Since 1919, Champion is an inspiration to athletes and active people as one of America’s most popular sportswear brands. This year, Champion turns 100 and it’s cool again!
Their clothing was adopted as streetwear as early as the 1970s, in recent years Champion had a huge revival. Let’s check out the history behind Champion and how it’s cool again.
The birth of Champion
In 1919 the Feinbloom brothers establish the company that will eventually be known as “Champion”. The brothers had the vision to create a new, exciting sportswear business in Rochester, NY. Modern sport was taking its first step and athletes were passionate about sportswear.
Champion’s history: 1920-1950
The business of dressing University teams began to gain traction with the first partnership in Michigan in 1926. Champion partnered with Wentworth Military Academy to provide their school uniform. This would be the first of many teams that Champion supported in the early years. As time went on, Champion’s reputation started to spread. Coaches from Michigan spoke with coaches from other schools and colleges across the US.
In 1934, Champion partnered with Moe’s Sport Shop to introduce collegiate sweatshirts and tees with University of Michigan Insignia. This gave birth to collegiate apparel as we know it.
The first hooded sweatshirt
With time, Champion’s reputation for functionality and durability grew. As a result, Champion products are finding their way to the US Military Academy in the mid-1930s. This chain of events led to the introduction of the first ever hooded sweatshirt. Athletes were to wear the sweatshirt as a warm-up or “sideline” garment in-between game time or practice.
The Reverse Weave sweatshirt
It was around this time that Champion developed the first version of the Reverse Weave Sweatshirt. The idea of the Reverse Weave came from the American coaches of the 40s. The technique allowed coaches to wash the entire team of athletes uniforms without damage. Therefore, the fiber fleece is upright, hence the name Reverse Weave.
Reverse Weave sweatshirts are popular for the two side panels. Even the cuffs, neck and hem have the same characteristic of the inserts. This is in order to avoid the dispersion of heat during and after training whilst keeping the freedom of movement.
In 1938 Champion patents the Reverse Weave sweatshirt. It becomes an immediate hit and many sports teams across the US start re-creating it.
Champion’s history: 1950-1990
To help address low fitness levels in American children, Champion introduced modern PE uniforms in 1950. It would be the standard for decades to come. The product line was such of high quality, it was the first to be certified by the American Institute of Laundering.
The redesigned logo, the now familiar “C” mark appeared for the first time on the left sleeve of the sweatshirt. This logo and positioning would become synonymous with Champion back in the 1950s.
During the 1960s Champion entered into an intensive licensing program. It started with the National College Athletic Association. It expanded in the 1970s with a partnership with the NFL.
During the mid-1970s Champion continued to innovate in their athletic apparel program. Champion was the first company to produce the Double Sided (or reversible) T-Shirt. They were also the first to develop and manufacture a “Breathable” Nylon Mesh fabric in 1967. The mesh nylon jersey became the staple fabric for Basketball Uniforms across the Globe.
Champion transformed the women’s athletic market by introducing stylish, mix-and-match PE uniforms in 1968. It soon became a leader in athletic uniforms and pioneered the first comfortable, women’s sports bra in 1977.
Music culture adopts Champion style
Starting in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Champion experienced a surge in adoption among celebrities and musicians. NYC is ground zero for the trend, which receives a huge endorsement in music genres like hip hop. Champion was the uniform for jocks and preps, but also for skaters and hip hop heads.
Sweatshirts, especially hoodies, are in link with a brand-new genre of a superstar: the hip hop artist. The revolutionary new wave of music would become inextricably tied to the Champion sweatshirt. This gave a much-needed dose of contemporary edge to an icon in need of some reinvention.
Champion history: 1990-2010
The first men’s Dream Team proudly wears Champion’s jerseys. In 1992 Champion acquired the exclusive rights to be the official outfitter of all 27 NBA teams. They also outfitted the first women’s Dream Team in 1996. This partnership established Champion as the authentic brand for all on-court and off-court merchandise for the NBA.
Champion history: 2010 to Present day
As a testament to Champion’s rich heritage, in 2017 the Reverse Weave Hoodie was on show in the MoMA. It was part of the exhibition “Items: Is Fashion Modern?”. This exhibition displayed fashion items that have had a strong impact on modern society. In 2018, the hoodie became part of the permanent collection.
Champion cool again
After a 2010 collaboration with streetwear giant Supreme, the Champion logo began peppering the streetwear world. Champion also went on to work with streetwear mainstays like Off-White and Bape. The collabs not only kept Champion’s name in everyone’s mouth but also highlighted the brand’s versatility. Weekday cropped the iconic Champion sweatshirt. Supreme covered it in an allover print. And Vetements added tears and its signature droopy sleeves. But they all still read loud and clear as Champion sweatshirts. Champion is cool again.
In 2018, Champion’s fashion-forward renaissance has led to the opening of its first four brick-and-mortar locations. The streetwear-focused stores seek to target the trendy customer Champion has spent the last decade cultivating. The label is also available in Urban Outfitters and Supreme stores, which cater to that same customer. That said, Champion’s segmented retail strategy means that it’s not forgetting its less fashion-conscious core consumer. Shoppers at sporting companies will still find Champion in the same places they always have.
100 Years for the team
The original line of products, bearing the iconic “C” logo was introduced to a new generation of consumers. Nearly 100 years later, Champion is known as the pioneer of the sweatshirt.
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