It seems like if you want to dig deep into the archives of a storied American brand, you'll have to import the knowledge over from Japan if not finagle access to the archives themselves. The country's obsession with all things Americana has churned out encyclopedic catalogs of rare archival products, many of which have become the main source of reference for fans and industry folk. But a new book aims to document one of the most beloved American brands, and it's produced in the same state as the brand itself. It Takes a Little More: Selected Champion Products 1919-2002 is a labor of love and obsession for author Alex Goulet.
Through 272 pages and 850 products, the comprehensive book covers the legendary sportswear brand's range of goods. From the earliest-known and rarest examples, to one-off oddities and all that's in-between. The book doesn't just focus on the top-shelf museum-level pieces, either. Goulet makes sure to include the full breadth of the brand's products throughout the years. The result is a complete picture of the Champion legacy.
It Takes a Little More is a must-have for the Champion fanatic and style enthusiast at large. We talked with the author to learn more about the project and the brand. Here's what he had to say.
What was the impetus for the book? And why Champion?
The book grew out of research conducted from 2017 to 2019 for the 100th anniversary of the company. During that process, I realized there were no English language resources about vintage Champion and an incredible amount of misinformation online. It seemed like a great opportunity to create something for the community.
Champion is one of my favorite vintage brands because of its strong cultural roots in American fashion and athletics. It's a perfect blend of the ingredients that make up iconic sportswear style: quality, comfort and durability.
What was your earliest memory of Champion?
As a kid I remember my mom buying me a few Champion replica jerseys and sweatshirts from various discount stores we shopped at in the Boston area. We weren't lucky enough to have a Champion Outlet near us but as the hype of the '96 Olympics, Jordan-era NBA and sportswear fashion died down in the late 90s, there was plenty of great, affordable Champion gear to go around.
What's the story behind the title?
Starting in the late 1960s, Champion adopted the tagline "It Takes a Little More To Make a Champion." For the next 40 years, that tagline was found in advertisements and on promo gear produced by the company. It speaks directly the quality of their products while also referencing the the quest of athletes in competition. As for the time frame, the items featured in the book were produced between 1919 and 2002, an era that includes all of Champion's domestic manufacturing and everything that could be considered vintage at the date of the projects completion.
What were some of the challenges in creating the project?
Finding examples of all the different styles represented in the book was extremely challenging. I generally consider vintage Champion to be abundantly available compared to other brands but certain styles took years to find, especially those made before 1950. Near the end of the project, I was forced to make a trip to Japan to meet with collectors there because it was impossible to source certain early sweatshirts here in the U.S.
How has Champion changed throughout its history? What's stayed the same and what's different?
Champion has evolved with trends in styles, fits and fabrics over the past 100 years. Each generation of the company produced their own version of technical sportswear for athletes that trickled down into the retail customer market. While fashion has evolved so much since the early 1900s, it's fascinating that Champion has essentially been producing the same two core items for 90-plus years: cotton based T-shirts and sweatshirts. I think it's a testament to the functionality and timelessness of those products and Champion's continued success.
The foreword talks about how there's always something to learn with Champion. What's one of the most interesting things you learned while making the book?
One of the most interesting parts of the company history you don't often see discussed is their impact on branding in fashion and sports. Through licensing agreements made overseas, European and Japanese partners proved to Champion company leaders the power of external branding. Lessons learned from this experience made them one of the earliest American apparel companies to bring manufacturer logos into the arena of licensed sportswear and athletic uniforms. Champion may have been the first company to display their logo on an NCAA jersey when they added the Champion "C" to Notre Dame basketball jerseys in the late 1970s. They were also likely the first to do so in the NFL starting in the 1980s.
The book feels like an issue of Lightning or Clutch, but is more of a coffee table book and less like a thick magazine. What sets it apart from archival Japanese magazines?
I'm honored to be mentioned alongside Clutch and Lightning, two amazing publications. I think the most important difference is the English language audience can actually read this one, haha! Sadly, so much is lost in translation with the Japanese magazines where it's hard to do more than just appreciate the photos. Also, many of them tend to focus on rare/collectible products whereas I was more interested in publishing a comprehensive catalog of Champion's output with historical context. For each product, you're provided their period-specific names and descriptions akin to what you would have found in Champion catalogs of the time. I've always cherished vintage product catalogs so for me this was a process of recreating them for collectors and dealers to deepen their knowledge and appreciation of the brand.