This year marks a century of American sports outfitter Champion. Founded in New York in 1919, the brand was built on a family vision to bring new, exciting sportswear products to market. In its early years, Champion partnered with several colleges and military academies, supplying insignia sweaters and physical education gear. In fact, Champion was the originator of the university sweater as we know it today, a staple piece that still occupies wardrobes.
From college supplier to innovator, Champion developed the world’s first engineered athletic sweatshirt in 1938, contrived to avoid problematic shrinkage in football jerseys. Its popularity with US football teams turned Champion into a top-level sportswear mainstay. Skip forward to 1968, and Champion was still driving progression, transforming women’s athletic apparel through sports uniforms designed specifically for female wear. Committed to supporting female athletes, Champion pioneered the game-changing sports bra.
Though its roots are very much in athletics and sports education, Champion has been reappropriated by various subcultural movements. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, the brand benefited from the endorsement of hip-hop and punk artists, resulting in increased sales as its sportswear made its way from the track, up onto the stage and in turn, pretty much everywhere you looked on the street.
From 1919 to 2019, Champion has popped up in some unexpected places. Below we take a look at the Champion clothing and accessories you can shop today, many of which still maintain a connection to the brand’s humble college beginnings, as well as the pieces born out of collaborations with some of streetwear’s biggest names.
The Modern Classics
The go-to for collegiate sweatshirts, universities across America still stock Champion-branded goods for their students today. Its sweater patent has remained the same since 1952, and why change the best? In 2017, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) included a Champion hoodie in its exhibition “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” — cementing its icon status. Invest in some US apparel history with the classic sweatshirt, featuring college insignia-style Champion branding. As well as being groundbreaking in the top-half, Champion also developed the first-ever breathable mesh shorts, an item lauded by basketball players both amateur and expert.
When the Feinbloom brothers established Champion 100 years ago, not even they, with their superior discernment for the casual clothing industry, could have foreseen the journey the brand would take. Champion has been collaborating since its early days, teaming up with colleges and academies to supply the very best in sportswear. This desire to collaborate never went away, and in recent years Champion has teamed up with some of the most coveted labels around. 2010 saw the brand’s first collab with Supreme, in the form of a dual-branded coaches jacket. This multi-drop partnership opened the door to a host of other collaborations, from Vetements to more recent pieces with brands such as Bandulu.
As at its start, innovation and experimentation are still a part of Champion today. Not content with sitting on a tried and tested product catalog, the label continues to push boundaries through collaboration and continuing to self-challenge. Champion’s partnership with London-based Clothsurgeon, a brand known for its reuse of fabrics and the melding-together of brands and ideas, is a great example. The Champion x Clothsurgeon utility vest is a mixed-up wool piece inspired by military wear and classic British garments, taken into modernity with the instantly recognizable branding.
The ongoing success of Champion perhaps lies in the fact its products are designed with a purpose in mind — the breathability of its basketball shorts, the shrink-avoiding football jerseys, and the easy to wear, and easy to identify, collegiate sweaters. Its goods are not only highly functional, but they look good too. Both simple and forward-looking, these qualities are seen in Champion’s accessories game too. The bags below are purpose-led, while items such as the sports-ready sweatband offer a chance to show some logo. Celebrate this American sportswear giant and its 100-year journey from college clothing purveyor to visionary collaborator, and shop on.
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- Curated by: Rhianna Matthews