Freshly home from Beijing with eight shiny new gold medals, Michael Phelps is using his fame — and endorsement dollars — to support the sport that made him a household name. On Tuesday, Joe Gromek, chief executive officer of The Warnaco Group Inc., which owns Speedo, presented Phelps with a $1 million bonus check for his victories. Phelps promptly said he would use the money to form the Michael Phelps Foundation, dedicated to growing the sport of swimming globally and encouraging active lifestyles. Here, the two discuss with WWD the impact of Phelps’ achievements.
This story first appeared in the September 3, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD: How did you decide to use your $1 million bonus from Speedo to create the Michael Phelps Foundation?
Michael Phelps: I have this opportunity to continue to try to achieve my goal of raising the sport to a new level — get new faces involved, get kids involved. I want to take them through what I did, starting with a dream, then a plan, then reaching a dream. Hopefully this will change a lot of people’s lives.
Joe Gromek: Michael is going on a multicity tour of eight cities to visit Boys & Girls Clubs. Today we awarded Michael his $1 million for his seven gold medals, and, based on the fact he reached an eighth, we donated $200,000 to his foundation.
WWD: What do you wear when you are out of the pool?
M.P.: Jeans, polos, button-downs, nothing too fancy.
J.G.: He likes Calvin Klein Jeans and Underwear, I hear [which Warnaco makes].
M.P.: Yeah, I wear Diesel, Seven, D&G, Lacoste — that’s pretty much it.
WWD: Chlorine can take a lot out of your skin. Do you have skin care products you like?
M.P.: I use Kiehl’s lotion. I don’t have much hair to wash, so I’m not picky about shampoo.
WWD: Any plans to start your own line?
M.P.: We have a hat over there [with an eight on the front for the number of gold medals]. It’s one of three. Plus we have a T-shirt and a bunch of things in the works, but nothing finalized.
J.G.: We’re working together on those. We introduced the T-shirt at the [U.S. Olympic] trials in Omaha and sold out immediately.
WWD: How involved were in you designing Speedo’s LZR Racer?
M.P.: I was involved in finalizing everything and testing the suit. More world records were set in this Olympics for swimming than in the last two combined. It’s the fastest suit known to mankind. We looked around at one point to count, and I think there were only two guys not wearing the LZR Racer. But there’s nothing unfair about it — everyone can wear it.
J.G.: In Beijing, 91 percent of gold medals were won by athletes wearing the LZR Racer. We sent 2,500 to Omaha for the Olympic trials so every American could wear it, then we sent 3,000 to Beijing. The China team switched to it. It leveled the playing field.
WWD: Can it be improved upon?
J.G.: As soon as this suit hit the trials in Omaha, we started working on a new suit. When you present something of this quality, you challenge yourself to constantly improve.
WWD: If you were willing to give away $1 million today, you must be expecting more to come. What endorsement deals are you lining up?
M.P.: I’m still finalizing. I haven’t had time to discuss the full details, I’ve been so busy. The biggest thing about getting involved in other companies is that it makes sense based on my lifestyle. Everything I am involved in now makes sense because I use it: Speedo, Visa, Omega, PowerBar, Hilton, Rosetta Stone, AT&T.
WWD: This Olympics proved you can still be competitive in swimming when you are 40. Do you have a plan of how long you want to compete?
M.P.: I’m not going to be in this sport when I’m 40, that’s for sure. I’ve told myself that after the next four years, I will hang my suit up. I’ve been quoted to say that I will retire by 40. I would like to start the second part of my life by the time I’m 30. I’m not sure exactly what that will be, but my coach and I could have some business opportunities in the future.
WWD: With Michael’s visibility in these games and his goal to increase the profile of swimming, do you expect Speedo’s competitive swimming business will grow significantly?
J.G.: Competitive swimming is a big part of the Speedo business. Since Michael has been performing this summer, our market share went from 62 to 71 percent. I think there will be lots of LZR Racers as Christmas gifts this year. Last year, we sold 10,000 of our top suit, and now we are producing 1,500 to 2,000 LZR Racers per month, though it’s $575, so it’s not for everyone.