American sportswear manufacturer
Founded: as Knickerbocker Knitting Company by Abe and Bill Fainbloom, in 1919. Company History: Named changed to Champion Knitting Mills, Inc.; introduced reversible t-shirts for Navy training, 1940s; introduced the Jogbra, 1977; acquired by Sara Lee Corporation; official outfitter for U.S. Oylmpic basketball team, 1992; official sponsor and apparel licensee of WNBA, 1996; launched children's roller hockey line, 1997; debuted collection of backpacks and sports bags, 1999; introduced Fiberzone and Double Dry Bodywear lines, 2000; signed on as exclusive outfitter of the XFL, 2000; launched Tactel line of activewear and Champion Silver line, 2001. Company Address: 1000 E. Hanes Mill Road, Winston Salem, NC 27105, U.S.A. Company Websites: www.championusa.com ; www.championjogbra.com .
O N CHAMPION
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Champion Products Inc. has always catered to the customer who wants ease of movement from activewear. The company was formed in 1919 by brothers Abe and Bill Fainbloom, as the Knickerbocker Knitting Company to produce sturdy sweaters. The company pioneered a heavy-duty cotton, which it patented as Reverse-Weave, and manufactured sweatshirts primarily for athletes. Champion sweatshirts were only the earliest of several industry innovations—including the first cotton football jerseys, the first hooded sweatshirts (originally worn on the sidelines during games), the first reversible t-shirts (for the Navy during World War II), the first breathable mesh shirts and shorts, the first lined nylon-shell jackets, and the first comfortable, supportive jogging bra for women. This sports bra, which evolved into the Jogbra, was originally designed by two women joggers who sewed men's athletic supporters together to wear while running. The patented Jogbra went on sale in 1977 and has been a bestseller ever since.
Eight decades after its founding, Champion has diversified into all facets of the activewear market, supplying sweats, uniforms, and an ever-expanding line of women's workout apparel. Serious athletes are often the most loyal fans of Champion products, yet its myriad of products suits both active and casual lifestyles. Staples such as Champion jerseys and sweatshirts have been supplied to hundreds of intercollegiate and high school-level athletic programs to use as both practice and competition uniforms. Champion has long been an official outfitter to many professional sports teams, predominantly in football and basketball. Even the U.S. Olympic basketball team named Champion its official supplier for practice and game uniforms in 1992—the ultimate compliment to be worn by some of the world's top athletes.
Champion's sportswear has been unparalled for its durability and the longevity of its garments. For the rough and tumble world of professional sports, Champion more than held its own against the harsh conditions of long practices and games. "Vintage" Champion sweatshirts and trousers, time-worn with holes or frayed edges, frequently seemed as dear to consumers as new ones.
Over the years Champion has allied itself with nonprofit groups, and in 1998 joined the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations (NABCO) to raise awareness of breast cancer. The company's commitment was twofold: first by placing NABCO's logo and a pink ribbon on all WNBA apparel, and secondly, donating a portion of licensed sales to NABCO. Yet by the end of the year, however, many activewear manufacturers were worried about sales—or lack thereof— in basketball apparel since the American Basketball League had folded, the WNBA's popularity waxed and waned, and the sport's top competitor, Michael Jordan, had retired. To pick up the slack Champion and other outfitters turned to accessories, creating extensive lines of backpacks and athletic bags customized for virtually every sport.
In 2000 Champion was put on the selling block by parent company Sara Lee Corporation, who was in the midst of a reorganization. Though Champion was securing the rights to provide apparel for several NFL teams, it had also signed on as the official outfitter of the XFL. In the XFL deal, Champion agreed to supply official uniforms and practicewear for the league's eight teams, as well as replica jerseys for retailers. Yet by 2001 the XFL had folded and Champion lost a lucrative contract.
To bolster its bottomline, Champion introduced a new Jogbra line called Champion Silver. The Silver collection was manufactured with Static-X, a new yarn comprised of silver-coated threads woven into the fabric, which inhibited the growth of bacteria and helped control odor. The new line consisted of sports bras, tanks, tops, and shorts made with the Static-X yarn. Next came women's seamless apparel made from Tactel, a technology-advanced nylon with superior wicking, comfort, and support.
In the 21st century, Champion remained the outfitter of choice for many collegiate and professional teams. With almost a dozen NBA teams, seven collegiate teams, and a number of sponsored events (Sail Boston 2000, the YMCA World's Largest Run), Champion's name is firmly emblazoned in activewear history. From its traditional sweatshirts and mesh jerseys, from socks and hats to watches and eyewear, athletes the world over have sought out Champion's reliable, comfortable apparel. Champion products continue live up to their name.