LONDON — Kentucky-based American heritage brand Russell Athletic is expanding into the Chinese market via a distribution partnership with Hong Kong’s fashion retailer I.T.
The partnership will start with Russell Athletic’s spring 2021 collection, as well as dropping two collaborations with I.T’s own streetwear brands A Bathing Ape and Aape Now in stores and online across Greater China.
The A Bathing Ape capsule features baseball jackets, hoodies, T-shirts and pants, while the Aape Now drop targets a younger audience and focuses on blending Russell Athletic’s classic designs with the Japanese label’s youthful energy.
Founded in 1902, the brand is known for sponsoring major professional sports leagues in the U.S. and Canada. In 2006, the brand’s parent company Russell Brands was sold to Fruit of the Loom, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.
In recent years, Russell Athletic has collaborated with several premium brands to polish its fashion credentials. Last year, it announced a sportswear capsule with Boss. The co-branded line of around 30 pieces for men and women will launch in March and blend the German brand’s experience in tailoring with Russell’s sportswear aesthetic.
In 2019, the brand presented an upscale collection with buzzy retailer Kith. The 96-piece collection was created and manufactured by Ronnie Fieg and drew on Russell Athletic’s heritage with a variety of colorful retro athletic styles for men and women.
The same year, Russell Athletic opened its first brick-and-mortar pop-up in SoHo to raise the brand profile, showcase the range of products in a three-dimensional way and offer some new services.
The casual wear market in China has shown promising potentials for global players who are repositioning themselves to be cool and stylish.
The brand’s competitor Champion entered the market in 2017 under a partnership with Hong Kong’s Win Hanverky, which also owns the distribution rights to Y-3 and Heron Preston in the region. Benefiting from global designer collaborations with Vetements, Off/White and Todd Snyder, the brand signed a licensing deal with Belle International last month to produce and sell Champion branded footwear in the market.