Funeral services will be held Tuesday at Berger Memorial Chapel in St. Louis for Jon Epstein, an experienced leader in the athletic industry, who died Friday at age 63.
Epstein, president of Fila North America and global chief commercial officer, died a week after having heart surgery near his home in St. Louis.
He had two winning stretches at Fila, joining the company as president in 1998 and staying through 2003. Epstein returned to the athletic brand to lead the North American business in 2007. During his first swing with the company, he signed a deal with NBA star Grant Hill, making him the frontman for the brand in the Nineties. Just last year Hill committed to a lifetime endorsement deal with Fila. In tune with the power of collaboration and in an effort to dually extend the brand’s reach to younger consumers and more affluent ones, Epstein lined up limited runs with Fendi and Urban Outfitters, among other established outlets.
Fila’s chairman Gene Yoon described Epstein as a “great friend, leader and champion of the brand, not just in the U.S., but worldwide.”
“His entrepreneurial spirit was a perfect match for our vision of growth, and his passion for both our heritage of authenticity and our potential as a brand innovator drove Fila’s resurgence over the past decade,” Yoon said.
To the chairman’s point, in recent years Epstein was instrumental in helping to jump-start the Nineties nostalgia trend, by forging into high-end specialty stores like Barneys New York and collaborating with boutique fitness chains like SoulCycle. He also understood the convergence of fashion and athleticism. In 2017, when Pierre Cardin staged a runway show at The Breakers, a mansion in Newport, R.I., Epstein was one of the only industry executives to attend. He and his wife Carol divided their time between Newport and St. Louis.
Having worked with Epstein for more than 30 years, Yoon described him and his wife Carol as family. “His presence in the Fila family and in my personal life is impossible to quantify. I have lost an ally and a trusted friend.”
Born in Hartford, Conn., Epstein graduated from Boston University. His career in the sporting goods industry included a 21-year run at Adidas America. He was part of the sales team led by Steve Wynn that helped the brand break the $1 billion mark Stateside.
Former Adidas America executive John Fread, who worked with Epstein, said, “Jon was a pioneer in the days when Adidas America was re-establishing itself in the U.S. market. The marching orders were clear. Take market share and become a viable competitor. He did and never looked back.”
Wynn said, “Jon took great pride in saying, ‘I am a salesman.’ He was in fact a salesman, maybe one of the best we have ever seen, but he was also a lot more than a guy carrying a bag. His optimism and determination drove him through the darkest days of two brands — Adidas and Fila — to play a critical role in their respective revivals. His intelligence allowed him to find solutions where others found only problems. His commitment inspired great work in those he met. His kindness and generosity were always front-and-center — a calling card you never forget. Truly one of a kind. He will be missed.”
Epstein, however, faced legal troubles in 2003, when the Department of Justice charged him with conspiracy to submit false statements to the auditors of Just for Feet Inc. and for falsifying the records of Just for Feet, according to a Department of Justice statement issued at the that time. Epstein agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with the government’s ongoing investigation into the country’s second largest athletic retailer, which was at the time a key partner of Fila.
Epstein will be succeeded by Jennifer Estabrook, a 14-year veteran at Fila, who was his personal choice, according to Yoon. Estabrook has been named chief operating officer of Fila North America and manager of Fila Luxembourg Sarl.
In addition to his wife, Epstein is survived by his mother, Norma Fishman.