Fashion brands attract new customers with athlete ambassadors – Sourcing Journal
Apparel brands are putting a new spin on the term “athletic apparel” by tapping a new generation of athletes to serve as their brand ambassadors.
“There’s been a culture shift with a spotlight on what athletes wear,” said Suzy Biszantz, group president at Centric Brands, which owns denim brands like Joe’s Jeans, Hudson and Favorite Daughter. “Athletes are more involved in fashion than ever. They put more effort into it and their appearance is covered.
In January, Hudson kicked off his 20th birthday celebrations with a partnership with NBA Miami Heat’s Tyler Herro. The playmaker has a penchant for colorful fashion, which he often documents and shares with his more than 2.3 million Instagram followers. The brand has signed a two-year ambassadorship with the 22-year-old, which includes a denim collaboration and marketing campaign this spring.
“There is immense value for brands to tap into the sponsorship of athletes at the professional and elite level,” said Jasmine Chou, former sponsored Kona Ironman triathlete and author of “#Sponsored: How Athletes and Brands Can Leverage Each Other to Create Value”. “Ambassadors have an audience that brands may want to tap into, and they can keep tabs on trends and consumer sentiment targeted by the brand.”
The connection between sport and fashion runs deep, with many athletes now known for their fashion sense as much as their athleticism. In early 2022, seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady launched his own line, Brady Brand, consisting of “technical clothing for the performance conscious.” Tennis great Serena Williams made an appearance at the Off-White Fall 2022 parade in which she paraded to pay tribute to the late Virgil Abloh. The collaborations between Gucci and MLB’s New York Yankees in 2018 and Tiffany and Wilson sneakers earlier this year further highlight the popular crossover. And with college athletes now eligible for brand sponsorship, the opportunities to merge fashion and sports continue to grow.
Not all sports offer brands the same level of influence. Recent data from research firm Nielsen Sports names basketball as the favorite sport for Gen Z viewers in the United States. Globally, sport ranks second after football. Perhaps not so coincidentally, for years the NBA has held its own version of a fashion show before every game, with players preparing game-day outfits for their “tunnel ride” around the arena. , featuring styles from Gucci, Valentino and more. Russell Westbrook of the Los Angeles Lakers, Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics, Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns have all made lasting impressions for their tunnel look.
For millennials in the United States, soccer ranks number one, followed by basketball, baseball, and soccer.
Yet football players have the highest percentage of Gen Z followers worldwide. Mixed martial arts athletes are also becoming more popular among younger generations who are likely drawn to the sport’s fast, easy-to-consume format and high-intensity matches.
Brands that strategically choose ambassadors can expect to see the benefits. Nielsen reported that 16-29 year olds are 27% more likely than consumers 40 and older to consider a brand based on its endorsement activities.
According to Mark Foxton, Head of Global Partnerships and Collaborations at Levi, now is the time for brands to harness the power of athletes as brand ambassadors. “Athletes allow us to engage with a different customer, including not only sports fans but also fashion,” he said. “Now more than ever, athletes are amplifying their individuality and self-expression through their fashion.”
Levi’s featured a number of athletes in its 501 Originals campaign last May, which included NBA playmaker Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, tennis champion Naomi Osaka and England soccer star Marcus Rashford.
In August, the brand launched an upcycled denim collection with Osaka. Working closely with Levi’s design team, Osaka created four distinct pieces with silhouettes and design details that capture her sporty yet feminine style as well as her Japanese heritage. A second collection will be launched this fall.
“Consumers are looking for brands that represent their core values, and brand partners are an extension of those values,” Foxton said. “By working with athletes as ambassadors, we can tell a story in a much more authentic and real way, a story that consumers can connect with.”
Wrangler also has a penchant for selecting athletes as brand ambassadors, as evidenced by the recent rodeo-focused campaign highlighting its position in Western heritage. To celebrate Women’s History Month, the century-old brand released a video centered around female rodeo athletes, including barrel racer Nellie Miller and roping breakaway champion Madison Outhier. The video followed the story of a young horsewoman who plied her trade at Three River, California’s Riata Ranch, dedicated to training girls for the sport. To support the organization, Wrangler donated performance coins to the nonprofit to help them “embrace the cowgirl spirit.”
A tailor-made approach
Working with athletes gives denim brands the opportunity to showcase their size-appropriate styles. With the body positivity movement of recent years and innovations in stretch technology surrounding the denim industry, denim brands are uniquely equipped with the tools to appeal to different body types.
Herro’s capsule collection with Hudson includes three new fits in a total of seven washes, with some available with longer inseams aimed at athletes and tall people. Biszantz said Hudson plans to continue adding denim options in a 36-inch inseam to serve athletic figures. In the past, sister brand Joe’s Jeans worked with former Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman to create jeans for muscle construction that were looser through the thighs and tapered at the bottom for a modern fit.
Popular retailers like Banana Republic, Bonobos, and Old Navy offer athletic cuts, which are often categorized by their extra inches around the thighs to accommodate the wider leg muscles typical of athletes. The term is generally used for men’s lines.
While the big names are finding ways to accommodate athletic silhouettes, tailored denim brands continue to be the brands of choice for athletes with specific fit needs.
“The vast majority of people constantly struggle to adapt to off-the-shelf denim,” said Ray Li, co-founder and CEO of custom denim brand Sene. “With athletes there is usually a size gap and their quads are bigger which may not fit denim. Then they usually have to go up a size and have it custom made or wear jeans with 40% of stretchy material that borders on jeggings, but more often than not, many simply wear activewear due to the difficulty of finding jeans that fit.
Sene teamed up with Peloton instructor Emma Lovewell in November in part to draw attention to the brand’s personalized offerings and ease feelings of frustration felt among the fitness-focused group. It offered four silhouettes of women’s jeans, women’s denim shorts, and a pair of men’s slim jeans. With 575,000 Instagram followers hyper-focused on all things wellness and fashion, Lovewell was a top pick for the brand.
Similarly, custom denim brand Lasso, recently rebranded as Neems, enlisted US Olympic hammer thrower Dawn Ellerbe to help launch the brand last year. Ellerbe has appeared in the brand’s lifestyle images, advertisements and product photography.
Neems co-founder Dani Rodriguez-Firmani said Ellerbe, who is 6’1, was chosen to represent the brand for her “fun and bubbly personality” as well as her height and athletic build.
“We’ve certainly worked with many athletes to make these custom jeans that fit perfectly, ranging from cyclists to weightlifters to volleyball players and beyond,” she said. “Staging athletes has proven successful for our brand, especially since it makes a point of catering to all body types.”