Unravelling the 90s sportswear brand boom

Fila, Kappa and Champion are all back in a big way, as part of a wave of sportswear brands undergoing a revival. But is it just 90s nostalgia, or is there more at play? And what can other ‘zombie’ brands learn from their example? CR finds out

Back in the 90s, a certain set of sports brands reigned supreme. Kappa popper pants were essential, TLC name-checked Fila in No Scrubs, and, supposedly, Champion sweats were so lusted after they didn’t even make it to the racks. People bought them straight out of the box.

But while sportswear giants like Nike and adidas have weathered changing trends, many of the decade’s most-loved brands fell by the wayside. It’s only in recent years that they’ve undergone a resurrection, thanks in part to the cyclical nature of fashion. A 2016 show by Gosha Rubchinskiy helped kickstart things, featuring updated versions of Fila sneakers and Kappa tracksuits – pieces that, until then, had “mainly languished in a Sports Direct no-mans land”, as Dazed Digital wrote at the time. Shortly after, Umbro was also plucked out of the doldrums by Off-White.

It’s precisely these kinds of collaborations that have helped catalyse the revival of these lost brands, although there’s more to it than just collective nostalgia – there’s a reciprocal relationship at play.

Top image: Kappa Fall/Winter 2017 campaign by the con.cept; Above imag: Fendi Mania collection, using the ‘brandalised’ Fendi/Fila logo created by Reilly

“High-end fashion houses have been piggybacking on streetwear names and launch cycles to add hype, and broaden out their audiences to bring down the age bracket,” says Lily Fletcher, Strategy Director at Accept & Proceed, which has worked with Nike and Converse. “We have Vuitton and Supreme making a high-end collaboration, which you know you can never reach because it’s too expensive, but it increases the street value of Supreme and the value to its audience. Crocs were on a catwalk with Balenciaga four years ago.”