The arguable king of the sportswear label underdogs, hummel has consistently been producing quality athletic gear for almost a century. While the era of ostentatious '80s football kits represented a distinctly louder phase in its design canon, the German-founded, Denmark-based label’s approach has more consistently been marked by an assured and steady progress that is thoroughly rooted in its northern European heritage.
While its "bee that cannot fly" logo (hummel being German for "bumble bee") may not be immediately iconic to some, the appearance of the label’s striking chevrons daubed down the sleeves and sides of tracksuits, or across the lateral flanks of its sneakers, is something far more recognizable. And if it isn’t, then it may well begin to be.
This is where hummel’s new HUMMEL HIVE project comes in: it's a program that aims to revive hummel designs and assured classics, reinterpreting them for the current era of streetwear. Headed by Dan Bjerg Hansen, HUMMEL HIVE seeks to "innovate the brand," he explains during our meet-up during Copenhagen Fashion Week.
Founded less than a month ago, the project will focus on a select group of retailers around the globe for special targeted releases and collaborations that utilize hummel's vast archive. Already the small team of dedicated, multi-disciplinary creatives in the "HIVE" are working towards the launch of their first collaboration and collections, due for release this summer.
“We’re starting a journey here,” adds Jeppe Orrbeck Frønes, previously of adidas and Consortium retailer Sole Service, who’s heading up the project’s global sales and distribution team. “We’re showing that we’re rooted in sport, but that we are also doing dope and wicked shoes…and some really, really nice apparel as well.”
"We want to merge hummel's past together with the future and find new roots in culture while doing so," explains Hansen in HUMMEL HIVE's concept space, set up during the Danish capital’s Fashion Week.
That culture stretches from hummel’s storied history as a brand rooted in football, to one focussed on athletic wear that’s firmly rooted in the streets of northern Europe. As Hansen explains, the defining trend of '80s and late-'90s streetwear was dominated by the use of performance athletic gear as something for everyday life: namely the tracksuit. "That’s constantly coming back up to the surface," he explains, "and I think that this is still the core of hummel as well, together with the football jerseys." Even today, on the streets of Copenhagen and around Scandinavia, you’re more likely to see kids in technical chevroned apparel than stripes or swooshes.
Founded in 1923 by Albert Messmer in a small town just north of Hamburg, Germany, hummel vied against its fellow German labels PUMA and adidas for business in the embryonic sportswear industry. In a stroke of genius, Messmer applied clay cleats to the bottom of a pair of footballer’s boots, secured by chevrons of leather to strengthen the fastenings, and so birthing the label’s iconic twin motif as well as innovating the sport in a single stroke.
In the 1950s, hummel cemented its underdog status against its rivals before then being bought by a group of Danish footballers in the 1970s. It then revolutionized football and the wider sports industry again by being the first label to sponsor, design and provide sports kits to entire teams (before this, kits were supplied to players on an individual basis).
This sense of being an underdog, of staying true to the label’s story and its beliefs, as well as hummel's history in the sneaker game, is something that runs deep: "A key component of the HUMMEL HIVE project is to bring the story back to the fact that we were actually a footwear brand before we became a sportswear brand," explains Hansen in front of the assorted chevroned sneakers in the HUMMEL HIVE space, referencing, of course, hummel icons like the Marathona runner or the Pernfors Power Play court sneaker. "Of course, we work in that intersection between performance and style, like we’ve always done. But whatever we do, it always needs to be close to our DNA and what we did in the past."
"As Jeppe said, this is a long journey and we want to build from our roots and be authentic to our core," he adds.