This week, we take a deep dive into the annual NBA draft, talking to brands and players about how the night has transformed into a red carpet style moment to rival the Oscars. Scroll down to use Glossy+ Comments, giving the Glossy+ community the opportunity to join discussions around industry topics.
On Thursday night, the NBA held its annual draft where prospective young athletes are selected, one by one, by their future NBA team homes. It’s always been a momentous night for the athletes, but the draft has turned into a spectacle over the last few years. Athletes regularly aim to out-dress each other, showing up in extravagant suits with even more extravagant accessories.
Last year, over 4.5 million people watched the NBA draft live. Plus, older drafts regularly get additional millions of views on YouTube as fans go back to see the moment their favorite players were picked. It’s a big moment, including for the fashion brands who dress these players.
“This is our Oscars,” said Drew Green, CEO of the suit brand Indochino, which dressed nine athletes at the event, including one of the top picks, Scoot Henderson.
Indochino has been dressing athletes for the draft for a decade now. While the brand dresses athletes for other ceremonial events like the Olympics and the NFL draft, Green said the NBA draft has become the brand’s “tentpole event” each year.
“There’s no other draft like it and maybe no other league like it in the U.S., in terms of personal style,” Green said. “2020 was our biggest year ever, when we dressed a third of the first-round picks, but this year is shaping up to be even bigger.”
Indochino relies on a partnership team within the company whose job it is to track talent from a young age, much the same way a college recruiter or NBA scout would do. The brand has worked with a few players all the way back to their high school days, occasionally even dressing them for high school graduation. The chance Indochino took on Henderson paid off Thursday night, when he was the No. 3 pick. Indochino has relationships with schools like Montverde Academy in Florida, one of the top high school basketball programs in the country, and has now had several years of experience scouting out new talent.
Once their scouted players make it to the draft, Indochino goes all out. For Henderson, the brand dressed not only him but also his parents. The suit Henderson wore was custom-made for this event and designed in collaboration with Henderson’s sister, China Henderson. It featured his parents’ birthstones on the shoulders and other gems across the suit to represent his siblings.
The morning after the draft, Indochino populated its site with a new section of men’s suits: “Dress like a Pro.” Here, customers can shop looks inspired by the suits worn by athletes at the draft — though not the exact custom, gem-encrusted one that Henderson wore, for example. The suits are instead picked by the athletes Indochino worked with and come in similar eye-catching colors to suits the brand has put on players before, like R.J. Barrett’s famous pink Indochino suit from the 2019 draft.
On Instagram, Indochino spent Friday morning adding photos of every player it dressed to its Stories to make clear that those suits were Indochino. It also relies on the players to shout out the brand in interviews and press. Green said that, in 2019, Barrett was complimented on his suit at a press conference and told the crowd of reporters it was from Indochino. Behind the scenes, Green and his team celebrated that the brand’s name got a mention in a high-profile interview.
Green said it’s difficult to attribute direct sales data from visibility at the NBA draft, but there is usually a notable bump in sales in the week after the draft. Indochino has made more than $100 million in total revenue between its first draft in 2018 and today. 2022 was a record revenue year for the brand, and the first quarter of 2023 is outpacing it so far.
But even without direct attribution, the value of being at the draft is clear. NBA players are style influencers — just ask the 928,000 followers of the Instagram account @leaguefits — and the draft is a huge milestone in a player’s career. Lebron James’ white suit from the year he was drafted, 2003, is still the subject of memes and retrospectives two decades later. This year, ESPN even added an Oscars-style red carpet segment to their live coverage, in which nearly every player was asked the classic red carpet question: Who are you wearing?
For brands, there’s an inherent appeal in being part of an iconic fashion moment that’s referenced for decades. Just look at how Versace has capitalized on the famous Jennifer Lopez green dress moment from 2000, a look so iconic it has its own Wikipedia page and reportedly led to the creation of Google Images due to how heavily it was searched in the days after.
That’s why brands like Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana always have a presence at the drafts, as well. Victor Wembanyana, the No. 1 pick at this year’s draft was dressed by the biggest fashion brand around: Louis Vuitton. The brand’s new designer, Pharrell Williams, has spoken publicly about his desire for the brand to work with more Black athletes, artists and academics under his leadership.
Other brands that dressed players at the draft included menswear brand Waraire Boswell, which designed suits for twin brothers Amen and Ausar Thompson, fourth and fifth picks at the draft. Replicas of the twins’ suits are now being sold exclusively to American Express cardholders through a partnership with Amex. But Indochino is the most dominant brand at the draft, dressing more players than any other.
But brands have an additional layer of difficulty working with young athletes that isn’t present with professionals: Name, Image, Likeness policies. NIL, as the policies are called, are the various rules and restrictions that individual colleges, as well as the NCAA, place on college athletes’ ability to make money off of their name and through brand partnerships. For years, the NCAA prohibited student athletes from making money from their sport, a rule that was long considered unfair given the amount of money those players generate for their schools.
After many years of protest, including in a fiery op-ed from basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who likened the policy to indentured servitude, the NCAA lifted its prohibition on players being compensated for their NIL in 2021. But notably, individual schools and states can still have their own policies that the NCAA decision does not overrule. Currently, 32 states allow student-athletes to be compensated for their NIL.
Green said that, when working with athletes, complying with NIL laws requires careful observation of each individual school’s and state’s policies. Henderson, by virtue of skipping college to go straight to the NBA’s G League, does not have any NIL rules to worry about and can be paid for his partnership with Indochino. Green said, in the early days of Indochino’s draft presence, these rules were much stricter, but it’s gotten easier as more states follow California’s model and adopt wide-open NIL policies. In the meantime, Green said working with players’ agents has been helpful, as those agents have a better understanding of local laws and are invested in ensuring their clients don’t violate them.
As streetwear has become a dominant force in the fashion world, basketball’s star has risen alongside it. Green said that basketball has a uniquely close relationship with fashion going back to Michael Jordan and the launch of Jordan Brand, still one of the biggest sportswear brands in the world that has significant crossover with high fashion.
“Michael Jordan was an icon in basketball, but he’s really a fashion icon too,” Green said. “It goes across sports, across culture. People wear Jordan 1s in baseball, in football, on the runway. There’s a legacy of brands being created within or grown within the NBA and by NBA players.”
Those brands include Russell Westbrook’s Honor the Gift, Brandon Jennings Tuff Crowd and Nick Young’s MostHated.
Josh Pullan, head of the global luxury division at Sotheby’s, said big moments like NBA games can have a ripple effect on fashion.
“We’re seeing a lot of growth in buyers between the ages of 20-40 in the last year, and that’s driven significantly by categories like sneakers and sports memorabilia,” Pullan said. “Game-worn sneakers and items that have this specific provenance are a big part of that.”
The importance of what they wear on the day of the draft isn’t lost on the players either.
“This is a day I have been working toward and dreaming of for my entire life, so I wanted to be very thoughtful about how my draft day look represents both my journey so far and what’s next,” Henderson said.