Given the current ubiquity of sweatpants in men’s wear, it’s surprising to hear Reigning Champ founder Craig Atkinson say the brand’s signature joggers were considered “pretty niche” when the label launched just over 10 years ago. “I don’t even know if ‘athleisure’ had been coined in 2007,” Atkinson says, referring to the fashion portmanteau that describes athletic leisure wear designed more as street style than for working out. “That didn’t even come onto our radar.”
In the decade since, quality sweatpants, crewnecks and hoodies have become staples in men’s wardrobes as innovators like Atkinson swap out bulky fits and basic fabrics for tailored cuts and custom-developed fleece. Five stores and umpteen brand collaborations later, the small-but-mighty Reigning Champ is living up to its name in the booming market for premium active wear.
It all started in Japan, where Atkinson cut his teeth importing vintage men’s wear for heritage-crazed customers before returning to Vancouver to set up his own apparel-manufacturing business. The attention to detail he’d learned overseas earned him big-name clients like cult skateboarding brand Supreme and premium outerwear outfitter Arc’teryx that appreciated his efforts to produce custom knitwear fabrics.
Eventually, Atkinson grew bored of making things according to other people’s specs. In 2004, he launched Wings + Horns as a creative outlet. A few years later he decided to put his own label on the best-in-category fleece he’d perfected for other brands and Reigning Champ was born. Atkinson chose to drop his other clients to focus on his own brands in 2013 and Reigning Champ has since outpaced Wings + Horns in terms of sales. “The little brother has now become the big brother,” Atkinson says.
With Reigning Champ, Atkinson has added a level of integrity to once basic sweatshirts, sweatpants and tees, creating a more dignified ethos of casual dressing that’s infiltrating the collections of dressier, designer labels. He’s added details like flatlock seams and bar tacks – geeky garment-industry stuff that might go unnoticed by the average customer but which Atkinson says add depth and longevity to a seemingly simple crewneck.
“The design details aren’t blatant. They’re really only visible to the discerning eye. That’s part of good design,” Atkinson says. “You don’t know why you like a product when you like it, but when the fabric drapes a certain way or the length of the sleeve hits right, you might not be able to put your finger on it but you get it on a subconscious level.”
Other brands certainly seem to get it. Reigning Champ’s list of collaborators reads like a mall directory, with everyone from Club Monaco to Converse, New Balance, J. Crew, and New Era getting in on the action, not to mention athleticwear giant Adidas signing up for a major partnership. Next up is a Tokyo flagship store opening early in 2019. Ten years in, it seems like Atkinson’s primo sweats are here to stay. Might as well get comfortable.
For more information, visit reigningchamp.com.
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