From SKIMS to Telfar, the Tokyo Summer Games will be a watershed moment for emerging styles off the beaten path of sports.
The Olympics function as one of the world’s most exciting runways, serving looks from around the globe all on one stage. And this time around, the big reveal at Friday night’s opening ceremony arrived after five years of waiting, not four.
Historically, some of the biggest designers — from Halston to Ralph Lauren, Armani to Louboutin — have partnered with national Olympic teams to design custom attire. It’s a chance for designers to try new things; for example, RL’s Team USA opening ceremony kits will pioneer all-new cooling technology.
It’s also a chance for new brands and designers to capture the attention of an international audience. And in the run up to this year’s Tokyo Games, while several major apparel labels like Nike and Speedo will once again be on display, two breakout stars have emerged to crash the gates of the age-old athletic tradition:
While the two would appear to have little in common, both have built business models that seek to disrupt the traditionally exclusive world of fashion, creating couture experiences for the everyday consumer. And at these Olympic Games, they have an utterly unique opportunity to showcase the fruits of their labor on a different kind of global stage.
Kim Kardashian SKIMS the Surface of Sports
Kim K is no stranger to the Olympics.
In announcing the partnership on Instagram, Kardashian alluded to 1976 decathlon gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner, who was previously married to her mother. She wrote, “Ever since I was 10 years old, I’ve heard every single detail about the Olympics… Every moment I’ve spent admiring the strength and energy of the Olympians from the sidelines came full circle.”
Today, her SKIMS brand is committed to creating products for everybody and every body through accessible pricing and inclusive sizing. And that spirit figures to shine through in Japan.
To promote the signature line, SKIMS linked up with Olympic and Paralympic athletes A’ja Wilson, Alex Morgan, Dalilah Muhammad, Haley Anderson, and Scout Bassett for a campaign shot by Vanessa Beecroft, a frequent collaborator of Kardashian’s husband, Kanye West
Kardashian has cited the countless ways that the Olympic team has inspired generations of women. “These women are incredible role models for younger girls, including my own daughters, showing them that anything is possible if you work hard enough. SKIMS is designed to empower women to feel their best every day and we’re excited to work with Team USA to help spread this message,” she said in an official press release.
The billion-dollar company is the first known official undergarment sponsor in Team USA history, and will provide a capsule collection of underwear, pajamas, and loungewear to each of the 626 American athletes in Tokyo.
Telfar Clemens Returns to His Roots With Team Liberia
Telfar Clemens has built his career on bucking the rules of an industry known for notoriously high barriers for entry. The 36-year-old Liberian-American designer has dedicated his career to dismantling the expectations of high fashion, and the Olympics present a true breakthrough for his ongoing journey.
Clemens and his creative director, Babak Radboy, do not subscribe to the fashion calendar. He rejects invitations to keynote events such as the Met Gala, and has built the brand around genderless construction, and recently eliminated wholesaling, building a direct-to-consumer distribution pipeline that sets Telfar apart from all other labels.
And in 2020, a year that nearly destroyed the fashion industry, his business grew over 270%.
Today, some Telfar products have become some of the most coveted in all the land. Its signature T-logo shopping bag is the season’s staple, toted by everyone from athletes to Real Housewives. Nicknamed the “Bushwick Birkin” after the iconic Hermes purse, even Beyoncé featured one in a recent Instagram series.
With all that momentum in his favor, when the Liberia National Team was looking for a uniform sponsor, Clemens answered the call. Born in the US to Liberian immigrants, Clemens’ family moved back to their native country when he was young for a short time, but returned stateside when Telfar was five to escape the country’s civil war.
He will outfit the five-person team with everything from their opening ceremony fits to their competition wear — and, of course, he’ll release a corresponding line of merch to the general public.
Additionally, the company will provide funding for travel and accommodations for the nation’s team.
It is the designer’s first solo endeavor into activewear. Telfar recently released a collab with Converse. However, his Olympic venture isn’t the brand’s first foray into uniforms. Telfar is also responsible for building out full kits for White Castle restaurant employees, which also inspired a corresponding collaboration.
While both brands are fronting serious capital to realize these sponsorships, it should be noted that the investment is likely to reap a major reward. Athleisure is a booming market, one that netted over $105 billion in sales and is projected to grow 8% in 2021, as noted by Statista.
For SKIMS, the corresponding capsule collection has already nearly sold out after its July 12 release. And for Telfar, The Team Libera collab serves as the perfect prelude to an upcoming line of workout gear consumers will be able to get their hands on in September.
And for the Olympians and Paralympians themselves, they’ll breathe new into that old adage about working hard, but looking good while you do it.