Sweatshirt Redux

Don’t call it a comeback. They’ve been here for years. The classic sweatshirt is on the rebound.

Champion’s Century Collection.

Sweatshirts are having a bit of a moment right now.

On Facebook and Instagram, it’s rare NOT to see a celebrity or sports figure donning something fleece, cozy or of the athleisure variety. “Sweatshirts are a part of the traditional sports uniform — a piece that not only defines your style, but your identity too,” notes Barbara Ebersberger, VP of performance apparel for Reebok.

And those tracking the fastest growing apparel categories this past year at retail know that sweatshirts are high on the list. “I think their popularity is a function of the continued dominance of athletes as well as their versatility,” comments Matt Powell, senior industry advisor for The NPD Group, adding that “sweatshirts can be comfy and cozy, and can also serve as light outerwear.”

The rise of the sweatshirt trend is enabling heritage brands to flex their retro cred while also showing off modern designs.

Sports Insight takes a look at some power players in the sweatshirt category over the years.

The Athletic Influencer

One of the earliest sweatshirts in the Reebok archive paid homage to J.W. Foster, who made running shoes by hand in Bolton, England in the 1890s (J.W. Foster & Sons was renamed Reebok in 1958). “The sweatshirt is rooted in our strong running heritage and we’ve always recognized the needs of consumers,” notes Holly Roberge, senior archive specialist for Reebok. With the advent of the running trend in the 1970s, Reebok served everyday athletes with apparel for myriad conditions. Today the firm has sweatpants and sweatshirts which range from training essentials to a collaboration with Victoria Beckham. New offerings meet the needs of a modern consumer with voluminous sleeves, along with diverse fabric weights, washes and material combinations. While the Classics Full-Zip is a timeless, slim-fitting design, the Training Supply Cowl Neck features shell fabric cuffs and a relaxed, comfortable fit.

The Originator

Russell Athletic, the eponymous “inventor of the sweatshirt,” was founded by 26-year-old Benjamin Russell as the Russell Manufacturing Company in Alexander City, AL in 1902. The factory had 10 sewing machines and eight knitting machines, crafting knit shirts for women and children. Russell later made uniforms for teams and apparel for athletes. In 1926, his son, Benny, had an idea for an all-cotton practice football jersey replacing the itchy wool uniforms worn at that time. Production of the iconic sweatshirt began at Russell Athletic mills in 1930. Fast-forward to today, the notion of the sweatshirt is the same – “a good sweatshirt, simple in design and core in color, will remain in any closet as a basic go-to for many outfit pairings,” comments Russell Athletic marketing manager Beth Adams. Thanks to the comfort trend, consumers have upped the need for multiple sweatshirts in a wardrobe. Athleisure has also played a part in boosting demand, with sweatshirts becoming “more acceptable to wear on a regular basis,” explains Adams. Russell Athletic is celebrating its roots with a heritage collection, boasting men’s and women’s Frank Crew Sweatshirts with a relaxed fit, soft fleece lining and athletic detailing.

Reebok Training Supply Cowl Neck Top
Reebok Training Twill Cowl Neck
Russell Athletic Relaxed Frank Crew Sweatshirt
Soffe Crewneck Sweatshirt

The King

Recognizing that consumers today are looking for a variety of sweatshirt options, whether for work or play, Champion (aka “The King of Sweatshirts,” as the firm has been touted) offers a soft, soda-washed French terry fabric in its Sideline Pullover Hood, garment dye variety in its Vintage Dye Fleece Pullover Hood and a heavyweight nine-ounce fleece fabrication in the Graphic Powerblend Fleece Pullover Hood. Champion pioneered the hoodie in 1930 in Rochester, NY. The Reverse Weave was conceived in the 1930s as the first engineered athletic sweatshirt developed for athletes, addressing issues with fit, durability and cost facing other brands at the time. The inventor, Champion Salesman Samuel Friedland, had the idea of turning the fabric grain 90 degrees to eliminate vertical shrinkage. The new Reverse Weave Yarn Dye Rib Trim Crew (helping celebrate Chamipon’s 100th birthday this year) is a modernized version of the original 1938 Reverse Weave Crew. “There is nostalgia for authentic, quality and trustworthy American brands. By bringing archived products back into the market and reinterpreting them through a modern lens, we’re able to recapture those nostalgic memories and reinvent them for future generations,” says Erika Hano, director of merchandising for Champion.

The Cult Favorite

Thanks to its stellar quality and favorable pricing, Soffe has a loyal following for its “cult favorite” fleece, according to Jessica Baggett, VP of marketing for MJ Soffe & Intensity. Classics drive demand, including the Soffe brand team’s favorite 50/50 cotton/polyester versions crafted in the 1980s. “We love our ‘v’ patch on the classic crew neck. It doesn’t get more original than that!” she comments. Shoppers in the marketplace are searching for authenticity, while also wanting the ability to make it their own. Soffe’s new female fit styles feature a lighter weight fleece so junior consumers have something just for her – a tailored boyfriend fit. The firm also recently introduced a cotton rich, heavy, USA-made hoodie called the Hero Fleece with a “no retreat” flag on the arm signifying the brand’s military heritage — Soffe was founded in 1946 as a distributer to military exchanges and college bookstores. “Sweatshirts are comfortable, but they are also a statement piece – a way to say ‘this is me’ – and even a way to not follow trends and must-haves,” she notes.

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