How Champion became cool again

Champion sportswear was once known to be the trendsetter in the fashion world. Then a time came in the early 2000s when Champion declined and became the bad omen in the market. The Champion logo on your clothes at that time signified that you are broke. Then the wheels of time turned again, and now, Champion is cool again. The “C” logo proudly decorates the tees and sweats of hip hop and sporty celebrities like Justin Bieber, the Kardashians, and Rihanna. Everyone around the globe, bloggers or influencers, are flaunting the once again sought-after Champion logo.  Be it Champion t-shirts, sweats, or sports bras, the brand has become the athleisure that rocks today’s market with a vengeance.

Like every story, the story of Champion’s comeback will remain incomplete without going back to history to find out how the brand began the journey to glory, how hard it fell, and how it revived again to dominate the market.

The beginning and the rise

Champion started its journey under the Hanes hood in 1919. Till 1996 it continued to climb only up on the ladder of popularity and market share. The multi-billion-dollar Champion led the fashion and apparel industry till the 1990s. William Feinbloom and Abraham Feinbloom, the founders, gained success by selling Champion sportswear to youth. The target market was the college teams such as Michigan State. The brand soon reached the height of popularity among the youth teams. this was the beginning of the rise for Champion

The invention of hoodies and RWT:

in the late 1990s, Champion introduced a new item in the line of sportswear. The new item “hoodie” soon became the staple of sportswear and then a rage among the fans of streetwear as well.

The next milestone for the brand was the introduction of RWT (Reverse Weave technology). The technology is associated with heat preventive and anti-shrink designs. All the popular clothing brands still use this technology in their manufacturing. All in all, these two inventions rapidly took Champion to the top of the industry.

The value-adding partnerships:

Champion’s concurrent partnerships with the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and the NFL (National Football League) also played a significant part in the rise of Champion. The partnerships led to increased exposure. Consequently, the expansion and exposure doubled the sales in only a few years i-e from 1985 to 1988.

Around the same time, Sara Lee corporation bought Champion for 320M US dollars which made things even better for the brand. The Champion now had more resources to expand the brand even further. They were constant and fast on the way to success.

The ultimate rise:

By 1992, Champion has gained such a great appreciation and popularity that the NBA (National Basketball Association) selected the brand to produce all the uniforms for its leagues. The Dream Team jersey for the Olympic Basketball team in 1992 gave Champion global recognition. The jerseys took the company to the ultimate peak of success. However, the brand could not sustain success for much longer. By the end of 1996, the company was on the decline of its hard-earned success and popularity.

The fall

There were two main reasons behind the collapse of Champion. First, Sara Lee Corporation that once was the reason for Champion’s expansion, turned its back on the brand. The second reason was the decline of XFL (Xtreme Football League). XFL pulled down the Champion with them, and the brand could not bear the blow. People started to lose interest in Champion products. The fall began.

The turnaround of Sara Lee Corporation

The Sara Lee Corporation stopped paying much attention to Champion and its operation. The corporation now had its eyes set on the American food industry. Eventually, it sold out a portion of the company, Champion Europe, to invest in the food industry that had become more profitable at that time. It caused a great loss of resources and funds for Champion. Consequently, the brand name gradually began to fade away in the history of the American clothing industry.

XFL taking the Champion down the road

After the blow by the Sara Lee Corporation, Champion was already unstable on its footing in the industry. Therefore, when XFL fell apart, Champion collapsed too. Champion was the producer of all the uniforms for the XFL league. But when the NFL (National Football League) overshadowed the XFL, it was a final blow for the Champion too. Soon Nike and Adidas were there to dominate the sportswear market of the USA. The innovation by these powerful brands gradually stole away all the consumer interest. Champion fired more than 100 employees in the following year. It was resorted to selling its once craved-after products at stores such as Target and Walmart.

Bad business decisions and lack of innovation after the Dream team jersey caused Champion sportswear, once an industry king, to hang their t-shirts, hoodies, and sports bra on the supermarket store racks. Once, the popular staples became off-the-rack clothing items. Champion became a mark of low status if worn by anyone.

The rise after the fall

By 2006, the Sara Lee Corporation was fully into the food industry. They gave all their clothing brands under the parenthood of HanesBrands Inc. Ten years later, Champion Europe also came under the ownership of HanesBrands again and was reattached with the Champion brand.

HanesBrands Inc, the new owner, a good omen

Hanesbrands came out as a good omen for the Champion. The change of ownership gave a much-needed boost to the brand. The realization that the brand is not cool anymore led them to better business decisions. It was a bitter truth, but the truth it was. They focused on their cool vibes again. They started from where they have initially gained their success, the youth market of the US. 

The value-adding partnership again:

A good partnership once again came as a savior for Champion. The brand partnered with Supreme, another brand that was creating all the hype at that time. The two brands produced some great products with collaboration. The successful partnership gave way to more fruitful collaborations with other designers such as BAPE, UNDEFEATED, Vetements, and Wood Wood.

The new trends

The next good thing happened that celebrities started wearing the Champion brands due to the collaboration with cool and hyped brands. The consumer saw the trendsetters setting the trend. They started following the suit, and soon Champion became the rage again.

The innovations again:

The collaborations were a smart move towards innovation, but Champion itself also contributed massively in its revival phase. They started going for vintage wear, making it a new trend among consumers. They brought back the designs from the 80s and 90s. Another innovation that Champion delved into was the production of athleisure. Champion started to casualize their athletic t-shirts and hoodies for streetwear that people could wear in their day-to-day life.

The trend of athleisure, the acceptance of vintage wear by consumers, the celebrities setting the trends of Champion, continuous collaboration with cool brands, and some luck became the ultimate recipe of Champion’s revival and outrageous comeback in the market.

The aims for future

Champion aims to achieve a revenue of $2 billion by 2022. They have already reached $1.9 billion. We can easily foresee that the brand will surpass its ambition in near future. Champion t-shirts, sports bras, hoodies, and sweats are the most sought out products by the consumers of athleisure wear. The brand is content, youth is also happy to wear the C logo again, and we are cool with Champion back in the market. Champion sportswear is cool again. It is a rage again in the fashion world.  

Author Bio:

Samantha Leonie works as a Marketing Lead at ApparelnBags. She has a keen interest in B2B eCommerce and learning new trends.

She loves traveling, exploring new places, photography, public speaking and likes to blog about her experiences.