Your Old School Starter Jacket Is Making a Comeback

Starter, the sports-apparel brand that was popular in the 1990s, is plotting a comeback for its old-school styles and is in talks for new deals and endorsements.

(Bloomberg) — Starter, the sports-apparel brand that was popular in the 1990s, is plotting a comeback for its old-school styles and is in talks for new deals and endorsements. 

Executives at the brand, which is owned by Iconix Brand Group Inc. and licensed to G-III Apparel Group Ltd, are in discussions to provide jerseys for Fox Corp.’s United States Football League, which is entering its third season. They’re also negotiating with the Arena Football League, which is set to resume play in 2024 after a five-year hiatus.

Starter also plans to sign athletes to endorsement deals once certain existing contracts expire, though management wouldn’t say whom they’re targeting.

“It will happen sooner than later,” said Carl Banks, president of G-III’s sports division, the licensee for the brand in North America. Starter’s parent Iconix also owns Umbro, Rocawear and Ecko Unltd. 

Banks, a two-time Super Bowl winner with the New York Giants, said he’s pushing for Starter to return to the forefront of sports. Throwback brands have seen a resurgence recently as shoppers clamor for nostalgia. That trend spurred sports-merchandise retailer last year Fanatics Inc. to acquire Mitchell & Ness, which makes throwback basketball, football and baseball jerseys. The deal valued the company at $250 million, according to a person familiar with the matter. 

Progress has stalled for some retro labels, however. HanesBrands Inc.’s Champion label sales have faded this year and Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s apparel and footwear sales, which include throwback brand Russell Athletic, have also slipped.

Banks said that’s not the case at Starter, where sales are up nearly 20% so far this year. He’s now looking abroad for growth, hoping to plug Starter into more of G-III’s global distribution network, which includes brands such as DKNY and Vilebrequin. China, Australia, South Korea, France and the Netherlands are on his priority list.

In the US, Starter makes fan gear for the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and some NCAA sports programs. It plans to release a new collection with the National Hockey League in the fall.

Steelers, Dolphins

Starter once ranked among the giants of North American sports, outfitting teams including the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins and luring shoppers with its officially licensed team jackets and snapback caps. Its ads starred DJ Jazzy Jeff and Rodney Dangerfield. Over the years, Starter jackets were rocked by the likes of Run-DMC, Diddy (at the time known as Puff Daddy) and Joe Montana. Banks credits that pop-culture influence with keeping Starter relevant over the years.

Sales slowed in the mid-1990s amid player strikes. By the end of the decade, the Starter name disappeared from baseball fields and basketball courts, replaced with brands like Nike and Puma. In 1999, Starter filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Nike Inc. bought Starter in 2004 for about $43 million and put its products in Walmart Inc. stores. Iconix acquired the brand in 2007 for $60 million and brought on NFL quarterback Tony Romo as its face. G-III Apparel Group became the licensing partner in 2012.

‘Time Capsule’

Starter’s heyday is a “time capsule,” said Banks, adding he has a 50-year archive of products to tap into — from satin jackets to tearaway track pants. The latest item to be resurrected is the Bronx bubble jacket, a collaboration with the MLB that was unveiled in New York with a party and a performance by rapper Jadakiss. 

These days, sports-apparel labels’ biggest obstacle to returning to the turf are incumbents like Nike and Adidas AG which have locked down exclusive deals with most of the big leagues. So the only choice for Starter is to find alternatives.

“We’re exploring being part of European football also,” said Banks. “We believe the brand belongs there too. Why not?”

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