Athletic apparel brand Starter is entering a new era.
Founded in 1971, the brand has become a sportswear staple. It’s established licensing deals with every major American sports league, and its jerseys and outerwear have been worn by more professional teams than any other brand, according to Starter. In 1990, Starter’s sales reached $124.6 million before nearly doubling to $356 million by 1992, around the time of the brand’s peak.
The rise of athletes as tastemakers in fashion and beauty also contributed to the brand’s surge in popularity. In the early ’90s, Starter’s satin jacket was nearly synonymous with athletic outerwear, and the brand’s notoriety also trickled into hip-hop and pop culture. The classic Starter jacket was seen on the biggest celebrities of that time including LL Cool J, Brooke Shields, Puffy, Will Smith, Run DMC and Missy Elliot. It was also featured in cult-classic movies, like Eddie Murphy’s “Coming to America,” and made appearances in music videos and on album covers.
However, as professional leagues entered licensing deals with other brands for outerwear, Starter slowly began to lose its hold in the market. Competitors have included sports apparel brands Logo 7 and Pro Player.
In 1999, the brand filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was scooped by Nike in 2004. Three years later, apparel company Iconix Brand Group bought the brand for $60 million. In 2012, American brand management company Iconix brought on apparel company G-III to manage Starter under the leadership of former NFL player Carl Banks.
Now, a decade since G-III’s takeover, Starter is poised for a comeback, said Banks, G-III’s president.
As Banks leads Starter in this new phase of growth, he is relying on strategic collaborations, nostalgia, quality products and powerful brand storytelling to attract consumers.
On Friday, Starter and clothing and accessories brand Cookies launched their second capsule collaboration. Similar to the first, which dropped in fall 2021, the new collection features four pieces — all signature jackets available in men’s sizes. They’re available for purchase on Starter.com, Cookiessf.com and in Cookies flagship stores.
Founded in 2011 by the rapper and entrepreneur known simply as Berner, Cookies also has deep roots in streetwear and hip-hop culture.
“There are so many stories to tell within [Starter’s] brand architecture itself that you really don’t have to go outside of it unless it makes sense, connects and continues to connect with the consumer,” Banks said, while noting that the Cookies collab fulfills these goals.
As part of Banks’ brand awareness strategy, in September, Starter launched a branded takeover and VIP influencer gifting suite at Giants Stadium. The company declined to confirm whether the takeover will last the entire season, but Banks confirmed that parts of it will. He also revealed that, in November, consumers can expect to see a Black Friday drop in collaboration with the New York Jets. In the same month, Starte will launch a collection called Black Ice, which was specifically created for a takeover of the NHL store in New York.
In addition, in July, Starter partnered with the MLB for a limited-edition rerelease of its iconic Bronx Bubble jacket — for one week only, it was available to purchase at MLB’s flagship store in Rockefeller Center. The jacket will further roll out in November to Starter.com, MLB’s flagship store and specialty retail stores across the country. For now, consumers will be able to choose from three teams (the Yankees, the Mets or Brooklyn) and three colors (gold, silver or blue). The jacket will retail for $300.
“One thing about Starter is it made fandom a wearable experience — it made it fashionable. Starter turned sidelines into must-have items not just for the casual hardcore fan but also for the cool fan,” Banks said.
To date, the brand has increased its sales by 20% year-over-year, according to Banks. “I would attribute that to consumer interest, as well as our ability to tell the stories that are relevant today and that people love to hear but weren’t around for,” he said.
As far as what’s next for the brand, Banks says there is a lot in store. For example, Starter is foraying into influencer marketing and further updating its product assortment, such as introducing womenswear, to maintain growth in the coming year.
“We want to grow our revenues, but I want to do it through the authenticity of the brand. I never want to cheapen the brand to get to the dollar,” Banks said. “There are some stores that we’d like to be in, but that time will come.” Currently, Starters apparel is sold at major retailers including Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters.