The Debrief | How Athletes Are Building Fashion Brands

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Athletes have long been part of the fashion conversation. In the past, they’ve capitalised on their influence by inking brand endorsements with the likes of Nike and Adidas. Now, stars like the NBA’s Russell Westbrook, soccer player Megan Rapinoe and runner Allyson Felix are taking it a step further and launching their own labels in pursuit of more financial and creative control.

“A fashion brand can provide a revenue stream that will long outlast the playing career of an athlete,” said Daniel-Yaw Miller. “Athlete-run brands give their founders freedom they could not experience in a typical endorsement deal.”

  • Tennis champion Rene Lacoste’s namesake label is one of the earliest examples of an athlete starting a brand. One of the latest is NBA star Russel Westbrook’s Honor the Gift, which just showed its Spring 2023 collection at Paris Fashion Week.
  • Founding a brand gives athletes more control over creative direction, finances and their future; whereas endorsement deals often mean athletes have little say, are restricted in what they can wear and will expire upon their retirement.
  • Many athlete-founded brands are imbued with a sense of purpose. After leaving Nike, track star Allyson Felix founded footwear and apparel label Saysh — which just closed an $8 million funding round led by Gap’s investment fund — with a nod to her advocacy for maternity rights baked in, allowing mothers and pregnant women to trade in shoes as their foot sizes change.
  • Though many athletes, including Westbrook and Felix, are pushing out brands toward the end of their playing and running careers, younger players are starting their careers with the mindset that they will eventually run fully-fledged businesses like Honour the Gift or Saysh.

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