The History of Champion

Foundation & Incorporation

In 1919, two brothers by the name of Feinbloom started a sportswear company called “Champion” after being disappointed with the inconsistent, makeshift quality of sportswear at the time, especially in their beloved sport of American Football. In the 20s, their first move was to partner with their local college American Football team in Michigan. The athletes were satisfied with the quality and fit of the clothing, and the coaches were satisfied with the price they could buy them for. Word of Champion eventually spread and soon, coaches from each corner of the country were requesting football strips and sweatshirts from the Feinbloom bros.

In the 1930’s Champion was renamed “Champion Knitting Mills Inc.” Their main products were t-shirts, sweatshirts and socks. Many universities began printing their emblems on plain Champion sweaters to use as their official merchandise. Before long, the US military was even using Champion sweaters for their winter training drills and PE classes due to their warmth and durability.

Innovation

Champion later applied for their first patent in 1938 for ‘Reverse Weave’ technology (the patent was granted 14 years later in 1952 due to the Second World War). This was a way of crafting sweatshirts that made them less prone to shrinking after a wash, a promise that tempted coaches and kit men across the country who were sick of buying new shirts regularly due to shrinkage. From here, Champion went on to have a career of tremendous innovation.

They had already invented the hooded sweatshirt in the 30s for winter workers. But in the 1970s, Champion began supplying basketball teams they sponsored with hoodies to wear on the bench or during practice. Hoodies then blew up and have been a staple in streetwear forever since. They then went on to invent the reversible sports strip, meaning that coaches could effectively have a home and away jersey for the price of one, which again was popular among amateur sports teams across the nation.

In 1977, they invented the first ever sports bra, by sewing two jockstraps together, putting new straps on it and attaching an elasticated band. This reduced pain and damage for women whilst playing sports, enabling them to train and play for longer.

Another one of their ideas was the first breathable nylon mesh jersey, a material that is now synonymous with basketball. Speaking of basketball, Champion were the official and exclusive NBA jersey outfitters from 1989 to 1997, an era that many say hold some of the most iconic NBA shirts to date. It was this era when basketball clothing picked up as streetwear, as fans and casuals alike began to wear sportswear in off-court environments.

Champion in Culture

The 90s was dominated by Champion, everyone rocked their sweaters, from skaters and hip hop heads to jocks and prep school kids. Champion global brand ambassador Manny Martinez said that in the 90s, shops could put a box of hoodies in the middle of the store and they would be sold out before the staff could even hang them on racks.

From when Champion lost their NBA licence in 1997 to the near present, it would be fair to say that Champion fell off their pedestal. From around 2003-2014, many mainstream fashion consumers viewed Champion as a cheap substitute brand for those who didn’t want to splash out on Nike or Adidas. However, due to the rise in popularity of 90s streetwear and vintage clothing apps like Depop, Champion began to emerge as an alternate sportswear brand, with minimalist designs that set you apart from the other kids at your school or on your campus.

Champion noticed this subtle rise in popularity for their retro products on second-hand sites and capitalised on the opportunity, venturing on a series of collaborations with streetwear moguls such as Supreme and BAPE beginning in 2010. These collabs acted as a catalyst, making consumers check out Champion’s independent designs and from there, a domino effect starting with social media influencers and underground musicians, to the point now where the most famous celebrities in the world proudly sport Champion. The once unwanted brand that would commonly be seen on the sale rack now sell hoodies for hundreds of dollars with huge demand. Champion has undeniably had one of the most successful brand revivals in recent history. It is uncertain whether the brand will rise and fall like Ellesse or maintain a position at the top like Tommy Hilfiger.

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