Starter Clothing Line - History - Rise and Expansion

Rise and Expansion

Starter was founded in 1971 in New Haven, Connecticut by David Beckerman, a former basketball player for Southern Connecticut State University, to manufacture team uniforms for high school athletic programs.

In 1976, the company entered into non-exclusive licensing agreement with a number of professional sports league, paying royalties of 8-10% for the right to manufacture and market copies of professional athletic apparel. Its first retail product was a line of jackets emblazoned with the insignias of Major League Baseball teams. Soon the company expanded its licensed apparel line to include into headgear, activewear and accessories.

In 1979, the company became one of the first licensees to supply clothing worn on the field by professional teams through an agreement to manufacture satin jackets for players on Major League baseball teams. Starter incorporated this design into streetwear, and was, in the words of Business Week reporter Tim Smart, the "first to make team jackets out of satin, instead of the usual cheap nylon".

Starter had a tremendous growth in the 1980s. In 1980, it began partnerships with major leagues in basketball, football, baseball, and hockey as well as in 150 colleges and universities. It was the first apparel brand to co-brand with professional, collegiate and Olympic sports. By 1983, the company had entered licensing agreements with the NBA, the NFL, the NHL and the Canadian Football League (CFL). As coverage of national sports leagues on cable television expanded, Starter's bright, flashy team jackets became status symbols among kids. But the company's growth during this decade can also be attributed to an aggressive marketing strategy. Not only had the company made licensed sports apparel a fashion status symbol, it also created brand loyalty by making its "S and Star" logo a prominent part of the apparel's design. Starter innovatively placed its embroidered logo on jacket sleeves and on the back of baseball caps. Often, when people wore their baseball hats backwards, a person saw the Starter logo before they even saw the insignia of the team it represented.

In 1986, the company became the first to create NBA locker room t-shirts, first worn on television by the Boston Celtics, and later worn by millions of kids across the United States and Canada. In a similar way, Starter won a contract to create the parkas that coaches wore on NFL sidelines. For the retail market, Starter designed the "breakaway jacket", a pullover jacket that closely resembled the coach's parka and soon became an important wardrobe element of fashion conscious teenagers. The rage for Starter clothing was so strong that some children owned as many as 20 baseball caps; others would pay over $150 for a Starter jacket. Sales in 1989 were $58.9 million. By 1990, they had more than doubled to $124.6 million.

In the early 1990s, Starter began to expand its distribution networks to reach over 25 countries in North America, Europe, and the Pacific Rim. The baseball jackets gave way to a hooded design with a side zipper, and eventually to a padded half-zip pullover. Starter apparel also expanded beyond sports clubs into styles such as plaid. A famous ad campaign featured Hip-Hop stars such as DJ Jazzy Jeff. Within two years, Starter's net sales nearly doubled to $356 million. The company went public on the New York Stock Exchange in April 1993, earning an estimated $98 million. Proceeds from the initial public offering were used to expand sales to Europe and the Pacific Rim and also to launch "Brand Starter", the company's own sportswear line minus team logos. Capitalizing on the high recognizability of its name, Starter went head-to-head against brands such as Champion and Russell.

Starter's competition in the licensed sports apparel business intensified in 1994 when Logo 7 Inc., the 2nd. licensed sports apparel manufacturer, won a much coveted NFL Pro Line license and beefed up its advertising budget in an attempt to knock Starter from its number one position. Overall, the boom in the licensed sports apparel market began to slacken in early 1994, slowing from an average of 38 percent annual growth to 15 percent annual growth. Starter moved into new markets with its licensed sports apparel, focusing on sales to young children and youth, and signed a new contract to manufacture the center ice jersey for the National Hockey League. The company purchased a retail chain, First Pick Stores, for $5 million of new stock in March 1994, and also established a Hong Kong office to better coordinate relations with manufactures. Beckerman stepped down as president, although he retained the posts of chairman and chief executive. John Tucker, former president and chief executive of a sporting goods and sportswear concern, assumed the position of president.

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