Champion, which is celebrating its 100th year in 2019, has been on quite a roll over the last two years.
In the first quarter, sales for the brand, owned by HanesBrands Inc., grew 75 percent globally with growth in North America ahead 80 percent. Sales outside the mass channel catapulted 48 percent in 2018 in the U.S. Overall, Champion’s sales reached $1.35 billion globally last year, and management has set an ambitious goal to reach $2 billion by 2022.
To drive its momentum, Champion has opened its first full-price stores, entered the premium footwear category last year through a partnership with BBC International, and recruited Magic Johnson and a host of influencers to support its “100 Years for the Team” centennial anniversary campaign.
Here, David Robertson, director Champion Brand Marketing, talks about the Centennial Anniversary Campaign, the many facets of the campaign, its decision to open full-price stores and enter premium footwear, and what’s driving Champion’s momentum.
Why the focus on “the team” as part of the centennial anniversary campaign? For 100 years, Champion has been about the team. We truly believe Champion is for everyone – the team. What’s appealing to our fans is what the brand stands for, and for one hundred years, this authentic athleticwear brand has embraced the values that characterize great teams and true champions – namely Heart, Commitment and Integrity – while recognizing that “it takes a little more to make a Champion.”
We are celebrating our 100-year anniversary with a multi-platform global campaign to explore what being a “team” means in 2019. We’re profiling teams from sport, arts and culture. We’ve identified people who have a story to tell from being part of a team and feel that these authentic and real stories are what will truly make this campaign special. We’re also enlisting global and regional influencers to explore the answer to this question – including the legendary Magic Johnson.
Additionally, consumer participation is at the center of the campaign. Our “100 Years for the Team” has a strong call to action for Champion fans around the world to participate so that we can hear directly from them, which is an important aspect to the campaign, it’s not just about what we want to tell them about Champion, but what we want to hear from them, too.
Can you talk about Champion’s roots supplying teams with uniforms or working with teams? Rooted in sport, Champion has been creating innovative product for athletes since 1919, including patented Reverse Weave sweatshirts and the introduction of the nylon mesh jersey. Today, we have the advantage of reinterpreting iconic apparel to take advantage of demand for performance apparel.
Champion’s beginning started with outfitting teams, and even pioneered the hoodie in the 1930s in Rochester, New York, originally to meet the demands of athletes. The hoodie quickly became a style icon and continues to be one of our most popular styles. Our iconic style, Reverse Weave, was actually the first engineered athletic sweatshirt developed for athletes. It was originally conceived in the 1930s as a response to feedback from coaches about garment shrinkage. This new product also addressed issues with sweatshirts of the time such as fit and durability.
Champion recently formed partnerships with the University of Cincinnati and UNC-Chapel Hill. Is that part of this effort? Champion is deeply rooted in college sport, from outfitting college teams throughout our 100-year history to having an even stronger connection to college students and sports fans who choose to wear our apparel. In addition to that, we produce quality product, and people recognize that. The partnerships are a reflection of both – more college sports fans wanting to experience our brand and colleges trusting that we’ll provide exceptional service and great apparel for their constituents. We’re proud to be an innovator in the college market so that we can work with these groups and make great product for their teams and fans to wear.
Why Magic Johnson? Magic Johnson perfectly embodies team spirit. As part of the 1992 Olympic Dream Team (and wearing Champion uniforms) and throughout his career, he experienced first-hand the power of people coming together to achieve great things. That’s exactly why we’ve enlisted the help of such a legendary team player such as Magic Johnson to advocate our search.
Magic Johnson is helping celebrate the strength of teams as part of Champion’s 100th anniversary campaign. He helped announce the campaign and has continued to push its messaging throughout the year.
Can you give us some details on global digital and social media campaign? The campaign seeks to understand what being part of a “team” means in 2019, and we will primarily be using content through social media to engage with millions of people around the world to help us answer that question (with hashtag #Champion100 and on the Champion100 microsite). Stories will be told through digital content. Consumers can share their teams with Champion and have them featured as part of the celebration through Champion’s social media channels.
We also launched a microsite, Champion100.com, where consumers can discover the story of Champion – and be part of the next chapter for the authentic athleticwear brand.
The campaign is supported by global PR activity, and there will be special events later in the year. We see this as a great opportunity to utilize our retail spaces and bring the celebration in-store. Stay tuned for more information.
What’s special about the Century Collection? We introduced a special, limited-edition capsule collection in honor of our 100th anniversary at the beginning of the year – the Century Collection. The collection includes product for both men and women – with hoodies, crews, tees, joggers, caps, slides, sneakers and bags. The Century Collection embodies the mix of classic heritage and innovative design and style that have made Champion so popular and iconic over the past 100 years.
A second drop of the Century Collection will launch in-store and online on Tuesday, June 25th. This drop will include Champion’s iconic Reverse Weave styles given an all-over print makeover, which is heavily inspired by our heritage and comprised of a variety of the brand’s garment labels over the course of our rich 100-year history. Colors include familiar and classic white, red and blue color palettes which are distinct to our Champion brand. Each piece includes a hidden label so Champion fans can join the 100th Anniversary “For the Team” celebration and mark what team means to them today while sporting their Champion team uniform.
The collection will be available for purchase on Champion.com; Champion’s five retail stores in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia; and at national department stores and specialty retailers.
The campaign also focuses heavily on influencers. Can you elaborate on this approach? We’re working with iconic people – including Magic Johnson – for this campaign, but we’re not approaching this in a traditional way. We’ve identified people who have a story to tell from being part of a team. We feel these authentic and real stories are what will truly make this campaign special. We enlisted them to tell their story and encourage others too as well, as part of a bigger team revolving around this global celebration.
The campaign use of ‘team’ includes all kinds of communities, no matter what your crew is. We’re celebrating all kinds of teams in 2019 and taking a modern look for what team means in 2019. So for launch, in addition to Magic Johnson, we also profiled existing teams today:
- Urban Dove is a really fascinating charter school in Brooklyn, that has a unique approach to education. They engage with at-risk kids and take this team approach – a sports approach – and have a really high success rate with students who have had trouble with more traditional schooling.
- VC London is an all-female motorcycle club. They invite women to try things they haven’t done, which creates a community and ultimately an inclusive, inviting team.
- GRL PWR is a female duo that were able to overcome obstacles when they were younger because of strong positive female role models. They took this past experience and used it as inspiration to create their own team, GRL PWR, that offers young girls strong role models who can give them the tools they need to be confident and successful in order to reduce life’s negative obstacles.
- Le Ballon brings together a community of people from all walks of life, and recognizes that soccer can be expressed in many different ways through art, music and culture – and that is what they want to show their team through the creation of the Le Ballon League.
- Beach-Side Ballers is a group of friends who use the love of basketball to connect and support each other. On the court, they set aside problems with family, work and/or university so they can focus on something positive – their team and their love of the game.
Capsule collections have been a big win for Champion lately. In addition to our capsule Century Collection, we’ve been very fortunate throughout our history to have connected and collaborated with talented designers, artists and companies that identify with and are already fans of our brand. It’s great to see synergy with these individuals who are able to take inspiration from our core products and reinterpret them with a new lens.
By working together and highlighting the best of what each entity has to offer, we’re able to create something truly special, all while allowing us to reach and connect with new audiences. Each collaboration has had its own purpose and individual successes. We’re happy that this model works well for our brand and that we’re able to find talented individuals who are brand-right and fans of Champion.
We’re seeing a whole host of new ways to reach customers – mobile, influencers, limited-edition capsules, etc. How is Champion cutting through the noise? We’re focusing on connecting with consumers and engaging with them, while recognizing that there is still a lot of opportunity to grow across various channels. Our consumers want to connect with us digitally and it’s becoming more important on how we build relationships with them.
A lot of our products are great staple pieces that many shoppers make their own and style into their own look, and we want to celebrate that as we look ahead, too. The online Champion community is strong and only getting bigger – and serves as a great hub for streetwear style inspiration for others to see online, via social media, or in-person. That’s why a big component of our 100th anniversary campaign, “100 Years for the Team,” is to bring this existing Champion community together and show us what ‘team’ means to them in 2019, so we can celebrate what ‘team’ means across the globe.
Our “100 Years for the Team” has a strong call to action for consumers to participate so that we can hear directly from them, which is an important aspect to the campaign, it’s not just about what we want to tell them about Champion, but what we want to hear from them, too.
How does Champion compete against some of the bigger marketing budgets in the activewear space? We take a look at each opportunity by first identifying if it makes sense for our brand, and then determining whether or not it’s the right fit to pursue through extensive research and many conversations. What’s important to us is finding partnerships that reflects the inclusiveness that our brand stands for and also what sport and team means today.
For example, the conversations around esports started happening in the beginning of 2018. It attracted us because esports is a new way to compete and a new way to be a part of team. For 100 years, Champion has always been about the team. Esports is a natural evolution for a brand that is inclusive and embraces competition and teams – it’s a natural place for us. Then when you take it to the NBA 2K League, which is supported by the NBA (and with which Champion has a history with outfitting) – it’s exciting to now be outfitting the NBA 2K League.
Additional Esports team that we are working with include FaZe Clan, Dignitas, Renegades, Optic, Fnatic.
How does the opening of full-price stores support the outreach efforts and what have you learned from the openings? Last year we opened four stores – one in the Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Boston markets, and this year opened one store in Philadelphia – all of which are performing well. Since we’re fairly new to the U.S. retail market, we are vigorously vetting the right opportunities while remaining highly selective with activating new retail store openings.
What we have learned so far from the success of our retail stores is that it is essential for Champion to provide authentic brand experiences as a way to better engage with our consumers.
Having a retail footprint allows our team to curate merchandise relevant to the customer in each market through collaborations, limited-edition pieces and exclusive product availability at each specific store. It gives us the flexibility to adapt, learn and better anticipate exactly what our consumers are looking for so we can meet their always-changing needs. We’ve learned these efforts captivate our customers and drive strong sales results.
Can you talk about Champion’s launch into premium footwear? We introduced footwear last fall and saw that it resonated so well with our Champion fans, including both men and women. This spring, we added a specific women’s footwear line and a kid’s footwear line to keep up with our consumer demand, introducing new silhouettes and expanding into tennis shoes, flip flops, fresh colors and fabrics. In continuing the celebrations for our 100th anniversary, we also debuted Century Collection slides and sneakers as well.
When we first determined that we’d like to enter the footwear category, we already understood how busy the footwear space is, so we looked at the market share and began conceptualizing how it could be ownable to our brand and have the Champion DNA at its core. After conducting research and referring to our archives, we were able to create a strong, authentic collection that really set our entry into this category for success. We want our fans to be able to dress in Champion from head to toe – which they now can with our expanded footwear lines.
Why do you think Champion is undergoing such as strong resurgence on the fashion or urban scene? Is it some external or more internal factors or a bit of both? A bit of both.
Champion is and has been authentic athleticwear apparel for 100 years–not many brands in our space can say they’ve made it to 100 years, and consumers respond to this. Champion is a brand that consumers trust, with an amazing heritage, that has global appeal. When you combine that with incredible product, innovative design, great fit and comfort – all of which our classic core and seasonal products offer-we’re able to garner new customers and turn them into fans of the brand.
This strong heritage allows us to maintain an influential position in the overall fashion and athleticwear market. But, we also recognize that over the past few years, sportswear has evolved into fashionable, everyday style. Our team was able to observe and anticipate the external factors in this space, and then leverage and capitalize on that with our internal DNA to grow the brand in organic ways that have been strategically right for Champion.
Champion’s heritage has allowed it to expand globally and elevate into additional distribution channels. The resurgence is a result of reuniting the brand globally through the acquisitions of Gear for Sports, Champion Europe and the internalization of our long-time sporting goods licensee in Japan. By unifying Champion, we have been able to ensure consistency in our brand positioning throughout the world and leverage the insights and capabilities of our international team. We are leveraging our scale with graphics capabilities, fabric platforms, styles and designs. We are also continuing to expand our global reach with consumers through digital media campaigns, unique product collaborations and key influencer initiatives.
Champion has generated strong double-digit growth across all geographies for two-plus years, We expect to reach $2 billion in global sales by 2022, up from $1 billion in 2017 (excluding the mass channel). In 2018 global sales increased 36 percent to $1.36 billion (excluding mass), and our 2019 guidance includes expectations of growth approaching another 30 percent. The brand has scale both domestically and internationally.
To keep the positive momentum going, we are focused on three fundamental growth strategies for Champion globally: 1) drive core business and expand distribution, 2) expand consumer-directed sales, and 3) expand into new geographies.
In a good, better, best product structure, Champion is firmly positioned across the better and best segments. With its American athletic heritage, the brand competes equally well in the performance and lifestyle portions of the market that have emerged from the commingling of athleticwear and leisurewear trends. The fast growing $180 billion global activewear market is predominantly branded and skews toward graphic apparel, both strengths for Champion, which is supported by a mostly company-owned large-scale supply chain that incorporates product design, manufacturing and graphic capability.
Champion is omnipresent and we are diversifying our distribution by selling online, in company-owned stores, and in traditional and specialty retail channels. Champion has diverse price points and distribution, allowing it to compete across channels and elevate into emerging channels. Champion competes effectively in such channels as distributors, traditional retail, specialty retail, schools/clubs, licensed collegiate, and online and consumer-directed.
Consumers are engaging with our marketing efforts, including our first global marketing program this year to celebrate the centennial of the brand called “100 Years for the Team”. We are driving brand equity with all age groups and all geographies. We believe we are well positioned to keep the momentum going.
Photos courtesy Champion