Highsnobiety‘s inboxes are flooded with new and upcoming brands wanting a piece of the spotlight. Recently, however, we’ve been getting a lot of PR from labels that you’d be forgiven for thinking existed only in history books, as once-forgotten sportswear gems hope of leaping back into mainstream success by building on their past glories.
It’s hardly surprising given the ’90s revivalism that has dominated the fashion world in previous years, as designers revisit the clothing that defined their youth and the era’s sportswear brands fondly remember their rich histories. Bold color-blocking, oversized branding, boxy cuts and strong primary colors are order for the day here, with the sweatsuit and throwback sneakers playing a particularly strong role in the ’90s comeback.
Case in point is FILA. The 104-year-old Italian (although currently Korean-owned) brand has recently resurrected its nostalgic athletic gear, with an SS16 collection of throwback sportswear, faithful sneaker reissues and exclusive collaborations, all of which stay true to its rich street culture heritage. The brand’s “Doughboy” collaboration with Burn Rubber was a particular favorite of ours, spotlighting the popularity of the Tennis Classic sneaker among inner-city hustlers.
Similarly, British brand Umbro – previously owned by Nike – picks up where their quite frankly brilliant Palace collaboration left off by reissuing their classic football and training kit. The Umbro Pro Training line combines boxy pullovers and tracksuits with jacquard-patterned football tops that nod to the label’s iconic ’90s England kits.
Diadora, meanwhile, have kickstarted a slew of sneaker collabs – many of which are made in the brand’s Italian homeland – accompanied by a strong mainline of highly wearable classic runners. With tasteful, contemporary colorways and high-end production, the brand’s sneakers have been a highly effective way of dragging the once-forgotten brand’s name back into the spotlight.
Champion’s heather grey sweats have made a comeback – their ongoing Supreme collaborations can’t hurt – and obscure gems like Ewing Athletics and LA Gear have poised themselves for a resurgence, too. It’s hardly surprising given the ’90s fever that’s gripped the fashion world of late, but does that mean the sportswear revival is sustainable?
“We are in a very strong retro period right now – old school brands are smart to participate,” sneaker expert Matt Powell from industry analysis group NPD told us. While it’s a joy to see once-loved brands making a comeback with faithfully-reissued products, it’s worth remembering that the sneakerhead and fashion demographic accounts for a fraction of their overall business: 5 – 10% of the USA’s sportswear market, Powell predicts.
“Think of it like a glass of beer,” John Horan, founder of Sporting Goods Intelligence, told Fortune. “Your fashion business should be your foam. The performance business has got to be the beer.” The industry expert also warned of the danger of “a lot of foam and not enough beer.”
The aforementioned brands have certainly got the ball rolling by shining the light on their former glories, but if they want longevity they’ll have to make significant inroads into the ever-crowded sportswear market – which is utterly dominated by Nike these days.
While throwback gear makes sense for streetwear, sportswear has evolved now. Nostalgic garments and rich histories are not enough when technical fabrics and new technologies are the norm. The ’90s sportswear revival may be giving new life to a lot of great brands, but once the fickle fashion crowd has moved on, will these labels have much left to work with?
For more throwback sportswear, check out 5 Forgotten Football Brands and A Love Letter to the Glorious, Ostentatious Madness of ’90s Football Kits.