Sporting Fashion: An Evolution from the Hardwood to the Runway

During the 1989 MLB All-Star Game, the world was left in blissful wonderment over the most memorable sports campaign ever produced. The “Bo Knows” campaign became the paradigm of sports marketing, catapulting Nike into mainstream consciousness, and helping it supplant Reebok as the top athletic shoemaker. By the early 90’s, Nike had cemented 80% of the market share of all cross-training shoes. What made this campaign so successful was the seamless marriage between Nike’s ongoing product innovation and Bo Jackson’s larger than life athletic stature. The success of the Bo Jackson campaign fostered a domino effect that opened the eyes of brand executives everywhere to the direct influence an athlete can have on consumers. Today, many sports brands (including, Nike and Under Armour ) have revolutionized their brand positioning by relying upon famous athletes (i.e. brand mavens) to spread their brand’s message. These sports brands were the first to realize that successful branding is not simply about a recognizable logo, but rather the face behind the brand. Athletes bring a personal appeal to a brand because they carry influence across all major consumer verticals, thus, making the brand more accessible and desired.

Until recently, athletes appeared content with having "jock-wear” as the dominant fashion among sports stars, as evidenced by an embarrassing array of oversized suits and sweatsuits. To the applause of the fashion-conscious public, style-obsession has reached its crescendo among athletes. Athletes, like Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and David Beckham, have been spotted rubbing shoulders with high-fashion heavyweights, such as Anna Wintour and Alexa Chung, in the front row of major fashion shows. Prior to this style renaissance in sports, athletes were only known outside of their respective playing fields if they made the courageous leap into movies and music, or participated in the celebrity dating scene. Today, athletes can @Instagram a photo of their new avant-garde outfit or flaunt their style in post-game interviews. Fashion and sports have dovetailed to the point where the NBA and NFL have gone so far as to @Instagram athletes just walking into the arena in order to placate admiring fans, who tune in just to see the style du jour. Tune into the late night SportsCenter broadcast, and you would be hard-pressed to escape the procession of athletic hipsters and prepsters sporting high-fashion cardigans, totes and glasses. Despite athletes’ acceptance of high-fashion couture, many top-level executives in the fashion industry have been reticent to welcome athletes into the fashion world, since high-fashion has traditionally been reserved for top models, actors and actresses. However, when GQ and L’Uomo Vogue put athletes on their magazines – causing fashion elite to spit out their proverbial coffee – athletes took their rightful seat at the high-fashion table.

Given the lack of interconnection between the sports and fashion crowds, the presence of athletes at fashion shows can help fashion labels reach new consumers, since athletes legitimize these labels in the eyes of their fan base. Since many men do not remain au courant with fashion models and brands, high-fashion brands have realized that partnerships with famous athletes are the perfect avenue to increase brand awareness, as the name and image of a professional athlete holds a certain gravitas amongst these consumers. Over the past few years, many high-fashion brands have started ventures with athletes, creating greater visibility across a wider fan base. The rise of sports stars in high-fashion is equivalent to the majestic “alley-oop” in basketball, whereby fashion and sports play off of each other to execute a slam-dunk collaboration.

The current love affair between sports and fashion is more than just an ephemeral summer fling. It’s a new movement in fashion that is only beginning to blossom. As a nod to this new relationship, many high-fashion brands, including Chanel and Givenchy, have rolled out athletic concepts such as sneakers, sweatshirts and T-shirts in their 2016 collections. The fashion industry has finally recognized that athletes should not be characterized solely as superstars in their respective sports, but also as potential mega-brands that can catapult a fashion label to new heights.  Just ask Nike.

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