Chicago’s own sportswear purveyor is now leading the heritage company he grew up on — learn more about Don C’s ascent at the iconic brand.
Don Crawley, better known as Don C, had dreams growing up like the rest of us.
To make them happen, he took a no-days-off approach.
“I used to try to wear a throwback every day,” Don told Boardroom. “I was like, ‘Man, who could compete with me? I wear a different throwback, that’s 365 throwbacks a year!’ I was on it.”
Today, Don C is more than just on it. He’s both of it and in it.
The party promoter turned road manager turned designer is now the Creative Director of Premium Products at Mitchell & Ness, the company announced Tuesday.
It’s a full-circle story for the Chicagoland native who used to sell the Philadelphia brand’s beloved jerseys to rising rappers like Fabolous out of the trunk of his car.
Over the course of his career, Crawley has come to fame as a designer by opening RSVP Gallery in 2009, collaborating with the likes of Levi’s and Jordan Brand in the decade that followed.
His executive ascent started in 2022 when he took a step forward as the Chicago Bulls’ Creative Strategy and Design Advisor.
Rightly, this latest appointment at Mitchell & Ness proves another feather in his snakeskin cap.
Securing a Mitchell & Ness account for his web store in the late ’90s all the way to working formally with the legacy line in 2011, Don’s been able to revive and reinvent the historic brand at each turn.
Notably, his “Just Don” shorts and snapbacks made in conjunction with M&N pushed fan gear into a luxury space.
Since then, M&N has been able to grow in width and accessibility while still maintaining the aspirational cool cache chased by the likes of Jay-Z, Rihanna, Wale, and countless trendsetters across culture and entertainment.
Aligning with Don C as a formal, forward-facing figurehead follows major movements behind the scenes.
In February of 2022, Fanatics purchased 75% of Mitchell & Ness for a reported $250 million. At the time, Jay-Z, Maverick Carter, Meek Mill, and Lil Baby were all involved in the deal.
Shortly after in October, Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin officially announced the new ownership group for its Mitchell & Ness brand. This incumbent class included the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Rich Kleiman, CJ McCollum, Chris Paul, Devin Booker, James Harden, Joel Embiid, Odell Beckham Jr., Kevin Hart, Rich Paul, Scooter Braun, and Steve Stoute.
All the momentum mounted in December of ’22, as Rubin and Fanatics were able to raise $700 million in fundraising just months after acquiring the brand.
At that time, Fanatics as a whole was valued at a whopping $31 billion. And much like the products that define Mitchell & Ness, much of its most coveted cachet aligns with the past.
Founded in Philadelphia in 1904, Mitchell & Ness rose to pop culture prominence in the mid-to-late 1990s by way of hip-hop. Famously, the throwback purveyor had a stand in Atlanta’s legendary Lennox Mall where the likes of Big Boi, Killer Mike, and others would spend hundreds (if not thousands) on the authentic retro jerseys.
Localized to the City of Brotherly Love and the southern hub, a young Don C made it his mission to take throwbacks to Chicago and beyond.
“Back then, Mitchell & Ness was such a small company that they didn’t distribute everywhere, so locally, I had an account,” says Don. “I was like a web entrepreneur. Even in the late ’90s, I had my own website in which I sold jerseys. I also used to sell them from the trunk of my car. When I used to throw events, I would hide jerseys in my car so when rappers would come in town, they’d be like, ‘Yo Don, what you got?’”‘
Working as a party promoter while also helping young local artists like Kanye West and GLC get out their dreams, his connection to the club and concert circuit put him in touch with some of New York’s most monumental figures when it came to buying throwbacks.
“At the time, I had Fabolous flying here to get jerseys from me,” Don says. “I had music executives like Kevin Liles, who was the President of Def Jam at the time, fly here to get jerseys. They were really sought-after.”
Decades later, Don isn’t selling jerseys out of his trunk — he’s leading the company creatively from the inside.
By bringing his appetite for convergence culture to the storied institution, he finally has the keys to tell stories and use materials the hardwood, gridiron, or diamond never thought they’d see.
“Don is truly an icon and visionary, and after having worked with him for many years we’re ecstatic to have him formally join the Mitchell & Ness family,” Mitchell & Ness CEO Kevin Wulff said in a statement.
Already in action, the best is yet to come.
“Fans of the brand can look forward to exciting new products across all leagues that will fuse the brand’s heritage with Don C’s cutting-edge creative vision,” Wulff said.
For those stacking their paper and already refreshing the Mitchell & Ness site, the first formal fruits of this new union will come in April via the Cooperstown Collection.
Centered around Major League Baseball’s 2023 Opening Day, Don is dropping luxury shorts tied to the Colorado Rockies, Florida Marlins, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Tampa Bay Rays. Celebrating the most recent expansion teams in baseball through the lens of his Just Don brand, his first formal at-bat is only setting the stage for more momentum.
Additionally, the brand has already confirmed that Don will play a part in amplifying basketball’s global growth, working on premium product tied to Dražen Petrović, Tony Parker, and Toni Kukoč.
“As a kid from Chicago,” Don says, “it’s just a dream come true.”
For more on this dream job, keep it locked to Boardroom this week for an exclusive sit-down interview with Don that will detail his appointment with the brand, storied history with throwbacks, and what other surprises fans can expect next.
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