Naomi Osaka continues her breakout year with yet another collaboration. So far in 2021, she has had an official Barbie doll released in her likeness, shared her story in an exclusive Netflix docuseries, and made history as the first Haitian, first Japanese woman, and first Black female athlete on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. The tennis star has also issued an exclusive Yonex tennis racket in collaboration with Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami and there are still four months remaining in the year. The 23-year-old’s latest endeavor is with denim brand, Levi’s and includes casual pieces co-designed by Osaka herself.
In collaboration with the clothing line, the four-time Grand Slam Champion helped bring to life a four-piece sustainable denim collection that pays homage to her Japanese heritage. According to PEOPLE, the items will be available for purchase on Aug. 24 and range in price from $150 to $380. Pieces include a kimono, lace-up shorts, crystal-fringe shorts, and a trucker-inspired jacket.
“I always loved wearing kimonos when I was a kid. So, to be able to do it in denim felt really different and a bit unexpected,” shared Osaka in a press release. “The sustainability aspect was super important to me. And I love that every piece in the collection has been recycled or repurposed from old stock.”
Another stride Osaka has made in 2021 goes beyond her commercial success. The tennis champion ushered in an important conversation about the mental health of professional athletes when she refused to participate in press events during the French Open. In June, she decided to withdraw from the sporting event despite her first match at Roland Garros due to the controversy around her choice to skip media Q and As. As a result of her actions, the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments pledged to change policies and practices surrounding mental health and the manner in which athletes are treated.
Since then, the mental health of Black female professional athletes has taken center stage. In July, Sha’Carri Richardson was suspended and unable to compete in the Tokyo Olympics following a positive drug test for cannabis. The track star, who was raised by her grandmother and aunt, revealed she used the substance to cope after a reporter was the first person to inform her of her biological mother’s death following a meet. Later that month as the Olympics took place, gymnast Simone Biles continued the conversation after she withdrew from the final individual all-around competition to prioritize her mental health and well-being.
Osaka has since returned to tennis and competed in the Olympics representing Japan where she lost to Markéta Vondroušová of the Czech Republic during the third round.
She has also resumed participating in press conferences during athletic events, although they appear to still be a struggle for her. On Tuesday (Aug. 17), during a press event at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Osaka became emotional when asked about her mental health and the recent devastating earthquake in Haiti.
“For me, I feel like this is something that—I can’t really speak for everybody, I can only speak for myself—but ever since I was younger, I’ve had a lot of media interest on me, and I think it’s because of my background as well as, you know, how I play, because in the first place I am a tennis player, that’s why a lot of people are interested in me,” she said to one reporter inquiring about her opinion on the media according to the Washington Post.
Another asked about the earthquake and apologized after Osaka began to cry, wiped her eyes, and lowered her head. The athlete’s father is from Haiti and she has always displayed pride in her Haitian heritage. She assured the journalist, “No, you’re super good” before the event took a brief break.
“I feel like I’m not really doing that much, like I could do more. I’m trying to figure out what I can do and where exactly to put my energy into,” she responded once she returned to the podium. She continued, “It’s really scary. I see the news every day, and honestly, the earthquake was kind of close to my parents’ school there, so I’m honestly not sure how that’s doing and I haven’t seen any pictures or video of it yet.”
On Saturday (Aug. 14) Haiti was hit with a 7.2-magnitude earthquake leaving buildings destroyed and nearly 2000 people dead, and many more injured or displaced. Osaka has committed to donating her prize money from the Western & Southern Open to relief efforts.