When it comes to cozy, warm, feels-like-a-hug sweaters, few brands come to mind more than Champion. The purveyor of athletic wear and the inventor of the hoodie has been kicking it for over 100 years.
No small feat for the company from Rochester, New York. Filling the gap for dependable, durable, and comfortable sweaters and jerseys, it’s no wonder they’ve become a brand associated with some of the greatest athletes of all time.
Champion now brings that same comfort to everyday guys that want to inject superior quality into their day-to-day style. And that includes us big and tall men with an extensive collection made specifically for us.
With high profile endorsement from some of the biggest celebrities, Champion’s legacy of comfort is still standing strong to this day.
A Champion’s Story: Humble Beginnings
Founded in 1919 by the Feinbloom brothers, Abraham and William, along with their pops, Simon. They saw a major gap in the market where most major manufacturers lacked the high quality needed for hardworking men in sports and outdoor labour.
Originally known as Knickerbocker Knitting Company, they began as a wholesale sweater and activewear supplier for university athletic programs and cold-weather workers. They also played a pivotal role transitioning athletic gear from being made of wool to cotton.
But why Knickerbocker? Well, just like the New York Knicks (which is short for Knickerbocker) it was a catchall term for Dutch settlers in the New York area.
At this point, KKC would be known for their thick and durable cotton fleece, namely their sweatshirts - which would become a canvas for university and college apparel. Yale and Harvard adorned sweaters became students' new cozy study buddies.
A Change in Weave
After building a reputation renowned for their unparalleled thick cotton and strength, it was time for a rebrand. Champion Knitting Mills was born in the ‘30s.
Around this time, they also invented their famous reverse-weave as a way to combat shrinking and warping in the wash. Football teams were putting their fleece through everything you’d expect, and once washed, their sweaters and jerseys were all out of shape.
The reverse-weave technology ran the cotton weave horizontally (i.e. across the body), instead of vertically. This single solution made their products even more robust and durable - factors they were already known for.
Alongside this significant innovation, they also invented a piece of clothing that would change the course of fashion - the hoodie. Originally called the “sideline sweater”, the hoodie would become prominent amongst athletes training in cold weather, sidelined footballers, and labourers alike.
Without the hoodie, men’s fashion would be nowhere that it is today.
Their heightened craftsmanship caught the eye of the U.S. Army in the ‘40s. With WWII, Champion became the official supplier for their training gear and t-shirts - this is what brought Champion into the drawers of the everyday man. Not everyone could afford to go to college or university, but the military exposed the vast majority of the population to the quality of Champion Knitting Mills.
NBA & Hip-Hop - Champion’s Pop-Status
Fast-forward to the ‘60s, Champion introduced the world to nylon mesh football jerseys to combat heat and help with sweat.
This took the sports world by storm, leading to NFL and NBA deals alongside their already strong NCAA ties. Think of your favourite retro jerseys and envision the material - yup, that’s classic Champion.
By the time the ‘90s rolled around, Champion hoodies, jerseys, jackets, and all forms of clothing were grails amongst sports fans - and an emerging culture known as Hip-Hop.
Hats, hoodies, bomber jackets, and jerseys became a uniform in the early ‘90s - take a look at a young Nas or Wu-Tang Clan. Hip-Hop fashion was dominated by the big-C brand.
Arguably, the immortalizing factor for Champion in our pop history was from the world of basketball. With its lightweight mesh and ‘90s pop colours, Champion helped to embody this era's aesthetic - especially with vibrant jerseys from the Vancouver Grizzlies, Charlotte Hornets, and Toronto Raptors.
Another big moment was becoming the Team USA jersey sponsor. This included the aptly nicknamed “Dream Team” in 1992 that included the likes of Jordan, Magic, Ewing, and Malone. This would bring the brand to televisions across the world.
Unfortunately, by the early 2000s, Champion started falling out of popularity as other sportswear brands began to outpace them with bigger names, tech, and marketing budgets. By 2002, their major NBA deal had dried up - alongside many of their other partnerships.
Present Day: A Champion is (re)Born
For a long period of time, it felt like the Champion brand was destined for the bargain bin and off-price retailers looking to bring cost-effective athletic goods to their racks. Many of their signature OG styles, such as the reverse-weave, were tabled.
But then 2017 rolls around. Nostalgia is cool again - fashion is a cycle after all. Millennials want everything that gave them the warm-and-fuzzies back in the day; including things that are literally warm and fuzzy. Just check out Champion’s instagram - they’re back like they never left.
They’ve since re-introduced their beefy reverse-weave fleece sweaters and hoodies, giving us what we’ve wanted all along: quality clothing that will last years - even if we’re not playing college ball.
At George Richards, we stock Champion’s big and tall line, made to our specifications. We all deserve to live like a Champion - whether you’re kicking it with some friends or on a morning jog.