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. Limited releases and exclusive collabs might wind up in plenty of social media feeds and add a new level of cool to a sports brand, but those sneakers usually 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 $178 billion in 2021 and it's set to keep growing to $204 billion by 2023.
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 sportswear brands 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 no particular order, the best sports apparel brands in the world.
HOKA (formerly Hoka One One) is a French sportswear brand founded in 2009 by two former Salomon employees that specialize 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 thanks to the engineering embedded in its products. Sure you can make an argument that the brand blew up largely because of the chunky sneaker craze that Fila also profited from, but the specs don't lie. HOKA specializes in making trail-ready sneakers like the Bondi X which grew to acclaim thanks to the use of an early stage meta-rocker that creates a smooth transition while walking or running.
With gorpcore on the rise Salomon was perfectly positioned to become one of the biggest European sportswear brands. Its trail-ready sneakers have become a hit due to its combination of Ortholite insoles and Contagrip outsoles that create a comfy ride regardless of the terrain. Compared to other brands one of Salomon's best qualities is its signature color-blocking used on sneakers in XT series.
Apart from recently celebrating its 75th anniversary, collabs with COMME des GARÇONS, BODEGA, and recently Maison Margiela have ensured the French brand will remain a major player in the sportswear industry and if the gorpcore trend continues, it may soon move up to the top 5 slot.
Arguably no other brand has had a revival in recent years like New Balance. Apart from teaming up with Teddy Santis of Aimé Leon Dore for the brand's "MADE in USA" sub-line, New Balance has been releasing hit after hit with coveted silhouettes like the 2002R, 550 and other general releases.
Though the target 'dad audience' still remains with the Boston-based brand, new colorways, and revitalized models have placed it at the forefront of the apparel and sneaker industry due to collabs with Patta, Joe Freshgoods, and high-performance running sneakers with Stone Island.
A relative newcomer to the scene, On was founded in 2010 and has managed to make a lot of noise in a short period of time. That has been mainly due to its signature CloudTec® technology which creates the distinctive holes in the sole units of its sneakers. The cushioning technology makes for a comfortable ride while the shoe's lightweight construction and energy-returning technologies have made them a favorite for runners.
As well as offering reliable and quick running shoes, the label has also been making a name for itself among casual sneaker wearers, partly thanks to collaborations with the likes of Kith, Loewe, and this very magazine.
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 advanced sportswear, one of the most desirable sunglasses companies in the world.
A sportswear giant long before athleisure was even a word, adidas has remained an intrinsic of the sportswear industry. During 2022 we've seen a long list of high-profiled releases from the German brand with collabs from Ivy Park, Bad Bunny, Gucci, and most recently Balenciaga. Even designers like Darryl Brown and Sean Wotherspoon put their twist on a few of the brand's signature silhouettes.
It's clear the second-biggest athletic company in the world shows no signs of slowing down and its recent collection with and wander is a testament to the brand's ability to accommodate new ideas that further merge innovation and fashion.
Few companies blend performance and design quite like ASICS. Although mostly known for its impact in the running world with cutting edge silhouettes like the Novablast or Meta Speed Sky, its lifestyle models are widely renowned for its comfort. Pretty much any model from the brands Gel series offer stability and cushioning in a way that other brands don't, and with Kiko Kostandinov at the creative helm the brand's long line of retro-runners are having a resurgence. This year we've seen collabs from JJJJound, Ice Studios, Awake NY, even Evisu chimed in to give its take on the widely popular Gel-Lyte III.
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 and brands such as Cardi B, Maison Margiela and Rihanna.
With retro models from Allen Iverson's question and answer series providing young sneakerheads a chance at securing timeless silhouettes Reebok has positioned itself as one of the best sports brands in the world. As of recent Reebok continues to cater to the footwear community with its release of the Beatnik, one of the few slippers made for cold weather.
Over the course of 2021 Puma's sales rose by roughly 32% making it one of the highest grossing years for the German sportswear brand. Puma owes it success to its standard of delivering quality products at a reasonable price compared to its competitors. Collabs with Pokémon, MCM, and retailer Butter Goods helped solidify Puma outside its heavy football foundation and though Neymar Jr. remains as one of the brands biggest signed athletes younger players in various sports are following suit.
Though modern iterations of its popular Suede silhouette and still release every year, Puma's ability to remain true to its athletic origins is the reason why it continues to be one of the top 5 sportswear brands in the world.
Converse is one of the OG American sportswear brands that continue to innovate over time. Founded in 1908, the brand grew to acclaim with its widely celebrated Chuck Taylor silhouette that underwent several reiterations over the last hundred years. Though it's rare to see shoes transition between different sports, by adding a vulcanized sole to a few of its silhouettes Converse has redefined itself as a skate brand, sponsoring young pros like Louis Lopez, Sage Elsesser, and 2019 Skater of the Year Milton Martinez. Though the brand isn't as active in basketball as it once was it still maintains an on-court presence with a few players like the Warriors Draymond Green and OKC's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
This year saw the release of two brand new models with A-COLD-WALL*, the Sponge CX Crater and the Aeon Active CX as well as new collabs with Rick Owens DRKSHDW imprint, Barriers and a bunch of other international designers.
Though the word staple gets thrown around a lot these days perhaps no other company has been integral to athletic and streetwear as much as Champion. If you're looking for quality products that you can use in any sport, Champion has you covered. If you're looking to start a streetwear brand and need new some blanks to print on that comes with a seal (in the case logo) of approval, Champion has got you covered. The list of accolades under the now North-Carolina based brand is long from outfitting the "Dream Team" at the 1992 Summer Olympics to inventing the modern hooded pullover almost 90 years ago, Champion is as good as it gets.
Champion now serves the streetwear crowd, especially 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.
Fila rose to fame during the '90s after sponsorships with NBA athletes Jerry Stackhouse and hall of famer Grant Hill. Though the brand has been relatively quiet on the streetwear front it maintains a strong relationship with key athletes in tennis. Founded in 1911 in Italy, Fila now calls South Korea home and seen a rise in popularity after rerelease of its Mindblower silhouette that beared a slight colorway resemblance to YEEZY's. In 2019 mega group BTS announced its partnership with the historic athletic company and though folks are patiently waiting for new collections from the duo, you can still tap the athletic brand for it budget-friendly releases.
While the majority of hummel's products are made through the lens of soccer it also has transitioned in providing quality lifestyle products as well. Its pieces range from parkas to tracksuits sporting its catchy chevron logo. Founded during 1923 in Hamburg, Germany the now Danish brand is mostly known for providing football kits but recently the brand expanded its range to handball where it serves as the proud sponsor of the International Handball Federation.
Many sportswear brands have pivoted to reviving and reimagining chunky runners from their ’90s heyday, but Jordan Brand churns out remarkable retros on a completely different level all thanks to the One That Started It All, the iconic Air Jordan 1.
Listing all of Jordan's collaborators over the years would probably require a separate excel sheet but notables such as Virgil Abloh, Hiroshi Fujiwara, Paris Saint-Germain F.C., and J Balvin have all left there mark on the Jordan retro line. Aside from timeless reissues Jordan Brand supplies contemporary basketball and even football gear, and even recently signed its first pro BMX athlete Nigel Sylvester in 2021.
The future looks bright Jordan with young NBA talents like Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum performing at all-star levels, as the brand further expands to working with unique designers and boutiques around the world.
After being founded as a subsidiary sports under Robe di Kappa in 1967, Kappa has rose to be one of Italy's leading sportswear companies. It's hard to miss the brands iconic Omini logo which can be found stamped across European football kits and comfy track suits that double as rave attire. Apart from also serving as the official kit supplier of the British Basketball League, the 2021 collab with Palace Skateboards created more global awareness for the brand outside of its football audience.
People flock to Lacoste’s colorful crocodile-logoed polos for an easy, clean-cut casual look. The preppy French brand at times seems to share more in common with J. Press than other athletic brands but recently, however, the brand has been making strides back to its tennis origins with multiple Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic.
Though creatively Lacoste seems to be in a state of flux collabs with Supreme, A.P.C. and Awake NY have revitalized its presence in streetwear as the brands nears its 90th anniversary.
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 arrived on people’s radars through its sneaker sponsorship deals with retired NBA all-star Dwyane Wade and a handful of other players, but Li-Ning's recent sneaker and apparel offerings made sure the fashion world took notice. Oringinally
For SS22, Li-Ning revisited its collab with Copehangen-based Soulland dubbed "PRE-INTER-POST" that saw the release of the Furious Rider 6 and the highly techincal Shadow, both sneakers catering to the running genre.
Li-Ning recently added Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler to roster of athletes with his debut JB1 silhouette that released last month. A lot lies on the horizon for the Beijing-based brand as it continues to pave its way in the global sports industry.
The Beaverton giant remains the biggest sportswear brand in the world, taking more than $44 billion in revenue in 2021. Nike dominates nearly every sport, holding sponsorships with everyone from amateurs to Olympians, AAU teams to NBA squads, and everything in between. The Swoosh is one of the world's most ubiquitous logos, as it has been for decades.
Of course highly coveted drops like Virgil's and Louis Vuitton's AF1 collab and Drake's NOCTA imprint assisted with the brand's chokehold on the luxury sportswear industry but anyway you cut it, Nike is simply in a league of its own.
Few brands represent American sportswear quite like Russell Athletic. Founded in 1902 by Benjamin Russell, the brand took its first steps into the annals of history when Russell’s son asked him to make clothing for his university football team. That led to the invention of the sweatshirt, which has remained a casual and sportswear staple ever since.
That heritage is now returning to our closets through sought-after Russell Athletic thrift store pickups. The brand took advantage of the uptick in interest with a landmark 96-piece collaboration with KITH featuring 24 different colors — a nod to vintage Russell Athletic catalogs, which were full of color swatches for every piece.
Like its Italian compatriots FILA and ellesse, Sergio Tacchini was another brand adopted by the UK casuals on the terraces. To this day, its unmistakable '80s tracksuits still prove popular with retro enthusiasts and can be easily found in thrift stores.
Its eponymous founder, who was a professional tennis player, originally named the brand Sandys S.p.A. in 1966 before changing the name to Sergio Tacchini in 1969. Known for its maximalist remixes of traditional tennis whites, Sergio Tacchini famously sponsored the legendary Pete Sampras prior to the 14 time Grand Slam winner's switch to Nike. Goran Ivanišević, Novak Djokovic and John McEnroe are others to have worn the brand's elegant clothing over the years and collabs with A$AP Nast and Brain Dead helped spark a new revival for the legacy brand.
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, other athletes such as Joel Embiid, boxer Canelo Alvarez, and Tom Brady have all struck deals with the sportswear giant as the brand continues to venture out into new territory.
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