Recently named Sportswoman of the Year at the Laureus World Sports Awards alongside Billie Jean King, the 24-year-old is acing everything she is setting out to do and then-some. Already considered a budding icon in tennis, Osaka is transcending the wellness and pop culture spaces as well. In an interview with Business of Fashion, Japan’s representative at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games announced the launch of her skincare brand, Kinlò. A mash-up of the Japanese word “kin” and the Haitian Créole “lò,” which both mean “gold,” are a nod to her heritage and her goal of ensuring people of color have great access to products that protect and serve their melanated skin.
Coming out of a season interrupted by unjust and brutal treatment by police, civil uprisings around the country, and the global COVID-19 pandemic, Osaka emerged as the dominant force on- and off-the-hard-courts. While brands and personalities surround her with opportunities, Osaka joined in the athlete-led protests that advocated for equal justice and accountability in America. Her decision led to a one-day stoppage in play and, since then, her Play Academy—which first launched in Japan last summer—has expanded into Los Angeles and Haiti. Co-partnered with Nike and Laureus Sport for Good, Play Academy provides grants and capacity-building training to boost girls’ access to and participation in sport.
The four-time Grand Slam singles champion shares her thoughts to EBONY about the 2021 Olympic Games, why Kinlò will be focused on health education, and how she feels on being compared to Serena Williams.
EBONY: Outside your general concern for the health and safety of those traveling to Japan and the citizens there—what were your initial reactions when you learned that you’d be in the mix, especially after missing Rio 2016? What would it mean to you to compete on your home soil for the 2021 Olympics?
Naomi Osaka: [It would mean] pure joy and excitement! Being able to compete in my home country for my first Olympics is a dream come true. There is so much about Japan that inspires me—the people, the food, the culture. The energy of Tokyo motivates me so much.
Your concerns have been echoed in the form of protests on Japanese social media. With more than 11,000 athletes plus countless officials, coaches, media members and support staffers converging on Tokyo, do you think that the Olympics should even be held under the long shadow of COVID-19?
NO: Of course, of course. The health and safety of athletes, staff, and spectators is top priority for the IOC (International Olympic Committee), and I know they will exhaust all resources to ensure that everyone involved is safe and comfortable attending.
The Olympic Games aside, you’ve continued to stay busy with the recent launch of your skincare line, KINLÓ. It goes without saying how underserved the skincare industry is for people of color. Can you share why this project is important and differs from other celebrity-endorsed products on the market?
NO: The announcement of my company Kinló comes with great pride because I am not only following my entrepreneurial passions, but also changing the status quo when it comes to proper protection for melanated skin tones. I have been developing this product with the goal of educating people about skin health, which makes the launch [of Kinló] even more special. Working alongside doctors [and dermatologists], and learning about skin safety has been a very important experience.
KINLÓ, which is a love letter to your Japanese and Haitian heritage, is created with the intent to help and potentially save lives from the sun’s impact. What inspired the idea and how has the public’s feedback inspired you to delve deeper into your entrepreneurial bag?
NO: I had heard so many stories about skin cancer cases in people of color, and I took it upon myself to really start educating myself on the issues. There are so many forms of dangerous rays, not just from direct sunlight, but also from our screens and electronics. So, now I make it a point to wear sunscreen even when inside. You can never be too safe. I also feel thankful to align myself with doctors who help educate me on the issues as well as working alongside GoDaddy.com to set up the website to facilitate the shopping experience. As a first-time CEO, it is important to also take support in the areas that you may not be an expert in.
Through all of this you’ve managed to create a safe haven for young girls with your Naomi Osaka Play Academy. What opportunities do you hope to create now that you’ve expanded to Los Angeles and Haiti? Also, what barriers do you hope the Academy can help young people overcome to become more active in their lives?
NO: [Growing up] I had role models who inspired me throughout my life like Serena and Venus Williams and Billie Jean King. I hope that I can be that to an up-and-coming player as well, especially for young girls. They tend to drop out of sports much earlier than boys, which is why I started Play Academy to make sure that young girls get access to facilities and coaching while promoting the power of women in sport.
Lastly, what are your thoughts on being considered “the true tennis heir of Serena Williams”…?
NO: It’s hard to swallow that compliment because she’s such a huge idol of mine. I grew up watching her and admiring her tennis skills and off-court successes and will continue to feel humble anytime I am compared to one of the tennis greats—it means [that] I am doing something right.
Kevin L. Clark is an editor and screenwriter who covers the intersection of music, pop culture and social justice. Follow him @KevitoClark.