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Carl Banks and GIII Sports’ Plan to Revive Starter

Former NFL linebacker Carl Banks and GIII Sports have laid the bricks of a solid business strategy to revitalize the iconic Starter brand. 

John Collins

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After a successful career as an All-Pro linebacker in the NFL, former New York Giants great Carl Banks continues to be a hard-hitter in the sports industry — only now it’s in the sports apparel and licensing space.

Banks, the president of GIII Sports, actually got his start as a businessman early, originally getting involved in the sports apparel realm while he was still active in the game.

“Long story short, the NFL and NBA gave me a license to do big and tall suede-only leather jackets while I was still playing in the league. After I proved myself and that I could help define a market — as nobody was really doing leather sports jackets at that time — they wanted me to expand and make it a real business,” Banks recalled.

That led to Banks getting the rights for all regular sizes and outerwear categories. Through more growth and success, he came to the realization that he could actually scale his business, inspiring the creation of the current company GIII Sports. Positioned as a leading sports apparel manufacturer and licensee, GIII Sports currently produces licensed apparel for the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB, and NCAA, and has “redefined the sports license apparel industry,” as the company website states.

“This is just what I’m passionate about; wanting to create products that capture the spirit of sports and that team energy in a fashionable, trendy way,” Banks said.

What started as a small licensing deal for with the NFL and NBA for leather jackets laid the foundation for Banks and GIII Sports to emerge as the industry leaders they are today. Crucial to that success has been the company’s emphasis on making sure all of their products stay true to their mission of being “fashion first.”

“We’re fashion-athletic; and notice the fashion first,” Banks mentioned. GIII sets itself apart by using a combination of creative designs, high-quality fabrics, and a rapt attention to detail that enables the consistent production of trendy, fashionable apparel.

“We’re different in that we focus on producing merchandise that sports fans can wear in everyday life while still representing their favorite players, teams, and leagues,” Banks explained. “It’s sport gear, but in a fashionable way.”

Big things are continuing to happen for Banks and the company, especially with his work reviving the quintessential Starter brand.

“Our Starter gear is now the official apparel for the Alliance of American Football League,” Banks said, “bringing the traditional brand back to the sidelines where it belongs.”

Started in 1971 by David Beckerman, the Starter brand hit it big in the ’80s and ’90s, earning annual revenues that reached as high as $400 million. Musicians, athletes, and celebrities flocked to its classic jackets, and the gear became a fixture in the sports merchandise industry and the larger fashion culture.

Yet things got rough toward the end of the ’90s, and after Major League Baseball’s strike in 1994 and the NHL lockout, Starter found itself in troubled waters. Without games actually being played, it was much more difficult for the company to bill itself as the “authentic apparel” of leagues that people weren’t actually seeing.

By 1999, Starter had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, detailing over $120 million in losses owed to creditors. At that point, the company changed hands a number of times, and became much more focused on simple athletic wear, like compression shirts and socks, which is a far cry from the satin jackets and officials licensed merchandise that had made Starter such an iconic brand.

Now, Banks is working to get Starter back to the lofty status it had once held, rolling out a number of interesting initiatives centered around GIII Sports’ Starter brand revival. There are going to be special tie-ins for Thursday Night Football and the NFL’s London Games, as well as the launch of an official women’s line — all of which Banks is incredibly excited about.

GIII Sports’ success speaks to Banks’ ability to take lessons learned from his time in the National Football League off the field, and implement them in the sports business industry. 

A Communication major from the University of Southern California, with eclectic experience in the sports, business, and the entertainment industry, John Collins is the baseball writer at Front Office Sports. An avid sports fan and highly opinionated writer, John is of the firm belief that Bull Durham is far superior to Field of Dreams and looks forward to you telling him otherwise. Reach out: John@frntofficesport.com any time!

Fashion

How Megan Wilson Blogged Her Way to Becoming a Top Athlete Stylist

The Toronto native used sports television as a gateway into fashion. Now she’s fused her two passions to make a name for herself.

Bailey Knecht

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Photo courtesy: Megan Wilson

Growing up, Megan Wilson embraced a bold sense of fashion, even if it made her stand out.

“I was always known as the one who dressed a little crazy, who made her own clothes, who started collecting sneakers in middle school and high school,” Wilson said. “I was always a little different.”

Those childhood fashion risks evolved into dreams of a career in fashion, but the Toronto native decided it was more realistic to pursue a career in the television industry.

READ MORE: Rick Welts Talks NBA Business, Distribution and Mental Health

For three years, Wilson worked at Toronto-based digital media network theScore. Yet fashion was always in the back of her mind, so she started a blog on the side to get her fix. “She Got Game” covered everything from trends and endorsement deals to design, new products and branding. Wilson also styled photo shoots and collaborated with brands and PR companies on branded content for the blog.

“It was during the heyday of blogging, but no one really wrote about sports and fashion, like, ‘What is this guy wearing?’” she said. “Obviously, now, it’s a major talking point, but I was one of the first people to start doing that.”

As “She Got Game” and her social media platforms took off, Wilson decided to quit her job and pursue fashion full-time. She continued her fashion blogging and began covering events like NBA All-Star Weekend while taking design courses and forging connections in the sports industry. She even leveraged her blogging experience to earn freelance positions with Complex and ESPN.

Fast forward nearly a decade, and Wilson is a now self-employed stylist and designer with clients in the NBA, NFL and MLB, as well as retail companies like Nike and Reebok.

“I don’t think I’d trade it—I’m not sure I would know how to work for someone anymore,” she said. “Obviously, I work for clients, so it’s a little different, and I have a little control over my own destiny, and it can be more stressful and hectic, but at the end of the day, things are up to me and not a giant corporation.”

Even though she’s transitioned out of her career in TV, Wilson has been able to tap into her years of experience in media to bolster her styling career. She has appeared as a featured expert on major outlets like GQ, High Snobiety, CNN, NBA TV and Bleacher Report, and she starred on “Lace Up: The Ultimate Sneaker Challenge” by YouTube Originals.

“[TV] gave me a lot of contacts and an idea of how stories are made and how things are created, and obviously it trained me on how to be on camera,” she said. “I learned, being in the media, it’s easier to book someone if they have TV experience than if they’re brand new. It’s a great way to build your network and reach people who might not know what I do and speak to them.”

According to Randy Osei, founder of Rozaay Management and Wilson’s close friend and colleague, Wilson’s influence stems from her ability to relate to others, both in person and on screen.

“She’s very bubbly,” Osei said. “She can walk in any room and mingle with anybody and connect with athletes because she can speak about sneakers and basketball. She can connect with women, connect with people in arts, and connect with people in fashion. She’s very diverse in her talents, almost like a chameleon.”

Constructing a network of close contacts in the fashion industry is crucial in Wilson’s line of work. Styling athletes with larger-than-normal sizing requirements isn’t a simple task.

“The biggest piece is building a relationship with talent and also with the people that work at Gucci and Balenciaga and Off-White and Supreme,” Osei said. “You can’t just call and say, ‘Put in a size 15 for this.’ No, you’ve got to know someone.”

Wilson also dedicates time and energy to building trust with her clients, many of whom are high-profile sports stars.

“She’s done a really amazing job of understanding the culture and teaching that to her clients,” Osei said. “She does a little educating as she’s working, which is great because, as a player, it’s great to have a stylist, but you don’t want to have a stylist until you die.”

Although now she works with some of the biggest names in sports and fashion, Wilson had to work her way up the food chain, and she credits her blogging and social media as the root of her success.

“It’s still an important part of my life, and I started my career because of Twitter and connecting to athletes and building a brand for myself as a sports fashion girl,” she said.

In recent years, though, Wilson has become less dependent on social media and has focused more of her efforts on authentic, in-person connections with clients who share her values.

“I’m more choosy with it because I’ve been doing it for so long,” she said. “With Instagram, a lot of people are willing to work for free, whether it’s for clout or to look a certain way, but I’m a little choosier.”

READ MORE: NBC and Refinery29 Promote Female Empowerment Through ‘On Her Turf’

That selectivity has been an important lesson, especially as a business owner in the high-paced world of fashion and sports.

“You have to learn discipline, and I definitely burned myself out and I’ve gotten sick because I’m the only person I’m responsible for,” she said. “I’ve always been a hard worker and energetic, and sometimes I take too much on, so prioritization is the hardest lesson but a good one, especially in a field where you’re expected to do a lot of things. You have to think, ‘What is going to help me in six months but also in five years?’”

Now, and looking ahead, Wilson is putting herself and her brand first.

And whether she’s designing a sneaker, sharing her expertise on TV, or styling a client, she stays true to her individuality—just like all those years ago, when she was just a teenager showing up to school in crazy clothes.

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Nike’s KD 12 An Exercise In Innovation, Teamwork

Kevin Durant’s latest shoe includes tweaks on timing, design, and cut. All of it stems from the partnership between Durant and Nike designer Leo Chang.

Jeff Eisenband

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Photo Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

There are only so many people who can tell Kevin Durant what to do. Nike designer Leo Chang is one of them.

Chang has designed all 12 of Durant’s signature shoes, the latest of which was released on Thursday. In formulating the KD 12, Chang knew the sneaker’s namesake required a significant adjustment: Durant needed a higher, more compact heel. Considering Durant has worn a low shoe since the KD VI, Chang knew he had to explain this change delicately.

“We told him – it was a kind of a joke, but kind of serious – ‘Yo, you’ve been popping out of your shoes a lot,’” Chang says. “We want to make sure, functionally, he’s locked into his shoe. It’s not so much about action around the ankle. It’s more just making sure he stays in his shoe. So we talked with him, like, ‘Hey, we want to just maybe go just a little higher than normal for you.’”

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Enter the KD 12. Beyond the heel adjustment, this shoe is notable for being the first Nike Basketball shoe with full-length Nike Air Zoom cushioning stitched directly to the upper portion of the shoe. This allows the foot to be closer to the air bag, while creating a broken-in feeling requested by Durant. Four-way directional Flywire cables in the upper are designed to provide stability and lock down (and are even written about on the inner of the shoe).

The KD 12 will retail for $150 (black and white “The Day One” colorway, seen here, will go live on April 6).

Chang’s collaboration with Durant goes back even before the KD1 to such models as the Blue Chip Supreme. Like Durant, Chang came from a single-mother household and says that has helped him connect with the 10-time All-Star. Building and improving a product over a decade also strengthens their bond.

“He knows that I have his best interest in mind,” Chang says. “I know his foot and I know his style and I can anticipate his needs. A lot of times, we will find ourselves totally aligned on our ideas.

“I don’t know that there was a lot of disagreements or anything like that [with the KD 12]. It was more when he would have a question, I would explain it to him. I don’t think there were many challenges. I think we just have a really good working relationship and a good amount of trust.”

Chang started working with Durant before the latter became a scoring champion, NBA MVP and NBA Finals MVP. Those Nike loyalties pay royalties: Durant’s profile, bank account and business network have grown, but his Nike inner circle has remained mostly consistent. That may be more important than ever this season, when Durant’s icy rapport with the media over his impending free agency has become a national storyline.

“Over the years, especially lately, he’s been scrutinized for every little thing he says or every little thing does,” Chang acknowledges. “Knowing that there’s a team here that he’s been in with for a long time that knows him and can represent that, I think it’s always a refreshing thing that feels comfortable with him. It’s a team that he can trust.”

In terms of construction, Chang prioritized a lightweight feel, one which eliminated the midsole layering and added flyknit-constructed tongue for a plush, padded feel. It’s a departure from past models, which, according to Nike North America Media Relations Director Josh Benedek, facilitated an earlier-than-usual release date “so that he is comfortable in the shoe for the playoffs.”

Photo Credit: Nike

Durant was reportedly set to debut his first pair of the KD 12 on Saturday against the Thunder, nine months after the KD 11 was released in June 2018, but he did not play due to an ankle injury. According to Chang, none of the fun has worn off along the way.

“He’s like, ‘Man, I’m on the 12th shoe. This is crazy. We’re still going,’” Chang says. “It’s still like a kid in a candy store for him. He still feels that excitement of having a signature shoe and that privilege.”

Visually, the KD 12 provides deliberate references to the 1990s, a concept both Durant and Chang desired. Durant imagined a modern twist on the shoes of his youth, from Pennys to Jordans and especially Barkleys.

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“Our approach was that a millennial represents the future and the 90s represents the past,” Chang says. “So, it’s bringing that together in a modern way that isn’t about retro or anything like that.”

Durant and Chang struck that balance by adding excessive shapes, especially in the bottoms, midsoles, outsoles and tooling. Chang says other upcoming colorways will epitomize this 90s flavor with bright colors and unique designs. 

Making innovative basketball shoes ready to be broken in before the playoffs? It’s not an easy task, but Leo Chang knows how to do it. Moves like that keep Kevin Durant’s trust.

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Mizzen+Main Looks to Continue Sports Push With Murray, Mickelson

A $44 promotion following Phil Mickelson’s 44th PGA Tour victory helps showcase Mizzen+Main’s commitment to the sports market.

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Photo credit: Mizzen+Main

As a growing company, Mizzen+Main is quick and nimble, which are good attributes for a retailer that works with athletes.

Case in point: This week the apparel company launched a $44, 44-hour sale to celebrate Phil Mickelson’s 44th PGA Tour victory last weekend at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Mickelson is a partner athlete of Mizzen+Main, which makes performance menswear, including button-down dress shirts, pullovers, henleys and t-shirts. 

Mizzen+Main CMO Stephanie Swingle said similar promotions could be right around the corner.

“Stay tuned. We try to be ready, and as a smaller company we can be reactive,” Swingle said. “We’re always coming up with exciting ideas.”

Mizzen+Main also got a nice boost this week when Kyler Murray made his long-anticipated announcement he’d focus on a football career. Murray is also an athlete partner of Mizzen+Main.

READ MORE: Swet Tailor Success Buoyed By Modern Athlete’s Fashion Preferences

“As with any brand partnership, relevance helps and we are lucky to have partnered with him at this exciting part of his career,”  Swingle said.

The established Mickelson and upstart Murray provide Mizzen+Main a great diversity in athlete representation, a mixture Swingle said is important to the brand as it broke tradition when the company launched an all-new product designed for a modern consumer.

“Mizzen+Main is by far the most comfortable dress shirt I’ve ever worn,” Murray said. “The shirts stretch when you move, and you don’t have to worry about wrinkles or showing any sweat. They are really changing the game in what to wear when you want to look good and feel good at the same time.”

The brand was started in 2012 when founder and CEO Kevin Lavelle was interning in Washington, D.C. and saw a guy running into a meeting, dress shirt drenched in sweat. The hustle showed it was an important meeting, but also left him looking less than dapper.

“Kevin knew performance fabrics powered the world’s best athletes, so why not pull that into traditional items?” Swingle said. “He wore it home one day and his wife didn’t realize he was wearing a prototype. That’s when he knew he had something to start a business.”

The brand then grew organically for the next several years and eventually partnered with Houston Texan JJ Watt, who was already a fan of the brand.

“Anytime you tell a customer about a new product, you need to have credibility of someone they respect and look up to,” Swingle said. “At scale, it’s wonderful to have an athlete.”

Once the shirts hit the market, athletes were among the first consumers to grab them off the shelves. Swingle said there are more than 1,000 professional athletes wearing the shirts. She said they reach players in a variety of ways, including a VIP Athlete Coordinator who manages athlete outreach and knows a lot of players are fans as they do notice recognizable names come across Shopify.

The athlete coordinator also goes to events, like MLB Spring Training, golf events and other major sporting events throughout the year to sell directly to the athletes.

It’s at those events and on social media channels that Mizzen+Main representatives can see the athlete grassroots marketing in action.

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“We love to tap into some of the conversations they have with each other,” Swingle said. “We see the impact directly at Spring Training when one athlete brings in another and talks about how it’s their favorite dress shirt.

“That really helps us have that organic spread and as a brand, that feels amazing.”

This year, the brand further expanded its product line with items like polo shirts and pullovers and wants to continue to spread the word “that we are the best damn dress shirt,” Swingle said.

Right now, Swingle said the official endorsement focus will be on Mickelson and Murray, but the more than 1,000 other professional athletes will remain a core focus while building out Mizzen+Main’s customer base.

“Our products are very comfortable and low maintenance for a great lifestyle,” Swingle said. “Athletes are great way to showcase the brand as a natural way to break through and deliver credibility and show how products aren’t just designed for the golf course but the office.”

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