When thinking about the best sports brands, an old soccer expression comes to mind: form is temporary, but class is permanent. Popularity ebbs and flows, but quality and legacy endure.
Availability, not exclusivity, is key to sportswear brands financially. A limited release like the Nike x OFF-WHITE collab might get into plenty of social media feeds and add a new level of cool to a sports brand, but those sneakers don't end up in everyone's closets. Yet, while widespread availability and visibility do equal cold, hard cash for sportswear brands, exclusivity and collaborations remain a form of soft power every label wants to wield.
The hype that drives the high end of the market and sends collectors and media outlets such as ourselves into a frenzy is a means for sports brands to elevate their general releases and everyday wear and keep profits ticking upwards. And it's working. Market research firm Statista estimates the global sports apparel market generated revenue of $174 billion in 2018, up from $167 billion in 2017, and it's set to keep growing. According to Allied Market Research, revenue is expected to hit $184.6 billion by 2020.
But hype isn't the be-all and end-all. Heritage, product quality, strong endorsement deals, and innovation are other spokes in the wheel of what makes a sports company great. Its something those in charge know all too well, and a big reason as to why a lot of brands have transitioned from the sports to lifestyle arena with ease in recent times.
With athleisure arguably the dominant fashion trend of our time, there’s money on the table, and these 23 sports brands aren’t about to leave any change behind.
Scroll on to see, in alphabetical order, the best sports brands in the world.
A sportswear giant long before athleisure was even a word, the Brand With the Three Stripes made massive bets on high-profile collaborations through its Originals lifestyle brand, and how that's paid off. Rick Owens, Alexander Wang, Raf Simons, Pharrell Williams, and Kanye West have been in the fold for years, and in 2019, adidas added Beyoncé, Kid Cudi, and Donald Glover, as well as re-upping its deal with Pusha-T.
These collabs have elevated adidas as it slowly cuts into eternal rival Nike’s market share, and with West's YEEZY, taken from under the Swoosh's nose in 2016, the German brand hit the jackpot.
Lyst named YEEZY among its hottest brands and products of 2019's first quarter, above adidas itself. And with the rate of YEEZY releases going up, and adidas continuing to tap into the retro sneaker trend with silhouettes such as the Yung-1, Yung-96, and LXCON, expect the Three Stripes to remain one of the most omnipresent and valuable sportswear brands in the world for years to come.
Few companies blend performance and design quite like ASICS. Athletes around the world at every level, including Olympians, love the brand's GEL-Kayano sneakers for their unmatched reliability under heavy usage. Sneakerheads love chunky retro silhouettes such as the GEL-Kayano 5 and GEL-Fujitrabuco 7. Meanwhile, collaborations with the likes of Ronnie Fieg, Patta, Kiko Kostadinov, and GmbH have brought the Japanese sportswear brand to fashion weeks and beyond.
With the 2019 releases of the GEL-Quantum 360 5 and MetaRide, ASICS continues to add new technologies to its already impressive lineup of running sneakers. Whether you’re a serious runner, a serious sneakerhead, or both, a pair of ASICS are a must-have for anyone looking to flex on the track or outside a fashion show.
Coming off of its best performance in years, with $1.4 billion in global sales in 2018, Champion’s revival is going strong. One of the most popular sports clothing brands of the ’90s, Champion fell off the radar around the turn of the century. But with ’90s nostalgia driving fashion and pop culture trends, Champion is back, with its signature “C” logo spotted on the likes of Rihanna, the Kardashians, and Chance the Rapper, who claimed last year he'd made the century-old brand “unlame.”
Champion now serves the streetwear crowd, especially hype chasers after collaborations with Supreme, Vetements, OFF-WHITE, and KITH. But it's also still for the everyman, with affordable prices, widespread availability, and time-tested quality. "It's like having a new brand with a hundred-year history," says Champion brand ambassador Manny Martinez.
Although Italian sportswear brand Diadora has been around since 1948, it remains an underground icon to soccer “casuals” and European streetwear enthusiasts alike. Diadora was a hit in the ’70s and ’80s, drawing in traveling soccer fans from the UK with its luxurious tracksuits, colorful knitwear, and sleek sneakers. Icons such as tennis legend Björn Borg and soccer greats Roberto Baggio and Marco van Basten donned Diadora footwear, making the sports brand a giant both on and off the field.
Today, Diadora’s Italian craftsmanship is paired with reinvented styles from decades past and collaborations with Packer, END., and even Highsnobiety. Its clothing takes styles from the most dominant period in the company's history and brings them straight into the modern athleisure fold. For anyone looking to add that prestigious “Made in Italy” spirit to their sportswear wardrobe, Diadora is a European OG.
ellesse, founded in 1959, changed sportswear forever by bringing tailoring techniques to sporting apparel for the first time.
The Italian brand (now owned by the British company Pentland), first started out in ski-wear but has since gone on to establish itself as a true sportswear force in Europe and beyond, having announced its re-entry into the North American market with a special Fall 2018 collection of apparel and footwear.
Once a favored brand of UK casuals in the '80s, these days, the ‘semi-palla’ or ‘half-ball’ logo — which represented two tips of a pair of skis and a section of a tennis ball — can be seen widespread, worn proudly by everyone from ravers and fashionistas to tennis players at Wimbledon.
Famously, Muhammad Ali was even a fan.
Of all the sports brands to catch the wave of “ugly” and bulky sneakers in recent years, FILA was perhaps the best positioned to take advantage. If you're wondering why, just look at the Italian heritage (now owned in South Korea) sportswear brand’s retro silhouettes.
The Disruptor II, the second most popular sneaker of Q2 2018, according to Lyst, with its bulbous upper and jagged sole, was a wallet-friendly entry point to the chunky sneaker arena, costing a fraction of the price of the similarly exaggerated Balenciaga Triple S. The sneaker originally came out in 1996, and its re-emergence bodes well for FILA’s other bulky models, such as the relaunched DSTR97 and the Ray.
Hoka One One
Hoka One One, founded in 2009 by two former Salomon employees, is a French sportswear brand that specializes in maximalist running shoes. Due to its relatively short history, it may not have the same heritage as other brands on this list, but has found a firm foothold in both the running industry, not to mention the fashion world in recent years thanks to cosigns by the likes of Kanye West. Collaborations with menswear favorites such as Engineered Garments have also helped further its name.
Its partnership with Vibram, who produces bulky and durable outsoles for most of the brand’s running sneakers, is another reason it is so beloved by the more fashion-conscious crowd. The company is currently owned by Deckers Brands, the parent company for UGG, Teva, and other footwear brands.
Soccer is probably the world's most unifying sport, an opinion German-founded, Denmark-based sportswear brand hummel holds close to its core and expounds on in its collections.
Its designs are done through the lens of soccer, although inspiration can strike from anywhere, resulting in collections dedicated to US immigrants, lower league soccer clubs in Scotland, and indoor sports. Known as the “underdog” label compared with German sportswear labels adidas and PUMA, hummel’s distinctive descending chevrons still grace some of the best tracksuits and soccer-inspired lifestyle clothing in the world.
Like how many sportswear brands have pivoted to reviving and reimagining chunky runners from their ’90s heyday, Jordan Brand keeps churning out remarkable retros by in-house designers and collaborators, particularly retros of the iconic Air Jordan 1, aka "The One That Started It All."
OFF-WHITE’s Virgil Abloh, fragment design’s Hiroshi Fujiwara, and Travis Scott have all made their mark on the Jordan retro line, with Abloh and Scott’s designs among the most valuable in the sneaker world. Away from reissues of Michael Jordan's classic basketball sneakers, Jordan Brand supplies contemporary basketball and even football gear, and in 2018 expanded into soccer, supplying Paris Saint-Germain's Champions League jerseys in an unprecedented move.
Rebranded Kappa in 1967 after its foundation as underwear company Maglificio Calzificio Torinese in 1916, the Italian sportswear label has been hitting all the right notes in recent times, bringing its classic athletic cuts to streetwear through the reborn Kappa Kontroll line and collaborations with the likes of Gosha Rubchinskiy, Danilo Paura, and Christian Dada.
The brand with the beloved Omini logo, one of the most recognizable and stylish logos out there, offers sportswear staples at affordable prices. And with its US website now launched, expect wider-ranging Kappa collections and collaborations in the years ahead.
People flock to Lacoste’s colorful crocodile-logoed polos for an easy, clean-cut casual look. More recently, however, the French brand has been making strides back to its tennis origins, being sported by multiple Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic, as well as into streetwear and fashion.
Lacoste has done runway shows and collaborations with Agi & Sam, A Bathing Ape, and Supreme, merging its DNA as a tennis outfitter with streetwear styles for a “sportscore” look. Contemporary style icons such as Tyler, the Creator have also rocked the croc, pairing with the brand for a GOLF WANG collab.
Le Coq Sportif
For tennis fans, the name Le Coq Sportif will be synonymous with legends of the game like Yannick Noah and Arthur Ashe, who both donned the brand's rooster logo during their playing careers.
But there's much more to the storied French sports brand — founded in 1882 — than just tennis. In the '80s, the Le Coq Sportif assumed the role of kit provider for a whole clutch of football clubs, including the Aston Villa team that took home the European Cup in 1982 and the FIFA World Cup-winning sides of Italy in 1982 and, most notably, Argentina in 1986. When Maradona scored his famous "Hand of God" goal against England, he did so in a Le Coq Sportif shirt.
But it's not all about the past, and Le Coq Sportif continues to carve out a niche as a purveyor of clean, no-nonsense sportswear. Recent collaborations include the Scottish sneaker store Hanon and the now-shuttered, legendary colette.
The Chinese sportswear brand got on people’s radars through its sneaker sponsorship deals with NBA star Dwyane Wade and a handful of other players, but it’s Li-Ning's recent sneaker and apparel releases that have really caught everyone’s attention.
For FW19, Li-Ning brought back sleek archival tracksuits from the ’90s, adding hiking-inspired garments and even pinstriped suits with utilitarian pockets. And that's before we get to the brand's funky sneaker designs.
The Furious Rider ACE sneaker also hopped on the ’90s revival bandwagon and landed on the Paris Fashion Week runway, while the Butterfly retro — an update of a sneaker worn by Chinese Olympians in 2000 — took design cues from Kanye West’s YEEZY Boost 700. Li-Ning sneakers have also been featured at New York Fashion Week, taking in influences from across the athletic spectrum and showing that, like China itself, Li-Ning has global ambitions.
Call New Balance sneakers “dadcore” but don’t call them out of style. The Boston brand is one the preeminent American heritage sportswear brands, worn by everyone from, yes, suburban middle-class dads to fashionistas the world over. Few sportswear brands can bridge that gap, but New Balance does so with smart colorways and remastered classics.
The brand has ramped up its presence with the re-release of the classic 990 and bold new colorways and collaborations on the 997S, including a model for signature athlete Kawhi Leonard, whose OMN1S basketball sneaker debuted in 2019 and sold out instantly. New Balance is also expecting big things from its $1 million intern and future NBA star Darius Bazley.
In soccer, the brand enjoyed massive success in 2019 as kit-maker to Liverpool, which won Europe's Champions League. Elsewhere, tennis, cricket, rugby, and even skateboarding are some of the other sports New Balance now has a hand in, demonstrating its widening reach.
The Beaverton giant remains the biggest sportswear brand in the world, taking more than $36 billion in revenue in 2018. Nike dominates nearly every sport, holding sponsorships with everyone from amateurs to Olympians, AAU teams to NBA squads, and everything in between. The Swoosh is one of the world's most ubiquitous logos, as it has been for decades.
The brand continuously innovates through technologies such as React, Adapt, and, of course, Air, and continues to work with new design collaborators and athletes both in their prime and post-career, from John Elliott to Colin Kaepernick, Tom Sachs to Serena Williams. Whether making lifestyle or performance products, Nike is the global leader.
The sportswear titan's inroads into high fashion and streetwear include collaborations with the likes of Supreme, Travis Scott, Martine Rose, Matthew M. Williams of 1017 ALYX 9SM, and Errolson Hugh of ACRONYM. Then there's the small matter of the groundbreaking "The Ten" collaboration with Virgil Abloh, which started in 2017 and changed the sneaker resell market forever.
Quite simply, Nike is in a league of its own, a winner that just does it.
Oakley sunglasses have become a serious flex in high fashion in recent times. With sunglasses trends moving toward thinner, more colorful frames, and bigger, more outlandish lenses, Oakley, with its decades-deep archive of cycling shades, was ready for a comeback. Collaborations with Vetements, Palace, and A-COLD-WALL*'s Samuel Ross have put everyone on notice, making Oakley, which also makes goggles and apparel, one of the most desirable sunglasses companies in the world.
The German sportswear icon’s first quarter of 2019 was “the best quarter PUMA has ever seen,” according to CEO Bjørn Gulden, with the brand growing faster than Nike and adidas in North America, albeit as a smaller company with more room to grow.
PUMA owes its recent success to killer collaborations and the revival of retro sneakers from various eras. On the collaboration front, PUMA has worked with the likes of ADER Error, Upscale Vandal, and Nipsey Hussle, and is continuing that work with the late rapper's estate.
Through modern iterations of its Palace Guard and Ralph Sampson sneakers, PUMA is bringing the best of ’80s basketball into the 21st century, while 1998's hefty Cell Venom also made a successful return, with Overkill and ADER Error adding their collaborative touches to the model to great effect. Likewise, the relaunched Inhale draws from the ’00s vault, giving PUMA three decades worth of footwear making waves in the modern era.
Another brand taking advantage of ’90s nostalgia, one-time British heritage sportswear label Reebok has dug into its vault and opened it up to a slew of collaborators, including celebrities such as Victoria Beckham and Future.
Sticking with all things ’90s, Reebok, owned by adidas since 2005 and now headquartered in the US, has brought back the original version of the 1994 Instapump OG, enlisted Packer and have a good time to rework the classic Aztrek, and continued to reap the rewards of Pyer Moss’ elevated takes on the Mobius line. Another standout collaboration was Vetements' $1,190 Spike 400, featuring an on-trend chunky rubber sole and volt accents.
Few brands represent American sportswear quite like Russell Athletic. Founded in 1902 by Benjamin Russell, the brand took its first steps into the annals of history when Russell’s son asked him to make clothing for his university football team. That led to the invention of the sweatshirt, which has remained a casual and sportswear staple ever since.
That heritage is now returning to our closets through sought-after Russell Athletic thrift store pickups. The brand took advantage of the uptick in interest with a landmark 96-piece collaboration with KITH featuring 24 different colors — a nod to vintage Russell Athletic catalogs, which were full of color swatches for every piece.
Hiking-inspired sneakers have become a major trend in the sneaker world and a feature at international fashion weeks, and Salomon, one of the world's foremost outdoor sports companies, has taken center stage with its technical prowess and critically adored fashion collaborations with The Broken Arm, Boris Bidjan Saberi, Avnier, and TAKAHIROMIYASHITATheSoloist.
Salomon's trail sneakers are at the cutting edge of footwear technology, with waterproofed technical fabrics and drawstring lacing closures. The brand's outlandish combinations of material and color, meanwhile, make its shoes ripe for streetwear.
Like its Italian compatriots FILA and ellesse, Sergio Tacchini was another brand adopted by the UK casuals on the terraces. To this day, its unmistakable '80s tracksuits still prove popular with retro enthusiasts and can be easily found in thrift stores.
Its eponymous founder, who was a professional tennis player, originally named the brand Sandys S.p.A. in 1966 before changing the name to Sergio Tacchini in 1969. Known for its maximalist remixes of traditional tennis whites, Sergio Tacchini famously sponsored the legendary Pete Sampras prior to the 14 time Grand Slam winner's switch to Nike. Goran Ivanišević, Novak Djokovic and John McEnroe are others to have worn the brand's elegant clothing over the years.
Despite some financial tribulations in recent times, Sergio Tacchini still proves to be a popular brand among tennis players and fans.
Umbro’s soccer jerseys and cleats are etched into the history of the sport. The UK brand supplies uniforms for dozens of teams on five different continents and has collaborated on jerseys with Palace, N.Hoolywood, and Highsnobiety, bringing its sports heritage to streetwear.
The label has also hauled some blocky ’90s sneaker styles from the vault, or as Umbro puts it, the Archive Research Project (ARP). Among the silhouettes to make a comeback through the ARP are the Runner M, Neptune, and Exert Max.
US sportswear brand Under Armour caught lightning in a bottle when it signed Golden State Warrior Stephen Curry as its signature athlete. Curry is reportedly worth $14 billion to the company, even if his sneakers haven't completely connected with sneakerheads. Curry is an idol, one who matters enough that a nine-year-old girl can convince Under Armour, via Curry, to offer girls and women’s sizes of the NBA star's signature sneakers.
But Under Armour hasn’t stopped with Curry and other athletes such as boxer Canelo Alvarez, striking a sneaker deal with A$AP Rocky that saw the release of the Osiris D3-indebted SRLo in 2018.