Champion is an institution. The American heritage brand established by the Feinloom brothers in 1919 in Rochester, New York, was here with an eye on quality athletic garments long before sportswear was ever considered fashionable.
Throughout the ’60s to most of the ’90s, brands like Nike, adidas, and Reebok, weren’t seen at all on the courts and fields—rather, Champion was the sole brand outfitting the NCAA, later supplying the NFL in the ’70s and the NBA in the ’90s.
But even before all that, Champion was a heralded and trusted brand because of a simple technique in modern apparel production that proved to be a technological marvel—their invention of the Reverse Weave.
Champion’s crowning achievement was found in their most basic items. When you as a vintage collector come across a pre-90s champion sweatshirt, usually heather grey with a college logo spell out on the front you feel it immediately, in spite of the where in tear off lawn mowing, roaming amusement parks, and barbecuing with the neighbors. You know, dad-like things, it seems nearly indestructible. This is because Champion’s sweatshirts constructed with this process were made with the grain of the fabric running sideways.
Most shirts, especially inexpensive T-shirts, stitch vertically because it’s faster and more cost-effective to stitch in one straight line. However, after listening to the concerns of the coaches about shrinkage when washing big batches of athletic wear, Champion decided in 1934 to go against the grain, literally, and stitch their athletic gear with a more time-consuming but superior transverse method which was cut on the cross-grain. While the sleeves may fray and the yellow pit stains remain, there was nothing that would affect the structure and construction of the T-shirt or sweatshirt after the updated method; a testament to Champion’s pioneering of Reverse Weave—shrink resistant, durable, and made to last.
Initially patented in 1938 and finalized years later in 1952, decades later, Reverse Weave was so sought after in Japan that thrift stores would import tons of clothes from the United States and allow enthusiasts to sort through the bales of clothing to find the garments. To celebrate their 60th anniversary, the brand officially relaunched a Reverse Weave collection in Europe in 2012, following coveted collaborations with colette in 2008 (designed by a younger Virgil Abloh), and brands like nanamica, Supreme, Stussy, and A Bathing Ape. Many of the same techniques exhibited by Champion can be found in quality sportswear and collegewear suppliers from the 80s and 90s, usually this means that they have used champion as a sub contract supplier and customized the garment with the local college or sports team.
Quality in clothing has to start somewhere. For denim, it was with the sturdy metal rivets found in Levi’s, and for sportswear, it was Champion’s enduring Reverse Weave.