Champion athletic wear is getting its inevitable nostalgic streetwear moment

Only ’90s kids will remember.
Only ’90s kids will remember.
Image: Champion/Instagram
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Champion, the athletic wear brand beloved by area dads and hypebeasts alike, launched a global ad campaign this week that celebrates its century-long history. The video, called ”100 Years for the Team,” was narrated by basketball star Magic Johnson and will continue with the hashtag campaign #Champion100, collaborations, and additional influencer partnerships throughout this year:

Champion launched the campaign amidst something of a revival: What was once the go-to knitwear label for mostly middle-aged men is now also hot on the streetwear scene. Led by the popularity of its trademark crewneck sweatshirt (Champion actually invented the hoodie in the 1930s) the brand has found a new home on Instagram feeds, via millennial-aged fashionistas:

Champion is one of several brands to be swept up in the streetwear frenzy, which in the past year has overlapped with a great revival of 90s-era fashion, especially 90s athletic gear. Italian sportswear company Fila, for instance, is riding the same nostalgia wave as Champion, with an updated version of its 1996 Fila Disruptor sneaker that has proved so successful it rebounded the brand’s US sales.

But Champion also has the power of the collaboration to thank for its popularity. After a 2010 collaboration with streetwear giant Supreme, the Champion logo began peppering the streetwear world, and the brand went on to work with streetwear mainstays like Off-White and Bape.

In the past year, Champion’s fashion-forward renaissance has led to the opening of its first four brick-and-mortar locations. Based in the US, the streetwear-focused stores seek to target the super trendy customer Champion has spent the last decade cultivating. The label is also sold in Urban Outfitters and Supreme stores, which cater to that same customer. That said, Champion’s segmented retail strategy (paywall) means that it’s not forgetting its less fashion-conscious core consumer: Shoppers at sporting companies like Dicks and Modell’s will still find Champion in the same places they always have.

As Champion enjoys a resurgence, closing 2018 with a robust 22% increase in sales over the last year, its parent company, HanesBrands (HBI), does not look as promising. It closed 2018 with a 21% swan dive.

A combination of factors caused the disappointing performance. HanesBrands’s operating profit took a hit following the bankruptcy of Sears, but investors are more concerned about the lack of growth of its innerwear division: About a third of the North Carolina-based company’s brand portfolio depends on the category, which includes labels like Wonderbra, Maidenform, and Playtex. While HanesBrands saw a sales increase of 5% for men’s innerwear last year, it saw women’s intimates sales decline 14% during the same period. Considering how crowded the women’s intimates space is becoming (More than a dozen direct-to-consumer intimates companies have launched in the past year), the drop is not that surprising.

So the question is, can Champion’s streetwear pivot save a dated, struggling 100-year-old underwear company? At this point, the label only accounts for a quarter of total HanesBrands sales, and even that relatively small contribution took a $380 million hit last year when Target stopped carrying it in favor of its own private-label brands. That said, investors are banking on the long-term growth of Champion, which—lucky for HanesBrands—isn’t showing any sign of becoming less cool.