

Street in Los Angeles with a billboard featuring Lopes
A billboard in Los Angeles