If you're a regular reader of The Club, then you know we are always trying to learn and share knowledge. We recently got in some fresh Fila gear and it made us think about the history of the brand. Unlike the mainstream moguls, say Nike, Fila has maintained a buzzworthy presence while still having this lowkey indie darling image. It's almost like the brand is an afterthought, where you know they have clout but what have they really done, you cannot say. The Disruptor had a huge comeback in recent years and we saw them on the shelves of Journeys and clothing stores alike. The continuing trend for vintage and the resurgence of brands like Champion, Supreme, Stussy indicates nostalgia fashion is a thing. But Fila? When we think of the brand, we know they have had success but they are by no means a mogul or fashionista's go-to brand despite having a rich history. FIla is that one brand who had their hands in every cookie jar in sports so why the simmering legacy? That got me thinking.
Brief, Condensed, overview of Fila history.
Fila started out as a small local brand in Biella, Italy 1911 created from the brains of the Fila Brothers, Ettore and Giansevero Fila. They exclusively sold premium underwear and knitwear. Biella is a working class city in Italy. It is known for its textile industry, it manufactures wool, silk and other textiles. It made sense that the brand was able to flourish and experiment where resources were abundant. Much is not known of what the Fila brothers were doing prior to Fila but the area, the alps and italian culture influenced the design and motive behind the brand.
Fila focused on creating premium textiles for the community before eventually expanding.From what I gathered, the garments spoke for themselves and word spread. The brothers partnered with (from what we can gather ) a local factory called Maglificio Biellese in 1923. Now full transparency, in many articles about the Fila history, this name is brought up a lot but a quick google search really doesn’t provide much information on if this was a brand, person etc.. We are assuming that this is a textile company providing high quality textiles based off a few translated pages like this one. Although images of the undergarments produced are nowhere to be found, one can image the sophisticated and high-brow look that Fila is known for. Simplistic and expensive, and at that time, radiating a for-the-rich and classy, think exclusive sports like tennis, golf, skiing. Keep that in mind as they enter the 40s.
The brand was on the incline and it wasn’t until 1942 when the brand decided to partner with a fresh face. Now the sportswear circuit in Italy and Europe was not as competitive as it would become in less that 20 years, so the brand was able to use this time as another evolutionary and experimental period. They expanded with real estate company Fratelli Fila and continued to move toward full clothing lines.
Late 60s - 70s:
The brand became full fledged streetwear manufacturers in the 70s. The market was already competitive especially with giants like Nike making headway. The Fila brothers, seeking to stay creative and ahead of the curve brought in some fresh talent that captipulted the brands success and awareness. In 1968 visionary Enrico Fracheys was brought in to expand the brand. Fracheys brought in two key designers, Pier Luigi Rolando and Alessandro Galliano. In the 1970s, Fila brought their A game to the tennis arena. Entering the sportswear world, tennis especially, seemed like a splashy move to make. Tennis is an elitist sport, so the brand image Fila maintains was hit but the collaboration as well as the clientele they were looking for.
Tennis was rising and a hot sport in the 70s. The tennis market opened up in the late 60s and the opportunity to make a career out of this sport was realized.The brand's success led to the creation of The White Line in 1973. Fila garnered acclaim and managed to get sponsorships from major sports heads, the biggest being Bjorn Borg in the 70s. In an iconic match against rival John McEnroe, Borg is seen wearing Fila gear. McEnroe was wearing tennis clothes competitor Tacchini when he lost, it seemed like a victory for multiple reasons.
The White Line was a premiere line of tennis wear including socks, tops and shorts. Do you know those sweat bands that tennis players made famous? Yup Fila specialized in those too.
The 70s were such a booming era for the brand who also received sponsorships from rock climbers with the collection of White Rock.
Fila had a way of making sportswear an everyday kind of outfit, especially in the UK where the Fila tracksuits were iconic staples. Wearing Fila was a sign of sports fans. If you were seen wearing Fila on the streets you were supporting a specific sports team, a part of a “scene.” The brand had a status and they weren’t ready to slow down.
The 90s was evolutionary for Fila and shoes. Iconic staples now like the disruptor and Fila 96 were staples in the basketball arena. Can you imagine what Tupac and Ice Cube were thinking when they wore Fila? Its crazy to think about how many celebrities from different corners of society touted this brand. We touched on the exploitation of Black Culture in the 90s with brands like Ralph Lauren Polo and we are sure that Filas transition into basketball was not without its own shortcomings. Trying to get a piece of that sports action the brand really shifted from this elitist classy image to urbanwear. Fila had huge endorsements from basketball players like Grant Hill and Jerry Stackhouse. Every rapper and hip hop artist of the decade was pushing the brand. using it to represent black streetwear culture of the 90s.
Not all brands can be successful in an evolving culture and the fall of Fila coincided in the 2000s when the company had a lot of internal issues. The early to mid 2000s were not a successful period for the brand. In 2003 after selling to a company in the US, the brand could not regain their brand status. Also, fashion trends were shifting and the company's prior image, the height of sportswear and “urban” streetwear in the 90s was moving to the backburner with the resurgence of alternative culture. In the late 2000s the company was sold and acquired by Fila Korea, where they went through an extensive rebrand and image resolve. The classism of the early days was swapped for interest in youth culture of the time. Through partnerships and collaborations like the Dolphin Pink Clothing in 2017 or having the worlds hottest kpop boy group BTS sporting their gear is bringing the brand back up. In 2018 the brand hit the runway with a collaboration collection with Fendi. That collection really showcases the brand’s push to streetwear.
Looking into the history of Fila and the market that it competes in has given us an interesting perspective on brand tactics, how trends affect economics and that Fila may not be Nike or moguls like that, but it is a lasting underdog that is here to stay. The brand started as a grassroots operation and it was cool to see its style evolution change. The brand changed it up in the 90s, had a long life in elite sports and is now riding the nostalgia wave. We don’t think the OG Fila brothers ever imagined E-girls or alternative culture embracing their fashion but we don't think they are mad at it. Maybe it's because the brand has committed to quality, or maybe its ability to evolve as trends change, Fila is a staple among the new gen, let's see where the brand can go.