f you’ve been in the campus Urban Outfitters recently you might’ve noticed among the over-stocking of Stussy and Adidas and the prominence of the fleece brand Champion. We all know Champion; the brand of our middle school travel soccer sweatshirts and a stock product for printing on CustomInk. In fact, Champion often has an almost working-class connotation as it a common brand found in superstores like Wal-Mart and Kmart. So, how has Champion rose to such prominence to have its own labeled rack at the front of Urban? There are a few theories.
The first could be that the current aesthetic Urban is pushing involves the revaluation of working-class pieces, like the trend of Timberlands or “trucker” hats. However, this theory does not explain why Champion specifically has been chosen. Whereas trucker hats come in many varieties and Timberlands are the quintessential work boot, the Champion name does not have a particular following or connotation for most people. For example, most people do not go to the Penn Bookstore and buy one sweatshirt over another simply because it is Champion rather than Gildan or Hanes. This revaluation is an element of the newfound popularity of the brand, but not the whole story.
It is also possible that Champion came on the scene by following the trend of many other sportswear strongholds like Nike and Adidas and rebranding to fit the popular “athleisure” aesthetic. However, it is not really Champion’s newer designs that are being stocked, but rather their traditional “C” logo. This presents a sort of nostalgia that many labels, stores, and even companies are tapping into given the rebirth and recombination of many trends from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. The choice is obviously deliberate, as it touches upon something we all recognize, emphasizing the power of logos in our consumer-driven capitalist society, but makes us aware of this presenting a sort of irony. The irony lies in that we are not really nostalgic for Champion because it does not really represent the zeitgeist of past eras. However, it is possible we are nostalgic for a time when we simply submitted to the culture industry and were not as aware of its evils. Champion’s relatively mundane logo acts perfectly as a representation of this because most people do not have strong connotations with it.
This answers how the Champion logo makes meaning, whether we are aware of it or not, but who was the first to designate it with this meaning? Or who was the first to understand that this use was significant? Many would probably say that the new-age normcore brand Vetements is responsible. The Paris-based fashion collective, headed by brothers Demna and Guram Gvasalia, was launched in 2014 and has quickly gained attention for its anti-fashion stance and breaking the barriers between streetwear, ready-to-wear, and couture. Back in the brand’s first collection, the Champion logo was parodied by turning the classic “C” 90 degrees to make it into the “V” in Vetements. While a blatant copyright issue, this began a wonderful relationship between the two companies, producing collabs for every collection going further. The Champion logo was often involved in some of Vetements’ most iconic designs such as those pictured left.
Since this, other brands of a similar aesthetic and market, notably Supreme and Stussy, have begun to collab with Champion more often and in a more integrative way. The increase in brands using Champion as a stock company for printing is certainly noticeable, but collabs are become more evenly weighted: showing the elements of Champion just as much as the Supreme logo. All of this has garnered the company more and more attention. Urban Outfitters would naturally take an interest in a brand that is garnering so much attention from their main demographic, and thus began to stock some of the more classic pieces.
But there is still the question: why are the sweatshirts so expensive? Various styles range from 45-65 dollars for a basic design including a small logo on the left sleeve near the wrist and sometimes and additional one on the chest. Similar designs are available at Walmart for less than $20. All of the sweatshirts Urban stocks are a specific line called “Reverse Weave” which is a higher quality fleece than some others, which may account for some of the high price. Conspicuous consumption may also contribute to the higher price. As people who are accustomed to buying these Champion collabs typically by sweatshirts, and even t-shirts, that hundreds or even—in the case of Vetements—thousands of dollars. The premiumly-priced fleece appeals to these shoppers because they are similar to what they know, but not so inexpensive that they feel lesser for buying one.
Regardless of the true motivations of the shoppers at Urban Outfitters, it is interesting that the famous scene from Devil Wears Prada doesn’t lie: those in couture and at fashion week really do define what high-street shoppers will be wearing seasons later. The “Vetements Effect,” as it is now being called, is real and impacting what we wear, even as we run down locust trying to get to class on time.
Images courtesy of Urban Outfitters, Net-a-Porter, and Supreme