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Hayley Bieber is all over your Instagram Explore page in head-to-toe Fila. It’s unsurprising that you’d forget, just 10 years ago, the brand had been relegated to the discount bins of Walmart and Target. Today, a Fila sweater sells at around 100 USD (800 HKD). The label’s iconic letter “F'' logo is now a badge of honour, something to proudly wear on your chest.
FILA’s signature red, white, and blue logo is not the only successful comeback in the realm of fashion. Champion, sharing the same colour wave in its historic “C,” had a projected $2 billion sales in 2022.
So, how did the brands revive themselves?
Here, we dissect the rise, fall and subsequent resurrection of two classic sportswear brands.
FILA and Champion are brands with 100-year-old stories to tell. Both founded by brothers, FILA and Champion were established in 1911 and 1919 respectively. The former, an Italian brand that initially manufactured underwear, eventually found its footing in the tennis industry during the 1970s. The latter, an American sweatshirt producer formerly known as “the Knickerbocker Knitting Company,” first got its start by making uniforms for college sports teams in the 1930s.
In the 1980s and 90s, the brands both reached the peak of their success as the golden age of hip-hop ushered in a booming market for streetwear. Rappers co-opted the luxury sports brands once only worn by the elite few into their own style, and made their exclusivity relevant to popular culture. FILA and Champion’s tracksuits were no longer seen only in country clubs on the Upper East Side—LL Cool J, Run D.M.C. were all rocking with them on the streets of New York.
Then it all came crashing down. The late 1990s to early 2000s marked the darkest days yet for both labels. FILA’s sales dropped close to 30% in 1998, and Champion went into a similarly rapid downfall. While FILA diluted their money source and attention into too many fashion sectors without solid market research, Champion suffered a failed collaboration with the American football league XFL and an inconstant mother corporation.
The year is 2007 and Paris Hilton is sporting a hot pink FILA jumpsuit. America’s hottest socialite-cum-media-personality shakes hands with South Korean billionaire and FILA’s latest owner, Gene Yoon. The deal marks the beginning of many to come—with celebrities, fashion houses, and lifestyle retailers.
FILA and Champion knew they had to grab headlines. Leaning into their rich histories as elite sports brands, both labels sought to return to the world of high fashion from the dusty racks of Walmart and Target. While the former secured partnerships with Supreme, Vetements, OffWhite, and Rick Owens; the latter collaborated with the likes of Fendi, Jason Wu, BAPE, and Baja East.
These crossovers often featured classic pieces—for Champion, it was the hoodie; for FILA, it was the sweatshirt. By harnessing their heritage, the two labels not only revitalised their forgotten status in fashion, but further secured and enhanced it through working with streetwear legends and fashion troublemakers. More importantly, they created an opportunity for Gen-Z buyers to own high-end labels at a lower cost, building a loyal fanbase who are projected to account for 45% of total luxury goods spending by 2025.
Luxury streetwear was and isn’t the end of the story, though. FILA and Champion both worked with Urban Outfitters (UO) and Pacsun—two lifestyle retail brands that resonate with almost every teenager. While capsule collections in these stores do not carry the same weight as fashion heavy hitters, they become more than just clothes, but a lifestyle centred on being youthful, stylish, and experimental. Familiarity is also key—as these teenagers gain purchasing power, they stay and move with the brands from the likes of UO and Pacsun into the world of high fashion.
The theme of nostalgia is hot on the market right now. The 80s and 90s aesthetic, with its inseparable ties to youth subculture and hip-hop, is undeniably “cool.” But there’s more. At the heart of this “coolness” is an unshakable brand personality and history that drives you to return to it.
For instance, the weight of Champion’s heritage lies in its innovative techniques. They invented the hoodie, after all, and the high-quality Reverse Weave that gives your sweater that cosy feeling. Interpreting history with a modern twist, the label capitalises on its very foundation, entangling fabric with memories, feelings, and something beyond the material—drawing you back time and time again.
The final boost needed to amplify FILA and Champion’s strong foundations and strategies was influencer marketing. Generating 11 times more return on investment (ROI) than traditional forms of marketing, social media was without a doubt the way to go.
For the two labels, marketing didn’t end with celebrities. FILA recently came out with a new campaign “Hailey for Fila,” Champion has rapper Saweetie helming the way. These major brand ambassadors steal the spotlight, but the subtle, more “minor” ambassadors on Instagram have generated over 5.6 million hashtags for the former brand.
Maybe there is some power to the red, blue, and white logo afterall. For FILA, the red bar in the “F” represents vitality, vigour, and passion; blue, trustworthiness and reliability. For Champion, the logo is a symbol of quality and authenticity. Staying true to the values symbolised by each logo, the brands wielded a combination of trend-based marketing, strategic collaborations, and nostalgic designs to jolt themselves back to life.