Hypebeast Culture: A Look Into Gen Z’s Fashion Phenomenon

Want to know the secret behind Champion’s success? How about the reason why everyone is wearing Fila?

For starters, do you own something made by one of the two brands? Heck—do you even like the brand, or are you wearing it because everyone else is?

There’s no denying that fashion trends are a complicated matter. This year’s social studies theme is “Out With The Old”, which encourages us to study all aspects of life—including our clothing choices. Champion and Fila are 2 well known companies which I’m sure many of you love. But did you notice how they only recently made a comeback, and that they used to be a trend in the 20th century? Read on to explore the history of these companies and analyze the appeal of a new (yet simultaneously old) fad. With that being said, today’s deep dive will be based off the following prompt:

Entire brands can phase in and out of popularity. Consider Champion and Fila: after years out of the limelight, they’re starting to make a comeback. What causes certain brands to come in and out of fashion? Is there a reason that their comeback is happening now instead of ten years ago or ten years in the future?

Fila was founded in 1911 before Nike, Adidas, or Puma, but the brand took a downturn when its ‘90s aesthetics fell out of favor. Fila has made a comeback in 2018—with proof being its hit sneaker of the 90s, the Disruptor, hitting top charts as 2018’s most popular women’s shoes—and appeared in Milan Fashion Week 2018 under the theme of nostalgia. Combined with the resurgence of so-called “chunky, ugly dad sneakers,” the Disruptor II achieved great success: it won the 2018 Sneaker of the Year title, became Lyst’s second-most-searched shoes in 2018, and contributed to Fila’s rising sales figures (1, 2). The recognizability of the brand, in addition to affordable prices against celebrity-related products ($65-70) also contributed to the Disruptor II’s rise to fame, especially among the younger demographic.

The term nostalgia suits Fila really well; Fila’s development over the years is perfectly mapped out under this theme, in relation to its ongoing affair with 90s inspired apparel and footwear. With this, Fila is ready to move forward to compete in the world of high fashion. With multiple collaborations and high annual sales, the brand is ‘tapping on a new generation of consumers’. Fila’s comeback was primarily driven by Generation Z and millennial interest in retro products. Executives of the brand plan to use this comeback opportunity to win back the market, and demonstrate a future in which Fila stands tall.

The revival of consumer interest in Fila products also lie in the extensive collaborations and appearances with designers and public figures. In 2015, Fila UK collaborated with Gosha Rubchinskiy, a Russian designer with a reputation for promoting Russian youth culture. The collection, which was shown on the runway a year later, sells quickly, marking Fila’s return to relevance after a decade. Fila also received a boost in interest in February 2018, when luxury designer Fendi sported Fila’s well-recognized typography in their autumn/winter collection. In September of the same year, they hosted their first runway show at the Milan Fashion Week, showcasing the collection designed by creative directors Graesel and Ingrasciotta. Sponsorships of famous sportspeople, including tennis players Cilic, Isner, and Pliskova also helped in boosting brand recognition.

Champion was an extremely famous brand in the 90s, and reached its peak at the turn of the millennium. Champion’s ability to leverage new interest in 2017 is considered one of the most impressive comebacks. This was no coincidence. Champion revived itself from an urban phenomenon to a pop culture trend. Similar to Fila, collaborations with other brands was key in Champion’s comeback. With the retro theme and athleisure trend back in the market, Champion was able to double down on its core principles and beautifully present its 100 years history in 2019. The brand remained true, while adding a few modern tweaks. Known as the ‘Kings of Fleece’, Champion emerges as an egalitarian and iconic brand in this day and age.

Throughout this past decade, the emergence of new, trendy, athleisure brands hit Champion ‘in the back’. Due to some astute marketing, Champion has become (yet again) the new ‘go to’ high-end fashion brand. One thing led to another; clever marketing tricks led to prosperous circumstances. A few years back, majority of people would be flogging the market with performance-orientated brands like Nike and Adidas. However, fashion is constantly evolving. In this case, Champion is positioned well. The logo is iconic and it was persistently worn by jocks and skaters; if you wore Champion, you would find people looking at you in awe. 

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past few years, you’d have seen a major shift in fashion. If you walk into a typical high school today, you’d see teenagers wearing neon windbreakers, fanny packs, and retro-styled clothes. That’s exactly how Champion gained the public’s favor. According to Manny Martinez (Champion’s global ambassador), it was never a surprise that Champion has come back into the market. In fact, it was planned. Young consumers are turning to the 90s for inspiration. This movement has led to the revival of companies just like Champion. You can tell that many companies are now ‘digging’ for pieces from old archives and catalogs for new releases. 

As Shawn Carter (Professor of Fashion Management at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York) said, “Fashion always evolves and references the past. It’s because we’re nostalgic”.

Moreover, Champion is well positioned to take over the streetwear trend. After all, it was a dominant brand of the past. It’s now living up to its reputation; the name is associated with ‘nostalgia’. In 2018, there was a prominent gap in the market for a reasonably-priced, global brand—and Champion moved, gracefully, into the slot. Collaborations also played an integral role. One brand collaborates with another that’s rapidly gaining clout, while Champion gains public approval and increases its audience. Thus, it is a win-win situation for both parties! The Off-White X Champion collaboration in 2017, took the fashion community by storm and sold out… almost instantly. Supreme, Bape, Timberland have also worked with Champion.

They are all trying to fit into this niche, this new norm: the “early 90s retro aesthetic”. Influencers are also seen wearing Champion and the public want to imitate their style; it is a trend by all means. Hence, it’s no surprise that Champion’s recent revival has allowed it to become a top grossing brand. One of the main factors that causes certain brands to come in and out of fashion is marketing. The more a product is advertised (and the more consumers see it and become accustomed to it), the more they will want it. Advertising helps to make consumers aware of a product. It makes a product memorable, ingrains it in the collective memories of society.

 Another crucial element is the income of buyers. As income changes, the tastes and preferences of consumers change as well, and this can cause them to prefer more upmarket brands. Additionally, small nuances such as the availability of substitute brands affects whether or not a product will stay in fashion. The lower the number of substitutes, the more fashionable it is likely to be. Today, consumers are looking for the most unique clothing because they want to stand out. For example: Balenciaga was one of the first companies to design the new chunky trainers people wear today. The popularity of the company, and the stock price, has increased ever since those trainers were designed. 

Branding will also affect popularity. Teams are employed to create the brand’s image; a strong image will improve customer loyalty and brand recognizability. This means that it is less likely that their competitors will be seen as acceptable substitutes. Therefore, consumers will stick with the brand. However, this requires lots of effective advertising and sponsorships. An example of a company with strong branding is Ralph Lauren, which has many timeless pieces of clothing (causing customers to stay with them). 

In sum, the reason this comeback is happening now instead of ten years in the past or ten in the future can be attributed to a myriad of factors. The marketing team is advertising successfully, and is adapting at a fast pace to what consumers want and need in today’s society. It could have happened ten years ago—or not at all. It’s simply that the marketing and customer sales teams at the given companies, Fila and Champion, are working effectively today. Another possible explanation is luck. It may be a mix of the companies trying many different formulas, with none of them working until they finally hit a jackpot with their ‘ugly’ fashion.