The Champion athletic wear company has been a consistent and trustworthy brand since 1919. Established in Rochester, New York by brothers Abe and William Feinbloom, the Champion logo has become an icon of sportswear and athleisure throughout the decades. Throughout its numerous changes and acquisitions, the Champion logo has kept its visual stability as much as the quality of its production. The “C” Champion logo is instantly identifiable and adorns the entire range of clothing and knitwear.
About the Champion Brand
The Feinbloom brothers had a passion for sportswear and created the Knickerbocker Knitting Company to produce their clothing. The University of Michigan noticed the high quality of the sweatshirts and sweatpants created by the Feinbloom brothers. In 1920, the Knickerbocker Knitting Company signed an exclusive agreement with the University of Michigan Wolverines to design and manufacture all the team sweatshirts.
In the 1920s, American colleges and universities were undergoing a boom of interest in collegiate sports. Previously, college sports teams did not have any regulated uniforms; The Knickerbocker Knitting Company was now at the forefront of promoting sports uniforms for the college sector. The reputation of the sportswear company spread as the Michigan coaches spoke with other schools and teams. In 1930, the company changed its name to Champion Knitting Mills and cemented its popularity as the top choice for sweatshirts, t-shirts, and socks in college bookstores.
The modern sweatshirt as we know it today was not the original design. It wasn’t until the 1930s that elasticized cuffs at the wrist and waists were added to the long-sleeve crewneck shirts to retain body heat. Champion also created the “hoodie” or hooded sweatshirt during this period; they called it the “side-line sweatshirt” and it was meant to keep the wearer warm between games or training periods.
Champion also began making their athletic apparel out of cotton instead of the commonly used wool of the era. However, the cotton clothing had a tendency to shrink and warp in the industrial washing machines. To combat this, the Champion company created the “reverse weave” method of producing knitwear. These types of clothing that use reverse weave are made of a heavier cotton fleece and are cut on the cross-grain to prevent vertical shrinkage.
The reverse weave avoids the dispersion of heat during and after the workout or exercise; this allows for continued freedom of motion. The company began the patent process in 1938 to validate and protect the reverse-weave process. It wasn’t until 1952 that this patent was formally granted to Champion Products.
In the 1970s, Champion began experimenting with new synthetic fabrics. They had a heavy hand in inventing and prototyping breathable mesh, nylon, and sports bras during this decade. Champion was also the first company to create the reversible, double-sided t-shirt as well as the mesh basketball jerseys and shorts. The first supportive jogging sports bra was released in 1977.
Not Just for Sports
Prior to the Second World War, the United States Military Academy contracted Champion to use their products during training exercises and classes. Champion Knitting Mills began producing clothing for the United States Army in the 1940s and 1950s. This was the first time that the Champion brand was worn off-campus and quickly became a comfortable wardrobe favorite. The Champion brand was a longstanding favorite in college bookstores, but it was only because of World War II that the sweatshirts and sweatpants began being worn outside the lecture halls.
In the 1990s, Champion sportswear became known as a staple of the hip-hop community. The streetwear culture was influential in perpetuating the popularity of the hooded sweatshirt; the company was able to transcend demographic labels by appealing to jocks, preps, skaters, and punk rockers.
Today, many designers are now collaborating with Champion to create couture items or nostalgic, throwback apparel. The high-quality, sturdy Champion t-shirt is a favorite for artists and designers to use as a blank canvas for designs.
In the 1960s, Champion established extensive licensing programs with professional teams. It became the exclusive provider of uniforms for the National College Athletic Association (NCAA), and in the 1970s, provided uniforms for many of the teams in the National Football League (NFL). Champion produced uniforms for all 27 teams in the NBA in the 1990s as the company continued as the leading provider of collegiate sportswear.
Champion produced the uniforms for the 1990 and 1992 Olympic basketball teams. In 2008, they expanded to overseas licensing and worked with teams in Wales, Greece, and Italy on sportswear uniforms.
The Champion Logo
A good logo is essential for any company. A logo visually identifies a company and is an important asset for connecting wordlessly with your audience. Color schemes, shapes, icons, and wordmarks are all important features to visually identify a business and make it sustainable through the years.
A Champion brand logo was not created until the 1950s when the name was changed from Champion Knitting Mills to Champion Knitwear Company. The company used a running man crossing the finish line as its logo. By the 1960s, the company was affixing the now-familiar “C” in blue and red to the left sleeve of each sweatshirt. The “C” Champion logo is always embroidered and affixed on the left hip of pants and shorts and the left sleeve or left of the zipper on hoodies and t-shirts. On duffle bags and gym bags, the “C” logo is seen as the zipper pull.
The script font can be seen on advertisements and labels as early as the 1950s. In 1967, the company went public and was simply known as Champion Products. The colors used for the logo were always red and blue on a white background. The distinctive logo is easily identifiable and visible and can be spotted quickly on clothing and uniforms. For example, by the end of the 1980s, the Champion logo could be found on uniforms for over 2,000 colleges, 19,000 high schools, and seven NFL teams.
C9 by Champion Logo
C9 by Champion is an exclusive brand for Target stores across the country. The line has produced active wear for men, women, and children for 15 years with the contract expiring in 2020. The line also includes sports equipment as well as plus sizes and maternity sportswear. The logo is a gold or yellow C with the number 9 in the center of the “C”. The script Champion name and “C” logo is featured underneath the C9 badge. C9 by Champion is a brand separate from Champion Products; at press time, there are no plans to discontinue C9 by Champion after the Target contract is complete.
Champion Logo Design Evolution
Champion was founded in Rochester, New York and remained there for over 70 years. The company had manufacturing plants in nearby Wyoming and Livingston counties. Thanks to its rapid growth and popularity boom in the 1980s, the company became a target for corporate takeover. In 1989, the Sara Lee Corporation bought Champion Products for a reported $320 million. In 1992, Champion Products was moved from Rochester to Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
In 2006, HanesBrands was spun off from its parent company, Sara Lee Corporation, which also owned Champion Products. Hanesbrands owns many clothing companies alongside Champion including Hanes, Playtex, Bali, Wonderbra, and Maidenform. In recent years, HanesBrands has opened Champion Outlet Stores. In 2016, HanesBrands acquired Champion Europe, cementing the brand recognition across the globe. The Champion logo is the same no matter where the clothing is being sold.
Champion Logo Stability
Despite changing ownership numerous times, the Champion logo has remained true to its humble beginnings. Unlike some companies that change their color schemes, fonts, and icons, Champion has stayed with the basic foundation on which the company began. The running figure crossing the finish line logo was phased out in favor of the “C” slowly through the 1950s, therefore creating a gradual change that was accepted by consumers. The color scheme of royal blue, red, and white has alternated placements, but the core of the logo has never changed.
The scripted font began appearing on labels in the 1970s, although it can be seen on print advertisements from the 1950s. The “C” Champion logo and the familiar font is a strong example of the longevity of a true American brand.
Modern designers are using the Champion logo in new designs and collaborations. The wave of throwback and nostalgia have led to a resurgence of the Champion logo’s popularity. Not only are the colors, font, and icons coming back into the public eye but a new generation of brand loyalists are being created. Even on blank t-shirts, the “C” logo on its own is enough to make a fashion statement.
Champion has been one of the most popular sportswear brands since its debut in 1919. From classic white t-shirts to professional sports team uniforms, the Champion logo is a symbol of quality, craftsmanship, and athleticism. The company will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2019 and it is clear that the Champion brand is here to stay.
Featured photo via Wikimedia Commons