The sports apparel market continues to grow and change with each season, in an effort to satisfy the tastes of fans. In the sea of sports merchandise, it takes a unique concept to stand out. Consumers are increasingly more savvy, seeking team-themed clothing that merges lifestyle with sports. True Rivalry developed a new approach to fan gear design and a novel way for passionate sports enthusiasts to show off their team spirit. While logo options are numerous, the Montreal-based brand instead offers original designs that provide an edgy, stylish spin on standard sports gear.
True Rivalry’s fashions allow fans to express themselves through their clothing. The company encourages fans to “wear your heart on your chest” when it comes to showcasing their love for the game. The brand’s rivalry sports team tees, hoodies and hats are embellished with witty tag lines and creative artwork for a look that is uniquely theirs.
A Glam Slam caught up with True Rivalry founder, Jason Portnoy, to discuss the concept behind the brand, the freedoms of being unlicensed, and the process of developing new designs. Check it out:
(True Rivalry founder, Jason Portnoy)
You’ve managed to carve out a unique niche in the sports apparel market, with gear that allows fans to express themselves in a different way. How did the company and concept of True Rivalry come about?
I was tired of buying boring logo tees and tees with a player’s name on it only to have that player get traded a month later. There had to be a way for fans to express themselves with style but when I looked around, I didn’t see any so I decided to make a few tees on my own and people started asking where they could get one. But it was during the NHL playoffs when we came up with the HALAK stop sign tee (something we own the copyright to) that we saw a demand for our shirt just explode.
FUBU founder, Daymond John, has served as a mentor for you. What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from him?
Every time we meet I learn something new. That man is an absolute genius and branding expert. When we first met I told him that I was naive when it came to wanting to create a sports empire and he told me to stay naive as long as possible. There are a lot of people telling you that you can’t and that you won’t be able to because of this or that… but by being young and naive and ambitious you don’t see those roadblocks and you just will yourself through any obstacle.
The sports apparel landscape has been reshaped in recent years to include more sophisticated, fashion-forward items. Is it difficult to find that balance between sports and style when designing the gear?
100%. We’re perfectionists too so it’s double hard. Where do we put the emphasis – the slogan or the style? Those are questions we still ask ourselves on certain tees. Whatever we put out we want our fans to LOVE. We know people have a choice and choose our clothing out of the millions of options on this planet. They choose ours to showcase their style… that’s something very gratifying. We like to think we are in touch with a fan’s attitude and sense of style.
Among the advantages of being unlicensed is having more creative freedom with the apparel. Is this what helps True Rivalry to stand out?
We’ve had the option to go the licensed route but by being unlicensed we can write the stuff that the big name brands can’t. It’s sometimes problematic because we’ve had to scratch some GREAT designs because they were potentially problematic (legally). But still, that type of uncensored, raw creativity gives us an edge. You don’t see fans in the bleachers watching what they’d say and those are TRUE passionate sports fans. We built this brand for them.
Each new collection features tees with witty phrases and edgy, graphic artwork. Can you describe the process of developing these designs and where you find your inspiration?
It comes from all over. Some from us, some from our talented graphic artists, some from fans… we look for inspiration everywhere. We’ve had guest designers (hockey players, actors, bloggers, musicians, etc). We also want a close relationship to our fans so we encourage people emailing us, tweeting us or Facebook us ideas. Once we have a concept we try to mock it up in different ways and maybe play around with the expressions to see which ones read and look better visually.
How far in advance do you begin creating new collections (i.e. the hockey line)?
We try to release a line right before the season (sport season) but now with the success of TR in retail stores, they want things way in advance so we needed to change our way. Now in January we’ll be releasing a Spring/Summer 2014 look book that will have all sorts of lifestyle designs in there.
Fans can speak their mind with the help of their True Rivalry wardrobe. Do you find that your customer base skews towards the more avid, passionate sports fans?
Like we always say, we are the brand for the TRUE, passionate sports fans because we ourselves are passionate sports fans. However, we cover the fans that would miss their own wedding for a game to the person who just wants to rep their city in style.
Which items are among your best-sellers?
Right now it would have to be the “Every Guy Loves BJ’s” tee. But our “Girls Love Stick Handling” and our “Go Deep” tees have been doing really well. Which shows us the success of our brand. The fact that now people are loving and wanting to buy our own branded lifestyle tees and not just their city or team tees.
Charity is an important component of your business. Can you talk about that?
My parents are, still to this day, two of the most generous and giving people in the world. They raised me to understand the value and the importance of giving back. I brought those values to True Rivalry. We worked hard to create a charity tribute tee for the Gary Carter Foundation. We helped sponsor The Fourth Period golf tournament for the Center for Addiction and Mental Health. As well as we’ve participated in charitable events for Save A Childs Heart and Look Good Feel Better (helping women with Cancer).
What’s next for the brand? Do you have plans to extend your apparel/team offerings (more women’s, kids)?
We have our clothes for the FANS now we want to expand to the athlete (whether you’re a professional or jog 20 min once a week) so in January when we release our SPRING/SUMMER 2014 line it will include lifestyle athletic apparel. Golf shirts, wicking and UV protected tees, etc. We will also, after much of a demand, be finally releasing a women’s and kids FAN line as well.
What are some of your favorite sports rivalries?
I grew up a Pacers fan so the Pacer/Knicks rivalry of the 90′s was one of my favorites. I think today you still have the classic Red Sox and Yankees and Canadiens and Bruins. Those to me are some of the most intense rivalries and now I love seeing teams on twitter start chirping at each other. I think it’s great for the game. In an era when children are playing in leagues where the scores aren’t kept or athletes are not allowed to trash talk. My buddies from the Covino and Rich Show on SiriusXM call it the Pussification of America and we agree. Rivalries, trash talking, winning AND also losing are part of the game. Don’t want to see that gone.
Check out a behind-the-scenes look at True Rivalry’s t-shirt production and preview of the company’s new hockey collection below. For all offerings, visit here, or follow the company on twitter (@TrueRivalry) or instagram (@TrueRivalry).