You no longer need to be an athletic star to influence others into the sportswear lifestyle, where pop singers sit comfortably next to some of our favourite sporting heroes. These non-athletic celebrities expand our appreciation of active wear beyond the pitch and into our lives, asking us to experiment with bolder designs that stretch far from their practical, functional origins.
But how should we feel about brands rooted in athletic endeavours paying non-athletes to endorse their stuff? If sportswear is all about performance then why are labels such as Adidas paying pop stars like Pharrell Williams and Kanye West the big bucks to promote clothing designed for fitness?
In an obvious way we are all aware that clothing is strongly linked to identity, after all, we wear our favourite sports team’s tops to let others know who we support, which community we feel akin to. However the ties also go much deeper, with a sportswear culture which has been helping empower us for almost a hundred years.
With a personal fitness and health industry that has been growing for decades, gym membership is no longer exclusively the domain of Olympians and Mr. Universe contestants pumping iron, now they are as much for the office worker who’d like to keep the doughnuts off the waist line. Modern society’s attitudes to fitness now mean it is natural for people to want to convey their lifestyle through the way they dress.
Clothes provide us with a sense of identity by making us feel secure in presenting ourselves to society. They empower us to come across as any attitude we desire, if we wear something we are unsure of then we will spend the day second-guessing ourselves. You want to leave the house coming across as proactive, confident and sure of yourself, exuding the hallmark traits of an alpha male or female. But where do we look for these representations when choosing clothes? Who are our role models and how do they manage to appeal?
GOING FOR GOLD: BRINGING ON THE BLING
The tactical placement of sporting brands has been key to its growth in popularity over the last 30 years. Traditionally sportswear brands, quite logically, made connections with sporting stars in order to capitalise on our love of sports and desire to wear the lifestyle, presenting us with role-models we admire and look to for inspiration. This is still the case today, with athletes such as Usain Bolt earning $9 million a year from wearing Puma items.
However brands have since found that targeting younger buyers and associating themselves with a number of artists in the music industry can provide further validation of ‘cool’ to compliment sporting aspiration. An early adopter of this tactic, Adidas, was one of the first sportswear brands to find great success by signing a million dollar endorsement deal with rap group RUN-DMC, and rapidly become synonymous with street wear. The popularity of the Adidas look founded in the 1980s continues today, and provides the basis for the Adidas Originals clothing line.
The endorsement of artists within the music industry has since grown, and is now considered one of the strongest methods of brand promotion. Endorsement of an artist opens the fashion brand’s potential reach to include the artists’ fan base. Rap star Drake was given the mantle of being the first non-athlete to join the Nike-owned Jordan sneaker and clothing family in 2013. Jordan sneakers themselves are now an iconic basketball shoe, launched from the popularity of sports superstar Michael Jordan at the height of his popularity, the sneaker has become commonplace, and like most sportswear is now worn widely both on and off the basketball court. Since Drake himself is a well-known basketball fan, it makes him the perfect artist to aid in the promotion of the brand, while not being directly related to the sport.
SCORING AT THE BACK OF THE NET: SOCIAL MEDIA & FASHION
A large part of the endorsements from sportswear fashion brands of celebrities is the promotion online through social media, an area which now takes up large portions of a brands’ marketing budget. Celebrities (both sportspeople and non-sporting) wearing a brand’s item of clothing, through endorsement or otherwise, is usually picked up not only by print media, but also shared virally on social media.
Superdry, a sports and casualwear brand from the UK with an emerging presence in Canada, saw their brand grow after images circulated of soccer legend David Beckham and pop star Nicole Scherzinger wearing their clothing on the streets, benefitting from both types of famous endorsement. The brand has since been able to develop from being simply influenced by sportswear to providing specialised sportswear ranges itself, such as the Superdry Snow range, showing that brands outside of the sporting world are now expanding to provide their own active wear lines.
This obsession with celebrities and what they are wearing throughout the day has created a culture in which casual wear worn by the famous has been attributed a lot more worth than previously. Whereas before the only place celebrities made a notable public appearance was on a red carpet, in the 21st century their every move and outfit throughout the day is analysed and imitated. This emancipation of opinion on fashion via social media (which cuts out the journalist middle-man) goes hand-in-hand with the democratisation of sportswear endorsers. We are now more sophisticated consumers, not wanting to choose between functional and fashionable clothes, we demand to express ourselves with everything we buy.
Having non-athletes endorse clothes is a reflection of this – we still want inspirational figures like Bolt urging us to perform athletically, but we also need to see people like Drake embodying our lifestyle aspirations off the track, taking our favourite sports brands to a deeper level. Sportswear has become a symbol for accomplishing a great performance in any field of interest you set your sights on, not just the achievements you can make on the turf.