About two years ago, I attended a media event at the NBA Shop in Manhattan. On my way out, I noticed some interesting T-shirts and sweatshirts — most of them with a retro-ish feel — from a company called ’47 Brand, which I’d never heard of before. Since I’m often behind the curve when it comes to merchandising and retailing, I figured the company had probably been around for a while and I just hadn’t noticed.
As it turned out, ’47 Brand had just made its debut that year. The company, which is based just outside of Boston, has since elevated its profile, most notably by scoring a new licensing deal with the NFL (you can see some of their new NFL product here. Rather amazingly, this makes them the only wholesaler with licenses for all of the Big Four leagues.
As most of you know, I don’t get too excited about T-shirts, jerseys, caps, and the like. But as far as such things go, I tend to like ’47 Brand’s stuff more than I like a lot of other stuff I see out there. So when I was offered the chance to speak with the company’s creative director, Craig Rodia (shown at right; click to enlarge), I said sure. Here’s how our recent conversation went.
Uni Watch: I’m told that you got your start at Brooks Brothers. That seems like an odd starting point for someone who ends up in licensed sports apparel.
Craig Rodia: I had no intention of ending up in this industry. I just wanted to live in New York City after college, and an opportunity came up at Brooks Brothers. I love design, so I went for it, and I loved it. I eventually moved on to Lids, back when they were still small, so that was my introduction to licensed apparel.
UW: When was the ’47 Brand officially “born,” so to speak?
CR: In 2010.
UW: What does the 47 stand for?
CR: The brand emerged from a partnership I had with another company, called Twins, and they were founded in 1947.
UW: Give me an elevator pitch of the brand’s style, or mission.
CR: We started out more on the vintage side of things, and that’s still near and dear and us. But now I’d say we’re a fashion brand that happens to do licensed product, as opposed to other companies that do licensed stuff in order to be fashionable. We’re looking at the latest trends out there — the street market, the skate market, the teen market. We’re all over the blogs, looking for inspiration. Everybody on my team reads your stuff religiously. So the stuff we put out is very detail-oriented. And when I say details, I mean the fonts, the appliqués, the construction and fit. We like to say we’re a lifestyle brand.
UW: How would you describe your licensed apparel as compared to what’s produced by Nike, Reebok, or Adidas?
CR: I would say we’re more lifestyle. And we spend a lot more time on the details — the fabric, fit, and finish. The fabrics that we use have taken a long time to develop. In some cases, we’re still perfecting it. We spend so much time on things like where we buy the cotton from. It bugs me when I see someone from the competition who takes a normal T-shirt and dips it in silicone to soften it. We don’t do that; we use good materials.
UW: I’m sure the other companies would say they use good materials and sweat the details too.
CR: Sure. But another thing separates us is that we have a very wide-ranging line, from headwear and T-shirts to sweaters and dresses. That’s part of what makes us more lifestyle.
UW: You’ve used that term “lifestyle” a few times now. What do you mean when you say that?
CR: My goal is to get people to say, “Holy crap, I love that shirt because it looks cool,” not necessarily because they’re a fan of that team.
UW: So you’re not after the hardcore fan, necessarily. You’re looking to seduce the more casual fan.
CR: Exactly. For example, half of the apparel we sell is to women. I think that’s attractive to a league, and that’s part of why the NFL chose to work with us.
UW: One thing I notice is that those other companies tend to put their own logos very prominently on their apparel, but you guys don’t do that. Your logo only appears on inside back collar, where you list the size, the fabric content, and so on. That’s obviously a conscious choice on your part.
CR: It is, but we’re changing that.
UW: Oh, really?
CR: Yeah. It’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time here internally. We are going to start putting a small “47” on the side of our hats and on the apparel pieces. It’s gonna be a little tab label.
UW: Where will that be located on, say, a T-shirt?
CR: It’ll be on the bottom left, by the hemline.
UW: That’s still much less prominent than where the other companies typically put their logos. So what was the thinking on that? Like, was the lack of the logo hurting you from a branding standpoint?
CR: Exactly. We were looking for ad agencies to work with, and they all said, “We had no idea who you were. Then we went to our closet and realized you had made all our favorite hats and T-shirts, but we had no idea who you were.”
UW: Why had you previously made the choice not to put your logo on your product?
CR: Because I’m a “Less is more” guy, I’m a real traditional guy, and I don’t love that approach. The stuff I normally wear — I don’t think I wear anything that’s branded. So for me, it’s a little bit tough. But as a business decision, I think it’s the right thing to do.
UW: So that was hard for you?
CR: Very hard. Still is.
UW: I like that you use sewn lettering and patches for a lot of your shirts. Have you always done that?
CR: Yes. I’d say more than half of our stuff is printed, not sewn. But I really like the sewn stuff, because it’s all hand-cut, hand-done. And I like mixing sewn appliqués with printed stuff, because it creates a sense of dimension and depth — I love that. And the sewn pieces are the same fabric as the shirt, so when you wash it, it all shrinks at the same rate.
UW: No puckering.
CR: Right. And it’s all dyed the same, too.
UW: You guys have a very retro feel. I know you said you were moving away from that, but I still see it in your designs. How do you achieve a retro look for a team that’s fairly new, like the Houston Texans?
CR: It’s difficult. Like, on the NBA side, we’ve been trying to come up with designs for the Oklahoma City Thunder. That’s a real struggle for us.
UW: It’s not an obvious fit for you.
CR: It’s not, no.
UW: So what do you do?
CR: We find a way. It’s more of a challenge, but we find a way to interpret their logo in a way that makes sense for us. As long as it looks good, that’s what I care about.
UW: Tell me about this new deal you have with the NFL.
CR: The NFL deal basically makes us a year-round business, which really takes us to a new level. So we can go to a place like Nordstrom now and say, “We have every league,” which makes it much easier for them to buy from us. And our head.
As you can probably guess, I was disappointed to hear that the company will be introducing logo creep to its product (although the little hemline tab sounds like it might be easy enough to remove with scissors or a seam ripper), and I was also uneasy with Rodia’s repeated use of the term “lifestyle.” Still, I like the look and feel of a lot of the company’s product. My thanks to Craig for an interesting discussion.
ESPN reminder: In case you missed it yesterday, my latest ESPN column is a look at Native American imagery in sports. I know we’ve talked about that quite a bit here on the blog, but I went out of my way to take a more reserved tone in this ESPN column, plus I had some new (if limited) research to contribute to the discussion. Check it out here.
Uni Watch News Ticker: The Falcons will wear their throwbacks this Sunday. … In a related item, the Steelers haven’t yet announced when they’ll be wearing their 1930s throwbacks, but Nathan Gess says that the clerks at a Steelers Sideline shop told him they’ll be worn in Weeks 10 and 11, against the Chiefs (on a Monday night) and Ravens (on a Sunday night). …Early reports of the NFL officiating settlement yesterday afternoon included this line: “New official game uniforms designed by Nike are ‘hardly an obstacle,’ according to a source.” Not sure if this means a new zebra design or just that Nike has to create standard uniforms cut to the old officials’ measurements, although I’m assuming the latter. Tried to find out yesterday but couldn’t make any headway. … Yesterday’s Packers-themed Piggly Wiggly ad prompted Jeff Ash to send me this photo, taken in a Green Bay Piggly Wiggly outlet. … The Okie State G.I. Joe uniform rumor may be just a rumor (from Dan Medina). … New 125th-anniversary kit for Celtic FC. “Not bad, if you ask me,” says Dan Budny. … The latest NFL/Tide video about team colors and uniforms focuses on the Steelers. … Another NFLer covering up his logo creep: Tom Brady, who has a deal with Under Armour, wore tape over his sleeve swoosh at a media session yesterday. … Robert Griffin III’s RNOB was the subject of yesterday’s NPR commentary from Frank DeFord (from Joe Makowiec). … Georgia Southern is going G.I. Joe on Oct. 13. “Names will be on a nameplate on the chest (a first?), and players can wear patches for friends and family who are serving or have served,” explains Lucas Ehrbar. … Two special uniforms on tap for Mississippi State. Here’s a closer look at the new helmet. … “I saw this Flying Elvis-esque logo on a T-shirt the other day,” says Tom Nawrocki. “It’s for the Columbine Rebels football team here in suburban Denver. The weird thing is, isn’t a rebel the exact opposite of a patriot?” Indeed. … Here’s a video of the Suns’ new floor design (from Mike Vamosi). … Houston Baptist, which will be starting its football program in 2013, has unveiled its helmet design (from Mike Vamosi). … Interesting story about an Ottawa Senators 20th-anniversary logo that was never used (from John Muir). … UNC’s flag-desecration logo, which will appear on their helmets this Saturday, will also appear at midfield (from John Freeman). … Double-whammy kerfuffle for Sherrin, the company that makes the balls for Aussie rules football. First, a bunch of balls for the youth market were recalled after a needle was found inside one of them, plus it turns out one of Sherrin’s subcontractors have been using child labor. Further info on that here. Rumors that the subcontractor was Newt Gingrich are almost completely untrue. … Joe DeAngelis found a 1983 video clip that shows the Flyers wearing an unfamiliar sock design. “I believe it’s from a preseason game, as the Bruins players in the game were NNOB,” he says. … New alternate helmet for Tulsa. I really like the stripe of hurricane flags, although the wordmark feels pretty blah (from Brady Vardeman). … Kudos to the principal of Santa Monica High School in California, who wouldn’t let Under Armour hold an on-campus jersey-presentation ceremony for one of the school’s star players. Why? “[W]e cannot support a sporting good company coming to campus to take advantage of [the student] in order to sell shirts.” Well done (from Sean Kautzman). … Remember that amazing (and disturbing) series of articles last winter about Derek Boogaard? His family has now filed a lawsuit with some big implications for the NHL. … Robert Brashear was walking on the Upper West Side of Manhattan the other day and spotted a Con Ed worker with a Steelers-branded hard hat. (For you non-NYCers, Con Ed is the utility in charge of making sure all the gerbils keep running in their wheels so the power keeps flowing.) … Awesome find over on Chris Creamer’s site: NHL garden gnomes! … Reader Daniel Carroll recently convinced me to sponsor his bowling team. As a result, his team’s score monitors periodically feature a Uni Watch logo, which I’m sure means nothing to anyone but Daniel and his teammates. And me. Happy pin-bashing, guys!