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12 Sep

What Ever Happened To Champion Sweatshirts

Posted on Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Spoiler alert... this post has absolutely nothing to do with men's skin care and a lot to do with "pining away" for the good old days...

I've always been a fairly simple guy when it comes to the products I buy ... I prefer things that are made well, last a long time, and are reasonably priced. Looking back, I think the first "ah-ha" moment when it came to finding products that fit this bill were Champion sweatshirts. Now let me be absolutely clear, NOT the Champion stuff you see nowadays in every discount and grocery store in America, but the super thick, extra heavy reverse-weave ones that every college kid had in their closets in the 1980's. 

I can remember one Fall day during my freshman year at college in upstate New York, a group of friends and I decided to check out the Champion "outlet" about 10 miles away from our dorms as the temperatures were staring to dip into the fifties (yes, back then an "outlet" was truly an outlet where you could get first run and second run merchandise, as well as irregulars, at a deep, deep discount).  The four of us jumped into the car and made the journey to the other side of Binghamton to what, unbeknown to us, would soon become our favorite guilty pleasure (besides drinking, girl-chasing, and everything else a college freshman pursues with their new-found freedom).

I recall pushing the doors open (of what looked like an abandoned supermarket in a rundown strip mall)  and gazing upon huge bins of unfolded sweatshirts, sweatpants, and tee shirts all mixed together. My initial reaction was "this is going to be a huge waste of time" but was I ever wrong. As we all "dove in" to the piles of shirts, sweats, and shorts, I noticed that there was no ryme or reason to what was in each bin ... just a chaotic mix of clothes. In one hand you could be holding a heavy gray reverse weave sweatshirt that siad "Life Guard" on the back in XL , while in your other, you could be grasping a pair of blue lacrosse shorts with "Colgate" embossed on the right leg (with the letters noticeably uneven). The one thing that all of the merchandise had in common were the amazingly low prices... even for a college kid bartending his way through school. While I initially came for one sweatshirt, I ended up coming home with three in addition to two tees and a couple of pairs of shorts... all for less than $28. Not only was the price right, but so was the quality ... who cared in the tee shirt said "UNC" on it? In a way, it was kind of cool to sport cloths from other schools and it didn't matter if they were well-known or not, as long as the colors looked good. The only thing we had to worry about back then was finding the right size (always a challenge) and making sure that if the item was marked "irregular", that the defect wasn't too obvious (I once found a great college tee shirt that had "TOFTS" on it instead of "TUFTS" ... and you best believe I bought it for $1.95!)

More recently, I was thinking about all of the products and brands I have discovered over the years, and the original Champion stuff is still one of my favorites. Unfortunately, like so many other things, Champion has changed. Now owned by mega-manufacturer HanesBrands, their stuff is mass produced and sold everywhere ... but the quality has gone way, way down. To me, it seems that the current products are made to be disposable where you'd be lucky to get a year or two's wear out of the item. Even their "reverse-weave" stuff is no longer as thick and heavy as it used to be. Being curious about Champion's history,  I found the following information about them on Wikipedia:

"The company was established in 1919 by the Feinbloom brothers. Champion soon signed an agreement with the Michigan Wolverines to produce uniforms for their teams. In the 1930s the company was renamed "Champion Knitting Mills Inc.", producing sweatshirts. Soon after, Champion products would be adopted by the US Military Academy to be used during training exercises and physical education classes. Champion produced uniforms for all the NBA teams during the 1990s, and some NFL teams during the 1980s and 1990s. It has also produced sportswear for many major colleges.[ Champion was also the kit manufacturer of the Olympic basketball team that competed at the 1992 Summer Olympics. From the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s it was common to see girls and boys of all ages from kids, tweens, teens, college students, young adults and adults wearing champion sweatshirts over a turtleneck. Also girls of all ages from kids, tweens, teens, college students and adults wore oversized champion sweatshirts over leggings with slouch socks and sneakers especially Keds. From 2008, Champion produced kits for Premier League side, Wigan Athletic, the Wales national football team and the jersey of the Greek basketball team, also Pallacanestro Cantru, in Italy. For many years Champion supplied the athletic uniforms for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. In 2001 Notre Dame signed a 5-year exclusive agreement with Adidas, which ended a partnership Champion had with the university that spanned over 50 years."

After the initial sadness of knowing that the first brand that helped me to develop an appreciation for well-made products may no longer be available, two things helped get me through my mourning:

  1. As I was conducting "research" on the status of my beloved reverse-weave sweatshirts, I came across Todd Snyder's website where they are offering "premium" Champion items made just for them... including reverse-weave sweatshirts!  Like a kid running into FAO Swarz for the first time (kids...ask your parents), I quickly ordered a few things from them. While the sweatshirts are certainly much better than the current ones made, they are still not of the same quality of the vintage ones (and they cost upwards of $100). All-in-all, a nice reminder of times gone past, but not a "cure" for my reverse-weave craving.
  2. I still have 4 original Champion reverse-weave sweatshirts on the top shelve of my closet that I only break out for special occasions  (and no, I don't mind that one of them has the word "VASAR" on it)