While fashion brands have long known the value of collaborating with a famous basketball or football player, American brands are finally coming around to something Europe has been capitalizing on for years: soccer stars.
Custom menswear brand Knot Standard has announced it will act as the official provider of pre-game formalwear for New York City FC, one of New York’s two professional soccer teams. Knot Standard will outfit the entire team in custom suits for home and away games, as well as provide them with more casual wear for traveling.
The practice of providing formalwear for soccer teams to wear before a game is common in Europe. Some of the biggest names in fashion, from Dsquared2 to Dolce & Gabbana, have outfitted prestigious European teams like Manchester City and FC Barcelona, respectively.
“The roots of soccer go back to the U.K. in the 1850s, and a lot of modern suiting comes from the same place and time,” said John Ballay, CEO and co-founder of Knot Standard. “Those are parallel traditions. But the way the U.S. handles soccer is not standard, and the way we make our suits is not standard. We want to provide the best custom garments, shed some of the stuffiness of the old-world bespoke style and create something more modern. The growth of soccer here in the U.S. and the growth of custom suiting are running in tandem.”
Where once movie stars and pop singers had an outsize influence on popular fashion, athletes have emerged as highly influential fashion icons in their own right. The NBA in particular has seen a drastic shift in the past few years, with all-star players like Lebron James and Dwayne Wade just as likely to appear on the cover of GQ as Sports Illustrated and the post-game press conference turning into an opportunity for players to flex their style.
“Fashion and sports have always been a good mix,” said Sebastien Ibeagha, a defender for NYC FC, after their game against D.C. United on Saturday night. “A lot of players are naturally trendy, and I’ve always liked how the two interact. Soccer is still a relatively young sport in the U.S., but I think as it matures, you’ll see more soccer players express themselves through personal style.”
The influence of these athletes is undoubtable. Just ask Versace, which completely sold out of a pair of zebra print jeans in a matter of hours after NFL player Cam Newton was photographed wearing them, or Vetements, which saw a 26 percent increase in searches for “Vetements long sleeve pullover” 12 hours after Russell Westbrook was seen wearing one before a game.
Of course, no discussion of fashion and athletes is complete without mentioning the landmark partnership between Nike and Colin Kaepernick, which earned the brand more than $43 million worth of media exposure.
“Lebron James, he’s a fashion icon now, but one of the original sports style icons was David Beckham,” Ballay said. “He was one of the first to bring sports and fashion together. Cristiano Ronaldo is a successor in that regard.”
This strategy makes sense in Europe, where soccer’s popularity is unmatched, but even Asia has gotten in on this trend. Ermenegildo Zegna has been the official provider of formalwear for China’s national soccer team since 2016. But a fruitful soccer partnership is a bit of a tougher sell in the U.S. Soccer, while certainly more popular now than it was a decade ago, still sits in the shadow of the American juggernauts, football and basketball.
But Knot Standard sees a golden opportunity in American soccer. The stardom and style influence enjoyed by soccer players in Europe rivals that of NBA and NFL stars in the U.S. But as soccer’s profile grows, so too does the opportunity for fashion brands to capitalize on those players’ influence.
“Soccer is the fastest growing sport in the U.S.,” Ballay said. “It’s free of a lot of the legacy and routines of some of the older sports. It’s a bit of a blank canvas. Soccer provides a great opportunity for us with a pro sports team on the national stage that doesn’t have a 100-year-old legacy to contend with. There’s a huge opportunity there.”